TWA Flight 847

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TWA Flight 847
Boeing 727-231(Adv), Trans World Airlines (TWA) JP5958649.jpg
N64339, the aircraft involved in the hijacking.
DateJune 14, 1985
Site Greek airspace
Aircraft type Boeing 727-231
Operator Trans World Airlines
Registration N64339
Flight origin Cairo International Airport
1st stopover Athens (Ellinikon) Int'l Airport
2nd stopover Leonardo da Vinci Int'l Airport
3rd stopover Logan International Airport
4th stopover Los Angeles International Airport
Destination San Diego International Airport

Trans World Airlines Flight 847 was a flight from Cairo to San Diego with en route stops in Athens, Rome, Boston, and Los Angeles. [1] On the morning of June 14, 1985, Flight 847 was hijacked shortly after take off from Athens. [2] [3] The hijackers demanded the release of 700 Shi'ite Muslims from Israeli custody and took the plane repeatedly to Beirut and Algiers. [1] Later Western analysis considered them members of the Hezbollah militant group, but Hezbollah rejects that conclusion.


The passengers and crew endured a three-day intercontinental ordeal. Some passengers were threatened and some beaten. Passengers with Jewish-sounding names were moved apart from the others. United States Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered, and his body was thrown onto the apron. Dozens of passengers were held hostage over the next two weeks until released by their captors after some of their demands were met.

Hijacking events

Flight 847 was operated with a Boeing 727-200, registration N64339. [4] The flight originated in Cairo on the morning of June 14. After an uneventful flight from Cairo to Athens, a new crew boarded Flight 847. The new crew in Athens were Captain John Testrake, First Officer Phil Maresca, Flight Engineer Christian Zimmermann, flight service manager Uli Derickson, and flight attendants Judy Cox, Hazel Hesp, Elizabeth Howes, and Helen Sheahan. [5]

At 10:10, Flight 847 departed Athens for Rome. It was commandeered shortly after takeoff by two Arabic-speaking Lebanese men who had smuggled a pistol and two grenades through the Athens airport security.[ how? ] One was later identified as Mohammed Ali Hamadi, who was later captured and sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany. [6] Hamadi is an alleged member of Hezbollah. [7]

To Beirut, then Algiers

The plane was diverted from its original destination of Rome, in airspace over Greece, to the Middle East and made its first stop, for several hours, at the Beirut International Airport in Lebanon, where 19 passengers were allowed to leave in exchange for fuel. Shortly before landing, air traffic control initially refused to let them land in Beirut. Captain Testrake argued with air traffic control until they relented. He said at one point, "He has pulled a hand-grenade pin and he is ready to blow up the aircraft if he has to. We must, I repeat, we must land at Beirut. We must land at Beirut. No alternative." [8]

At the time, Lebanon was in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, and Beirut was divided into sectors controlled by different Shia Amal militia and Hezbollah. That afternoon, the aircraft continued on across the Mediterranean to Algiers, where 20 passengers were released during a five-hour stop before heading back to Beirut that night.

Back to Beirut

Robert Stethem SW2 Robert Stethem.jpg
Robert Stethem

Beirut International Airport was surrounded by a Shia neighborhood. It had no perimeter security and had been over-run by Islamic militias, and nearby residents could simply drive onto the runway.

The hijackers had systematically and regularly beaten all the military passengers, but during this stop, they selected U.S. Navy diver, Robert Stethem, beat him, shot him in the right temple, and dumped his body out of the plane onto the ramp and shot him again, seeking permission from other Shia Muslims operating the control tower to obtain more fuel. Seven American passengers, alleged to have Jewish-sounding surnames, were taken off the jet and held hostage in a Shia prison in Beirut. [9]

Algiers, Beirut again

Nearly a dozen well-armed men joined the hijackers before the plane returned to Algiers the following day, 15 June, [1] where an additional 65 passengers and all five female cabin crew members were released. The hijackers wanted to fly to Tehran,[ citation needed ] but mysteriously returned to Beirut for a third time on the afternoon of 16 June, and remained there for unknown reasons.

