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TWA Flight 847
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TWA Flight 847

Trans World Airlines Flight 847 was hijacked on June 14, 1985.

It was a Boeing 727 flying from Athens to Rome, piloted by John Testrake. It departed on a Friday morning at 10:10 am, carrying 153 crew and passengers. The crew included the flight engineer, Benjamin C. Zimmerman, the co-pilot, Philip G. Maresca, and the purser, Uli Derickson.

It was commandeered by two men shortly after taking off from Athens. The men allegedly smuggled pistols and grenades through the Athens airport security. A third hijacker, Ali Atwa, was bumped from the full flight. The Greek government arrested him.

The plane first stopped in Beirut for several hours. The hijackers allowed 19 passengers to leave. They took on fuel. The plane then went to Algiers. Here 20 passengers were released during a five hour stop. The plane headed back to Beirut. At the time, Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war. Beirut was split into sectors, with different militia controlling different areas. The Beirut International Airport was surrounded by a Shiite neighborhood. The airport had no perimeter security. People from the surrounding neighborhood could simply drive onto the runway.

At the second stop in Beirut things turned violent. The hijackers picked out an American Navy diver, Robert Stethem, from among the passengers. They beat him, shot him in the right temple, and dumped his body out of the plane onto the tarmac. Several passengers with Jewish sounding names were taken off the plane, but not released. Nearly a dozen armed men joined the hijackers.

The plane returned to Algiers again, where 65 passengers were released. It again returned to Beirut, landing on Sunday afternoon. It remained here. One of the TWA crew members, Uli Derickson, was widely credited with calming the hijackers and saving the lives of many passengers.

The Greek government released the accomplice Ali Atwa; in exchange, the hijackers released eight Greek citizens. One of the passengers was Demis Roussos, a Greek folk singer.

The initial demands of the hijackers included: the release of all Shiites captured by Israel in Lebanon, international condemnation of Israeli military activity in southern Lebanon, condemnation of US actions in the Middle East, condemnation of a car bombing in the Beirut suburb of Bir al Abed that occurred March 8. Rumors in Beirut suggested that the car bombing, which killed 80 people, was linked to the US Central Intelligence Agency.

By Monday afternoon, June 17, most of the hostages had been taken from the plane to a secure location. The 40 remaining hostages were protected by Nabih Berri, a moderate Shiite leader of the Amal milia. He was also an official in the fractured Lebanon government. 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, boarded a US Air Force plane, and flew to West Germany.

Israel released most of the prisoners within a month after the hijacking ended. They stated that the release was unrelated to the hijacking and had long been planned.

One of the hijackers, Mohammed Homadi, was arrested two years later in Frankfurt, Germany. He was tried and convicted of Stethem's murder. He is serving a life sentence in Germany. On October 10, 2001, three of the alleged hijackers, Imad Mugniyah, Ali Atwa, and Hassan Izz-Al-Din were placed on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list. Rewards of $25 million dollars for information leading to their arrests and convictions are currently being offered by the United States.