The terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001 modified the aviation business perpetually. It additionally altered the best way we checked out airline hijackers. Until that fateful day, terrorists had used plane, its passengers and crew as bargaining instruments. Now they used them as weapons.
Before 9/11, the story of Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight 847 stood out as some of the dramatic and unforgettable airline hijackings in historical past. The Nineteen Seventies and ’80s have been rife with hijackings, bombings and airport sieges. When flight 847 was attacked on Friday, June 14, 1985 it turned the third such incident to happen within the area that week.
As the horrifying drama unfolded, hundreds of thousands all over the world watched reside on CNN, a information channel which had premiered simply 5 years earlier.
What additionally made the occasions of Flight 847 so well-known was the actions of lead Flight Attendant Uli Derickson, whose calm method, bravery and professionalism saved the lives of so a lot of her passengers.
This is her story.
Uli Derickson was born Ulrike Patzelt on August 8, 1944 in Aussie an der Elbe, Czechoslovakia, close to the German border. She and her mother and father have been finally expelled to East Germany, earlier than escaping to West Germany just a few years later.
She labored as an au pair in Switzerland and Britain earlier than shifting to Connecticut in 1967. Uli had all the time beloved to journey, and following her transfer to the US, she utilized to turn into a Flight Attendant for TWA.
A Day Like Any Other
That Friday morning had begun like every other. Derickson joined her colleague’s Flight Attendants Judith Cox, Hazel Hesp, Elizabeth Howes and Helen Sheahan; together with Captain John Testrake, First Officer Philip Maresca and Flight Engineer Christian Zimmermann at Athens airport, the place they awaited the arrival of their Boeing 727-200 (N64339), on route from Cairo. The crew would then take the plane to Rome earlier than flight 847 continued to Boston and Los Angeles, with a last vacation spot of San Diego.
All appeared regular because the 152 passengers boarded the jet. Little did they know that amongst them have been two well-dressed Amal Terrorists, later recognized as Mohammed Ali Hamadi and Hassan Izz-Al-Din.
At 10:10 am, the plane took off, and the crew set to work making ready the inflight service. In the first-class cabin, Derickson had been pouring drinks. She was popping out of the galley with a beverage tray when the hijackers struck.
Barreling down the aisle, screaming in Arabic, brandishing weapons and grenades, they noticed Uli and kicked her within the chest earlier than grabbing her by the throat and slamming her towards the cockpit door. A 9mm pistol was then positioned to her head because the hijacker screamed: “Americans die! Come to die!” and demanded she took them to the flight deck.
A shaking Derickson notified the pilot through the inter-phone what had occurred, however the different hijacker started kicking down the door. Once inside, she may solely watch in horror as the boys pistol-whipped the pilots and flight engineer.
It shortly turned clear that the 2 assailants may converse little or no English, making coping with their calls for extraordinarily troublesome. Derickson later found that certainly one of them did nevertheless, converse German, and as she was fluent within the language, she took over negotiations, translating their directions to the pilots.
In the cabin, Hamadi and Izz-Al-Din re-positioned all of the passengers – males within the window seats, ladies on the aisles. He advised them to place their fingers behind their heads and elbows on their knees down beneath the seat. One hijacker then patrolled the aisle whereas the opposite was within the cockpit. “One extra transfer, another sound, and we’ll kill you,” the terrorists warned, indiscriminately hanging any passenger who made a sound.
Whilst nonetheless in Greek airspace, the 727 was diverted to Beirut International Airport (BEY) in Lebanon. About an hour from touchdown, the terrorists demanded to see everybody’s passports, scouring the cabin for anybody who is likely to be with regulation enforcement.
One American, Kurt Carlson, whispered to Derickson that he had two passports, a blue civilian one in his briefcase overhead and his official crimson passport in his coat pocket, which was hanging within the closet up entrance. As the hijackers checked images, Derickson risked her life by passing off one other passenger’s passport picture as Carlson to guard him.
As the plane neared the airport, air visitors controllers initially refused to let the aircraft land, blocking the runway with buses and different obstacles. At the time, Beirut was within the midst of civil struggle, and the very last thing the authorities wished was one other skyjacking to cope with.