The initial demands of the hijackers included:

The Greek government released the accomplice, Ali Atwa, and in exchange the hijackers released eight Greek citizens, including Greek pop singer Demis Roussos, to be flown by a Greek government business jet from Algiers back to Athens.

By the afternoon of June 17, the 40 remaining hostages had been taken from the plane and held hostage throughout Beirut by Hezbollah. Nabih Berri was the chief of the Amal militia and the 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 intervention by U.S. President Ronald Reagan with Lebanese officials on 30 June, when they and the pilots held captive on the airplane were collected in a local schoolyard and met with international journalists, then driven to Syria by the International Red Cross to the Sheraton Hotel and a press conference in Damascus.

The hostages then boarded a U.S. Air Force C-141B Starlifter cargo plane and flew to Rhein-Main AB, Hesse, West Germany, where they were met by U.S. Vice President George H. W. Bush, debriefed, and given medical examinations, then flown to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and welcomed home by the president. Over the next several weeks, Israel released over 700 Shia prisoners, while maintaining that the prisoners' release was not related to the hijacking. [2]


Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia33
Flag of France.svg France819
Flag of Greece.svg Greece1515
Flag of Italy.svg Italy1111
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom2424
Flag of the United States.svg United States78785

The iconic image of this hijacking was a photograph showing a gun being held to a pilot's head, sticking out of the cockpit window, while all three pilots were being interviewed by reporters. The scene was interrupted by one of the French-speaking Hezbollah guards left by the hijackers to hold the crew after most passengers and the cabin crew had been released in Algiers, and the remaining men were held in captivity elsewhere in Beirut. The young militiaman may have unloaded the gun before crashing the scene, as he primarily wanted to be on television. [3]

Flight attendant Uli Derickson was credited with calming one of the hijackers during a fuel-quantity incident during the first leg to Beirut, because she spoke German, the only European language which either hijacker spoke. Notably, she interrupted an attempt to end the hijacking 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 22,700 L (6,000 gal) of jet fuel, for which she was reimbursed. She also refused to cooperate with the hijackers in identifying for them the passports of any passengers with Jewish-sounding names so they could not be singled out.

USS Stethem, an Arleigh Burke-classdestroyer commissioned in 1995, was named in honor of Robert Stethem. [12] The aircraft involved in the hijacking was put back into service. It remained in service for TWA until the aircraft was retired on September 30, 2000. It ceremoniously operated the airline's final revenue flight of their Boeing 727 fleet. [13] The aircraft was later scrapped in May 2002. It had first flown on August 27, 1974, and was delivered to the airline on September 5, 1974. [14]

Alleged perpetrators

Hezbollah specialist Magnus Ranstorp of the University of St. Andrews credits "leading" Hezbollah members Hassan Izz-Al-Din (later involved in the Kuwait Airways Flight 422 hijacking in 1988) and Mohammed Ali Hammadi, whose brother was one of the heads of the Hezbollah Special Security Apparatus, with assisting Hezbollah operatives in the "supervision and planning of the incident itself and as an active participant in the defusion and resolution." [11]

On October 10, 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, three of the alleged hijackers, Imad Mugniyah, Ali Atwa, and Hassan Izz-Al-Din, having been earlier indicted in United States district courts for the 1985 skyjacking of the American airliner, were among the original 22 fugitives announced by President George W. Bush to be placed on the newly formed FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list. Rewards of $5 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Atwa and Izz-Al-Din are still being offered by the United States.

