The terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001 modified the aviation trade without end. It additionally altered the way in which we checked out airline hijackers. Till that fateful day, terrorists had used plane, its passengers and crew as bargaining instruments. Now they used them as weapons.
Earlier than 9/11 the story of Trans World Airways TWA flight 847 stood out as some of the dramatic and unforgettable airline hijackings in historical past. The 1970’s and 80’s had been rife for hijackings, bombings and airport sieges and when Flight 847 was attacked on Friday 14 June 1985, it grew to become the third such incident to happen within the area that week. Because the horrifying drama unfolded, thousands and thousands around the globe watched stay on CNN, a information channel which had premiered simply 5 years earlier.
What additionally made the occasions of Flight 847 so notorious, 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.
That is her story.
Derickson was born Ulrike Patzelt on August 8, 1944 in Aussie an der Elbe, Czechoslovakia, close to the German border. She and her dad and mom had been ultimately expelled to East Germany, earlier than escaping to West Germany a couple of years later.
She labored as an au pair in Switzerland and Britain earlier than shifting to Connecticut in 1967. Uli had at all times cherished to journey and following her transfer to the US, she utilized to develop into a flight attendant for TWA.
That Friday morning had started like every other. Derickson joined her colleagues 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 onward to Rome earlier than Flight 847 continued to Boston and Los Angeles, with a remaining vacation spot of San Diego.
All appeared regular because the 152 passengers boarded the jet. Little did they know that amongst them had been two properly dressed Amal Terrorists, later recognized as Mohammed Ali Hamadi and Hassan Izz-Al-Din.
At 10.10 am the plane took off and the flight attendants set to work getting ready the inflight service. Within the firstclass cabin, Derickson had been pouring drinks for her passengers and 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 “People die! Come to die!” and demanded she take them to the flight deck.
A shaking Derickson notified the pilot by way of inter-phone what had occurred, however the different hijacker started kicking down the door. As soon as inside she may solely watch in horror as the lads pistol whipped the pilot and flight engineer.
It instantly grew to become clear that the 2 assailants may communicate little or no English, making the duty of coping with their calls for extraordinarily tough. After a short time it was found that one spoke German. Derickson who was fluent within the language took over negotiations, translating their directions to the pilots.
The flight crew had been initially hopeful that the incident would finish peacefully in the event that they adopted the hijackers calls for and the lads had been taken the place they needed to go, as had occurred with earlier assaults.
Within the cabin Hamadi and Izz-Al-Din re-positioned all of the passengers – males within the window seats, ladies on the aisles and advised them to place their fingers behind their heads and elbows on their knees down under the seat. One hijacker then patrolled the aisle whereas the opposite was within the cockpit. “Yet one more transfer, another sound, and we’ll kill you” the terrorists warned, indiscriminately putting any passenger who made a sound.
While nonetheless in Greek airspace the 727 was diverted to Beirut Worldwide Airport (BEY) in Lebanon. About an hour from touchdown, the terrorists demanded to see everybody’s passports, scouring the cabin for anybody who is perhaps with regulation enforcement. One American passenger Kurt Carlson, whispered to Derickson that he had two passports, a blue civilian one in his briefcase overhead and his official pink passport in his coat pocket, which was hanging within the closet up entrance. Because the hijackers checked pictures, Derickson risked her life by passing off one other passenger’s passport picture as Carlson to guard him.
Because the plane neared the airport, air visitors controllers initially refused to let the airplane land, blocking the runway with buses and different obstacles. On the time Beirut was within the midst of a civil conflict and the very last thing the authorities needed was one other skyjacking to cope with. Captain Testrake argued with ATC saying “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 at Beirut. We should land at Beirut. No various”. Finally they grudgingly replied “Very properly. Land. Land quietly. Land quietly”.
By now Derickson had begun to construct a rapport with the hijackers. As soon as on the bottom she started to plead with them to launch all ladies and kids. The hijackers refused her pleas. She tried once more, this time asking for the discharge of the aged ladies and kids. Once more they refused. She requested once more and this time they relented. Derickson rounded up the 17 aged females and two kids and coaxed them down the emergency slide, at the same time as some resisted, too terrified to maneuver.
After a number of hours on the bottom, the 727 was refueled and the hijackers demanded the plane be flown to Algiers.
It was now that Hammadi found the six US army personnel who had been travelling dwelling. 4 of them 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 would inform he had an actual hatred for the army”, Kurt Carlson stated.
Robert Stethem a US Navy seabee diver and one other army officer Clinton Suggs had been dragged out of their seats and marched to the cockpit at gunpoint. Right here they had been crushed mercilessly with an armrest that one of many hijackers had torn off the flight engineers seat. After they had completed their assault, Derickson tried to manage first support 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. Should die!”
Because the airplane neared Algeria, the authorities additionally closed the airport. US President Ronald Regan issued an pressing plea to Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid they usually ultimately relented and allowed the plane to land.
As soon as on the bottom the hijackers demanded meals and gasoline and Derickson once more pleaded for them to launch her passengers. Throughout this time the hijackers stumbled throughout Kurt Carlsons pink passport and instantly demanded to know if a US diplomat was on board. Carlson initially remained silent. However then the hijackers threatened to begin from the again row of the airplane and are available ahead and if the proprietor of the passport had not revealed himself by the point they matched him from the picture, he could be killed directly. Carlson had no alternative however to face up and determine himself.
“The hijacker got here up and he put his 9mm on my brow and he stated, ‘CIA or FBI?’ in damaged English. And I stated, ‘No, Military Reserve” Carlson later stated.
He now grew to become one other bargaining device of their quest for gasoline. He later stated that he was crushed so badly he prayed to die. He prayed for his household, for himself and even for the hijackers. However the tower continued to make excuses for not bringing gasoline. 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.