Captain Testrake argued with ATC: “He has pulled a hand grenade pin and is able to blow up the plane if he has to. We should. I repeat we should land in Beirut. We should land at Beirut. No various.” Eventually, they grudgingly replied: “Very effectively. Land. Land quietly. Land quietly.”
By now, Derickson had begun to construct a rapport with the hijackers. Once on the bottom, she started to plead with them to launch all ladies and youngsters. The hijackers refused her pleas.
She tried once more, this time asking for the discharge of the aged ladies and youngsters. Again they refused.
She requested once more, and this time they relented. Derickson rounded up the 17 aged females and two youngsters and coaxed them down the emergency slide, whilst some resisted, too terrified to maneuver.
After a number of hours on the bottom, the 727 was refuelled, and the hijackers demanded the plane be flown to Algiers.
US Veterans Outed
It was now that Hammadi found the six US navy personnel travelling dwelling. Four had no passports, solely inexperienced ID playing cards, however their youthful look and brief haircuts gave them away. He started screaming at them in Arabic.
“You may inform he had an actual hatred for the navy,” Kurt Carlson mentioned.
Robert Stethem, a US Navy Seabee diver and one other navy officer Clifton Suggs have been dragged out of their seats and marched to the cockpit at gunpoint. Here they have been overwhelmed mercilessly with an armrest that one of many hijackers had torn off the flight engineer’s seat.
When that they had completed their assault, Derickson tried to manage first help to the injured males and requested if she may apply bandages over his badly injured face. The hijacker refused and shouted: “American pig should undergo. Must die!”
As the aircraft neared Algeria, the authorities additionally closed the airport. US President Ronald Regan issued an pressing plea to Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid, and so they finally relented and allowed the plane to land.
On The Ground Again
Once on the bottom, the hijackers demanded meals and gas, and Derickson once more pleaded for them to launch her passengers. During this time, the hijackers stumbled throughout Kurt Carlson’s crimson passport and instantly demanded to know if a US diplomat was on board. Carlson initially remained silent.
But the hijackers then threatened to begin from the again row of the aircraft and are available ahead, and if the proprietor of the passport had not revealed himself by the point they matched him from the picture, they might kill him directly. Carlson had no selection however to face up and establish himself.
“The hijacker got here up and he put his 9mm on my brow and he mentioned, ‘CIA or FBI?’ in damaged English. And I mentioned, ‘No, Army Reserve,” Carlson later mentioned.
He now turned one other bargaining instrument of their quest for gas. He later mentioned that they beat him so severely he prayed to die. He prayed for his household, for himself and even for the hijackers. But the tower continued to make excuses for not bringing gas. Captain Testrake yelled that an American was in imminent hazard of dying and clicked his microphone at Carlson to cue him to scream with every blow so the tower may hear him.
“Why Do You Have To Hit Those People?”
Uli Derickson slipped in between them and pleaded for them to cease, once more placing her personal life in peril. “Don’t you hit that individual, she would shout,” a passenger later advised The New York Times. “Why do it’s a must to hit these folks?”
But nonetheless, no gas got here. Unbelievably airport officers refused to refuel the jet with out fee, and TWA had no Shell account at Algiers. The terrorists have been getting agitated and as soon as once more threatened violence. Testrake angrily advised the tower that the US embassy would pay for it. Again they refused.
Derickson may take no extra. Speaking to People Magazine some years later, Uli defined: “They are screaming for money or a bank card, and the hijackers are threatening to kill one passenger each 5 minutes if we don’t get the gas. The co-pilot is screaming his lungs out to the bottom [crew] to not be silly, we don’t carry a cost card…. I requested for permission to go to my purse and I bought out my [credit] card. They put 6,000 gallons of jet gas on to my Shell bank card, about $5,500 value.”
After 5 hours on the bottom the plane took off, as soon as once more sure for Beirut.
Communication Was Key
Derickson later spoke of how she realised early on that communication was her most potent instrument towards the hijackers. At occasions she even felt she was gaining some management over the scenario. She talked to them in regards to the Quran, supplied them tea and meals, commented on the American branded trainers certainly one of them wore and advised them about her 7-year-old son at dwelling. Occasionally she sang Brahms’s Lullaby softly in German, calming each herself and the hijackers.