Mohammed Ali Hammadi was arrested in 1987 in Frankfurt, 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. [15] [16] There has been speculation that his parole was granted as part of a covert prisoner swap, in exchange for the release of Susanne Osthoff. Taken hostage in Iraq a month prior, Osthoff was released the week of Hammadi's parole. [17] On February 14, 2006 the United States formally asked the Lebanese government to extradite Mohammed Ali Hammadi for Stethem's murder. [18] On February 24, 2006, he appeared as well on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list, under the name Mohammed Ali "Hamadei" (sic). He was among the second group of indicted fugitives to be named by the FBI to the list. [19]

Several news outlets reported the announcement by Hezbollah of the death of Imad Mugniyah in a car bomb explosion in Syria on February 13, 2008. [20] The remaining three fugitives from TWA Flight 847 remain on the list, and at large. [21]

On September 21, 2019 the Hellenic Police during a cruise ship passport control in Mykonos arrested a 65 year old Lebanese as an alleged perpetrator of the hijacking. [22]

Hezbollah reportedly denies culpability in the TWA Flight 847 hijacking, among its denials of numerous other attacks that have been attributed to the group. [23]

2019 arrest

On September 19, 2019, Greek police arrested a 65-year-old Lebanese man who was accused of involvement in the hijacking. The man was arrested at Mykonos during a passport check for cruise ship passengers. [24] He was aboard a cruise ship that had crossed Rhodes, Santorini and Mykonos. Mykonos was the last stop before returning to Turkey. [25] He was later released after police determined it was a case of mistaken identity. [26]


Related Research Articles

Aircraft hijacking, or simply hijacking, is the unlawful seizure of an aircraft by an individual or a group. Dating from the earliest of hijackings, most cases involve the pilot being forced to fly according to the hijacker's demands. However, in rare cases, the hijackers have flown the aircraft themselves and used them in suicide attacks; most notably in the September 11 attacks, and in several cases, planes have been hijacked by the official pilot or co-pilot.

Trans World Airlines 1930–2001 airline in the United States

Trans World Airlines (TWA) was a major American airline that existed from 1930 until 2001. It was formed as Transcontinental & Western Air to operate a route from New York City to Los Angeles via St. Louis, Kansas City, and other stops, with Ford Trimotors. With American, United, and Eastern, it was one of the "Big Four" domestic airlines in the United States formed by the Spoils Conference of 1930.

This is a list of aviation-related events from 1985. It remains one of the deadliest years in aviation history for aviation disasters, including the crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123, bombing of Air India Flight 182 (329), crash of Arrow Air Flight 1285 (256), crash of Aeroflot Flight 7425 (200), crash of Iberia Airlines Flight 610 (148), Delta Air Lines Flight 191 (137), Galaxy Airlines Flight 203 (70), and British Airtours Flight 28M (55), a mid-air collision between Aeroflot Flight 8381 and a Soviet Air Forces transport aircraft (94), the hijacking of Egyptair Flight 648 (60), and various crashes and other incidents with under 50 fatalities. August 1985 remains the worst single month for commercial aviation fatalities in history; a total of 2,010 people were killed in commercial aviation accidents in 1985; the second highest in commercial aviation history since 1942; only 1972 had more fatalities (2,373).

Robert Stethem Recipient of the Purple Heart medal

Robert Dean Stethem was a United States Navy Seabee diver who was murdered by Hezbollah terrorists during the hijacking of the commercial airliner he was aboard, TWA Flight 847. At the time of his death, his Navy rating was Steelworker Second Class (SW2). He was posthumously promoted to Master Chief Constructionman (CUCM).

Ali Atwa is a Lebanese national and member of the Islamist organization Hezbollah. Atwa is also known as Ammar Mansour Bouslim and Hassan Rostom Salim.

Hassan Izz-Al-Din Lebanese terrorist

Hasan Izz-Al-Din is a Lebanese national wanted by the United States government.

1973 Rome airport attacks and hijacking Terrorist attacks

The 1973 Rome airport attacks and hijacking were a set of Palestinian terrorist attacks originating at Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino International Airport in Fiumicino, Lazio, Italy, resulting in the deaths of 34 people. The attacks began with an airport terminal invasion and hostage-taking, followed by the firebombing of Pan American World Airways Flight 110.

Uli Derickson, was a German American flight attendant best known for her role in helping protect 152 passengers and crew members during the June 14, 1985, hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by members of Amal, a terrorist group with alleged links to Hezbollah.