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 particular person, she would shout”, a passenger later advised The New York Instances “Why do it’s important to hit these folks”.
However nonetheless no gasoline got here. Unbelievably airport officers refused to refuel the jet with out fee and TWA had no Shell account at Algiers. The terrorists had been getting agitated and as soon as once more threatened violence. Testrake was livid, angrily telling the tower that the US embassy would pay for it. Once more they refused.
Derickson may take no extra. Talking to Individuals Journal some years later Uli defined “They’re 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 gasoline. 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 obtained out my [credit] card. They put 6,000 gallons of jet gasoline 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.
Derickson later spoke of how she realised early on that communication was her strongest device 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, she provided them tea and meals, she commented on the American branded trainers one in every of them wore and advised them about her 7-year-old son at dwelling. Often 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 isn’t the time or the place to speak about this” she replied, in a easy however agency tone.
She additionally calmed and reassured her passengers, advising them to do because the skyjackers demanded, protecting their heads down and to stay silent. She defended her passengers and pleaded with the lads to cease the beatings. “Cease it!” she stated wanting them straight within the eye and bodily grabbing the terrorist, “Cease it proper now! They’re doing what you inform them to do”.
However because the airplane 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.
Talking of the assault on Stethem on the subsequent inquest, Derickson advised the harrowing story:
“The German-speaking hijacker known 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 slicing. All of the lights had been turned off within the cabin. Solely the galley lights had been on. Then the hijacker began slicing his undershirt into small strips. He’s blindfolding Stethem. Very tight. After which he takes a type 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 had been leaping within the air and touchdown full pressure on his physique. He will need to have had all his ribs damaged. I used to be sitting solely 15 toes away. I couldn’t hearken to it. I put my fingers in my ears. I’ll always remember. I may nonetheless hear. They put the mike as much as his face so his screams could possibly be heard by the passengers. After they had 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 super ache. His arms had misplaced all feeling. I stored 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 stated, “No. Go away him alone. He’s simply an American pig.” I stored 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 carry 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 extremely bravery. Captain Testrake later stated “He [Stethem] was in all probability the bravest man I’ve ever seen in my life”.
It was properly previous midnight within the Center East as Flight 847 approached Beirut. But once more the airport-tower tried to refuse permission to land. However Captain Testrake was adamant, they had been working out of gasoline and the terrorists had been threatening to kill him. To make issues worse the tower turned off the runway lights. One of many hijackers then grabbed the radio and shouted “We’re suicide terrorists! In case you don’t allow us to land, we’ll crash the airplane into your management tower, or fly it to Baabda and crash into the Presidential Palace!”. Not sure if there was going to be a suicide crash or they’d run out of gasoline 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 a second time in Beirut.
As soon as once more, the hijackers demanded gasoline and requested to talk to an Amal official. Neither got here. They then grabbed the horrifically injured Stethem, dragging him in to the cockpit the place they beat him additional, in an try and get him to scream in to the microphone. Testrake later stated, “The sounds of the beatings had been sickening. If I had a gun I wouldn’t hassle to hesitate in capturing each the bastards”. Nonetheless nobody got here.
Robert Stethem was then dragged to a passenger door and shot within the temple, his physique dumped on to the tarmac under. 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 imagine it. There might 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, “Sufficient, sufficient, we’re doing the whole lot we requested!” The violent assault then stopped.
Lastly an Amal official and bodyguard went aboard the airplane, the place they remained for a while.
Earlier, the hijackers had demanded to know passengers who had been Jewish or had Jewish sounding names. In an effort to shield these passengers Derickson had hidden their paperwork, telling the lads that the passports didn’t point out spiritual choice and shielded sure names.
As negotiations continued, a hijacker requested that each one airport lights be turned off. Beneath the quilt 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 had been futile and 7 American passengers, alleged to have Jewish sounding names, had 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 Crimson Cross can come and get the physique”. They then demanded gasoline, meals and water.
The following vacation spot turned out as soon as extra to be Algiers, the place the airplane 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.
Earlier than leaving Beirut Hamadi and Izz-Al-Din had demanded that Ali Atwa be launched by Greek authorities and dropped at Algiers. In any other case, they stated, they’d kill all eight Greeks on the airplane, 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 airplane.
Two Algerian officers went aboard the 727 and started discussions with the hijackers. The negotiations ultimately paid off.
32 hours after the ordeal had begun 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 had been ordered to fly again to Beirut for a 3rd time, the place they had been held throughout town for an extra 17 days. They had been lastly launched in trade for simply 31 of the greater than 700 prisoners Hamadi and Izz-Al-Din had initially sought.
Earlier than Derickson exited the airplane to security she paused to placed on her flight attendant jacket. She needed to make sure that earlier than she left her plane she was totally 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. Nevertheless Derickson’s terror wasn’t over. Some stories falsely accused her of really giving the terrorists the names of Jewish passengers and she or he 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 she or he subsequently retired within the late 1980’s.
After making an attempt her hand in real-estate she realised how a lot she missed flying and joined Delta within the early 1990’s. Her flight attendant profession continued till 2003, when she was recognized with most cancers.
Uli Derickson sadly handed away on February 18, 2005, aged 60.
Tom Collins a passenger on board the flight later stated “She was clearly in management. She even made calls for of the hijackers. We have now nothing however the utmost respect for her and a debt of gratitude for her actually heroic acts”.
Ms Derickson grew to become the primary girl to obtain the Silver Cross for Valor, awarded by the Legion of Valor, a veterans organisation.
All through her life Uli Derickson by no means noticed herself as a hero. She later stated “They threw me a scorching potato, and I needed to deal with it”.
Her extremely bravery, calm method and professionalism is why she joins our Angels of the Sky.