TWA Flight 847 was an international Trans World Airlines flight which was hijacked by Lebanese Shia Islamists on Friday morning, June 14, 1985, after originally taking off from Cairo. The flight was en route from Athens, Greece to Rome, Italy, from where it was scheduled to travel on to London. The aircraft with its passengers and crew endured a three-day intercontinental ordeal during which one passenger, a U.S. Navy diver, was murdered. Dozens of passengers were then held hostage over the next two weeks, until released by their captors.
It was commandeered shortly after takeoff by two German-speaking Lebanese men who had smuggled pistols and grenades through the Athens airport security. A third intended hijacker, Ali Atwa, had been bumped from the flight and was later arrested in Greece.
The initial demands of the hijackers included:
By Monday afternoon, June 17, most of the hostages had been taken from the plane to a secure location. The 40 remaining hostages were held by Nabih Berri, the chief of the Amal militia and the then Minister of Justice in the fractured Lebanon cabinet. One of the hostages was released when he developed heart trouble. The other 39 remained captive until June 30, when they were driven to Syria. The hostages then boarded a U.S. Air Force plane and flew to West Germany. Over the next several weeks, Israel released over 700 Shia prisoners, while maintaining that the prisoners' release was not related to the hijacking.
Flight attendant Uli Derickson was widely credited with calming the hijackers and saving the lives of many passengers. Because her German was the only common language with the hijackers, who spoke poor English, she acted as translator and liaison for most of the ordeal. Notably, she defused a tense situation in Algiers when airport officials refused to refuel the plane without payment by offering her own Shell Oil credit card, which was used to charge about $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of jet fuel, for which she later was reimbursed. She also hid the passports of Jewish passengers so they could not be singled out.
Israel released some of its Shia prisoners within a month after the hijacking ended. They stated that the release was unrelated to the hijacking and had long been planned.
Another of the hijackers, Mohammed Ali Hammadi, was arrested in 1987 in Frankfurt, Germany (then West Germany), while attempting to smuggle liquid explosives, two years after the TWA Flight 847 attack. In addition to the West German charge of illegal importation of explosives, he was tried and convicted of Stethem's 1985 murder and was sentenced to life in prison. However, he was paroled and released by German officials on December 20, 2005, and returned to Lebanon. As of February 14, 2006 the United States formally asked the Lebanese government to extradite Mohammed Ali Hammadi for the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem during the 1985 hijacking. On February 24, 2006, he appeared as well on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list, under the name Mohammed Ali Hamadei. He was among the second group of indicted fugitives to be named by the FBI to the list.
Several news outlets reported the announcement by Hezbollah of the death of Imad Mugniyah by explosion in Syria on February 13, 2008. The remaining three fugitives from TWA Flight 847 remain on the list, and at large.
Hezbollah reportedly denies culpability in the TWA Flight 847 attack, among its denials of numerous other attacks which have been attributed to the group. Still, the FBI wanted posters of each of the indicted fugitives alleges their individual membership or leadership role in the organization the FBI names as "Lebanese Hezbollah," which it plainly then calls a "terrorist organization."
Interview: Arthur Toga discusses flight attendant Uli Derickson, purser on the hijacked TWA Flight 847 in 1985, who died at age 60
Feb 24, 2005; MELISSA BLOCK All Things Considered (NPR) 02-24-2005 Interview: Arthur Toga discusses flight attendant Uli Derickson, purser on...
Heroism prevailed in '85 hijacking Diary recalled one woman's bravery when two men seized TWA Flight 847 and held hostages for weeks
Sep 20, 2001; Amid this sea of heroism engulfing New York and encompassing our nation comes a chilling quote from President Bush that the...