She additionally revealed how probably the most terrifying second for her was when the extra violent of the 2 requested her to marry him. “This is just not the time or the place to speak about this,” she replied in a clean however agency tone.
She additionally calmed and reassured her passengers, advising them to do because the terrorists demanded, conserving their heads down and stay silent. She defended her passengers and pleaded with the boys to cease the beatings. “Stop it!” she mentioned, trying them straight within the eye and bodily grabbing the terrorist, “Stop it proper now! They’re doing what you inform them to do.”
But because the aircraft crossed the Mediterranean, the temper on board grew darker. Robert Stethem was as soon as once more singled out, and through the flight again to Beirut, he was blindfolded, bounded, gagged and repeatedly tortured.
Speaking of the assault on Stethem on the subsequent inquest, Derickson advised the harrowing story:
“The German-speaking hijacker referred to as Robert Stethem to the first-class part. It’s an evening flight now. The hijacker with grenades took off his personal shirt and his undershirt, and he took out a razor blade. I began getting very emotional as a result of I considered throat-cutting. All the lights have been turned off within the cabin. Only the galley lights have been on. Then the hijacker began chopping his undershirt into small strips. He’s blindfolding Stethem. Very tight. And then he takes a kind of thick elastic cords from a suitcase and ties up his fingers, very, very excessive behind his again and pulls that elastic twine to the very finish. Stethem’s fingers instantly flip white. Then they drag him to the cockpit door, and they’re beating Robert Stethem with the armrest they ripped off the flight engineer’s seat. They have been leaping within the air and touchdown full drive on his physique. He will need to have had all his ribs damaged. I used to be sitting solely 15 ft away. I couldn’t take heed to it. I put my fingers in my ears. I’ll always remember it. I may nonetheless hear. They put the mike as much as his face so his screams may very well be heard by the passengers. When they have been completed, one of many hijackers picked him up like a cat picks up its kitten and dragged him over to a seat.…Now I’m telling….I’m telling Bob, Robert Stethem, to hold on. He was in large ache. His arms had misplaced all feeling. I saved saying to this German-speaking hijacker, “Can I not untie his fingers? We’re cooperating with you. Why are you doing this to those folks?” He mentioned, “No. Leave him alone. He’s simply an American pig.” I saved asking, please. Then he let me untie his fingers. It took me 5 minutes; the elastic was so tight. There was a carving knife hidden within the galley, however I didn’t need to deliver it out to chop the twine. Then the hijacker advised me to take him to a seat in coach. I’m lifting this man over passengers. He was harm very badly”.
Stethem by no means made a sound throughout the entire terrifying ordeal. Testimonials from passengers and flight crew spoke of his unimaginable bravery. Captain Testrake later mentioned: “He [Stethem] was most likely the bravest man I’ve ever seen in my life.”
It was effectively previous midnight within the Middle East as flight 847 approached Beirut. Yet once more, the airport tower tried to refuse permission to land. But Captain Testrake was adamant that they have been operating out of gas, and the terrorists threatened to kill him. To make issues worse, the tower turned off the runway lights.
One of the hijackers then grabbed the radio and shouted: “We are suicide terrorists! If you don’t allow us to land, we’ll crash the aircraft into your management tower, or fly it to Baabda and crash into the Presidential Palace!”.
Unsure if there could be a suicide crash or if they might run out of gas, Testrake advised the passengers to arrange for a crash touchdown. The tower relented and switched the lights again on, and the 727 touched down for the second time in Beirut.
Once once more, the hijackers demanded gas and requested to talk to an Amal official. Neither got here. They then grabbed the horrifically injured Stethem, dragging him into the cockpit, the place they beat him additional in an try to get him to scream into the microphone. Testrake later mentioned: “The sounds of the beatings have been sickening. If I had a gun, I wouldn’t trouble to hesitate in capturing each the bastards”.
Still nobody got here.
Robert Stethem was then dragged to a passenger door and shot within the temple; his physique dumped onto the tarmac beneath. The captain desperately screamed over the radio: “He simply killed a passenger! He simply killed a passenger!” earlier than one of many hijackers declared: “You see? You now consider it. There will probably be one other in 5 minutes.”
Clinton Suggs was now pulled to the entrance of the plane and subjected to a different beating. Uli put herself in hurt’s approach once more yelling: “Enough, sufficient, we’re doing every little thing we requested!” The violent assault then stopped.
More Hijackers Board
Finally an Amal official and bodyguard went aboard the aircraft, the place they remained for a while.
Earlier, the hijackers had demanded to know passengers who have been Jewish or had Jewish-sounding names. To shield these passengers, Derickson had hidden their paperwork, telling the boys that the passports didn’t point out spiritual desire and shielded sure names.
As negotiations continued, a hijacker requested that each one airport lights be turned off. Under cowl of darkness, round a dozen extra terrorists boarded the jet with a provide of arms and ammunition.
Sadly Dericksons makes an attempt to guard the Jewish passengers have been futile, and 7 American passengers alleged to have Jewish-sounding names have been led off the plane. A day later, a launched passenger Ken Lanham of San Francisco, reported that the hijackers went up and down the aisle calling out the names of those folks after which led them away.
The physique of Robert Stethem had been mendacity on the tarmac for round two hours when a hijacker advised the tower: “The Red Cross can come and get the physique.” They then demanded gas, meals and water.
The subsequent vacation spot turned out once more to be Algiers, the place the aircraft landed for the second time at 7:45 am native time on Saturday, June 15. Algerian officers authorised the touchdown on the situation that there could be no additional violence.
Before leaving Beirut, Hamadi and Izz-Al-Din had demanded that Greek authorities launch Ali Atwa and he is dropped at Algiers. Otherwise, they mentioned, they might kill all eight Greeks on the aircraft, together with Singer Demis Roussos.
Atwa was a 3rd terrorist who had not made it on to Flight 847 and was arrested at Athens airport by Greek police. The authorities complied and despatched Atwa to Algiers in an Olympic Airways aircraft.
Two Algerian officers went aboard the 727 and commenced discussions with the hijackers. The negotiations finally paid off. Thirty-two hours after the ordeal had began, the hijackers lastly launched Uli Derickson and her 4 colleagues, plus a lot of the remaining passengers.
Sadly the ordeal wasn’t over for the reaming 30 odd American passengers and flight crew who have been ordered to fly again to Beirut for the third time, the place they have been held throughout the town for a further 17 days. They have been lastly launched in change for simply 31 of the greater than 700 prisoners Hamadi and Izz-Al-Din had initially sought.
Before Derickson exited the aircraft to security, she paused to placed on her uniform jacket. She wished to make sure that earlier than she left her plane, she was wholly composed and in full uniform, whatever the horrible issues she had witnessed, a real skilled.
She resumed her flying profession with TWA quickly after the hijacking. However, Derickson’s terror wasn’t over. Some experiences falsely accused her of giving the terrorists the names of Jewish passengers, and he or she acquired quite a few threats from extremist teams.
When the reality was revealed about her efforts to guard the Jewish passengers by hiding their passports, she acquired additional threats from different extremists. She and her household relocated to Arizona, and he or she subsequently retired within the late Nineteen Eighties.
After attempting her hand at actual property, she realised how a lot she missed flying and joined Delta within the early Nineties. Her Flight Attendant profession continued till 2003 when she was identified with most cancers.
Uli Derickson sadly handed away on February 18, 2005, aged 60.
Nothing But Respect
Tom Collins a passenger on board the flight later mentioned “She was clearly in management. She even made calls for of the hijackers. We don’t have anything however the utmost respect for her and a debt of gratitude for her actually heroic acts”.
Ms Derickson turned the primary girl to obtain the Silver Cross for Valor, awarded by the Legion of Valor, a veterans organisation.
Throughout her life Uli Derickson by no means noticed herself as a hero. She later mentioned: “They threw me a sizzling potato, and I needed to deal with it.”
Her extremely bravery, calm method and professionalism is why she joins our Angels of the Sky.
© confessionsofatrolleydolly.com by Dan Air.