<i>The Delta Force</i> 1986 film by Menahem Golan

The Delta Force is a 1986 American action film starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin as leaders of an elite group of Special Operations Forces personnel based on the real life U.S. Army Delta Force unit. Directed, co-written and co-produced by Menahem Golan, the film features Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Robert Vaughn, Steve James, Robert Forster, Shelley Winters, George Kennedy, and an uncredited Liam Neeson in an early role. Two sequels were produced, entitled Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection and the direct-to-video Delta Force 3: The Killing Game. The Delta Force was "inspired" by the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.

Mohammed Ali Hammadi Lebanese hijacker and alleged member of Hezbollah

Mohammed Ali Hammadi, also known as Mohammed Ali Hamadi is one of the list of FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists most notable for being the lead hijacker in the TWA Flight 847 hijacking. A Lebanese citizen and alleged member of Hezbollah, he was convicted in a West German court of law of air piracy, murder, and possession of explosives for his part in the 14 June 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847.

Fawaz Younis, also called Fawaz Yunis and Nazeeh, is a Lebanese hijacker who was arrested in international waters pursuant to an arrest warrant issued in the United States. He was transported to the US and convicted; he was sentenced to 30 years. He was later deported after serving sixteen years of his sentence.

<i>The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story</i> 1988 television film directed by Paul Wendkos

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The 1983 Kuwait bombings were attacks on six key foreign and Kuwaiti installations on 12 December 1983, two months after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. The 90-minute coordinated attack on two embassies, the country's main airport, and petro-chemical plant was more notable for the damage it was intended to cause than what was actually destroyed. What might have been "the worst terrorist episode of the twentieth century in the Middle East" killed only six people because of the bombs' faulty rigging.

The Lebanon hostage crisis was the kidnapping in Lebanon of 104 foreign hostages between 1982 and 1992, when the Lebanese Civil War was at its height. The hostages were mostly Americans and Western Europeans, but 21 national origins were represented. At least eight hostages died in captivity; some were murdered, while others died from lack of adequate medical attention to illnesses.

The Jibril Agreement was a prisoner exchange deal which took place on May 21, 1985 between the Israeli government, then headed by Shimon Peres, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command. As part of the agreement, Israel released 1,150 security prisoners held in Israeli prisons in exchange for three Israeli prisoners captured during the First Lebanon War. This was one of several prisoner exchange agreements carried out between Israel and groups it classified as terrorist organizations around that time. Among the prisoners released by Israel were Kozo Okamoto - one of the perpetrators of the Lod Airport Massacre in May 1972, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and Ahmed Yassin, a Gazan Muslim Brotherhood leader who was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 1983 and who later became the spiritual leader of Hamas). Another prisoner released was Ali Jiddah who had served 17 years for planting of a bomb near a Jerusalem hospital in 1968 that wounded nine Israelis. Abdullah Nimar Darwish, on the other hand, has renounced violence by Palestinians within Israeli borders.

El Al Flight 253 attack

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Kuwait Airways Flight 422 aircraft hijacking

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Smith, William E. June 24, 2001. Terror Aboard Flight 847. TIME Magazine. Retrieved: 24 November 2012.
  2. 1 2 "Lebanon The Hostage Crisis - Flags, Maps, Economy, History, Climate, Natural Resources, Current Issues, International Agreements, Population, Social Statistics, Political System".
  3. 1 2 Terror Mastermind's deception cause for skepticism, CNN , February 14, 2008
  4. "FAA Registry (N64339)". Federal Aviation Administration.
  5. See Hostage in a Hostage World: Hope aboard Hijacked TWA 847 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985) for Zimmermann's account of this experience.
  6. "Thinking of Robert Stethem". The New York Sun.
  7. Whitlock, Craig (2005-12-21). "Hijacker Sought By U.S. Released". ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  8. "He's Pulled a Grenade Pin". The New York Times. Associated Press. June 15, 1985. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
  9. "Lebanon - The Hostage Crisis".
  10. "Hijacking of TWA Flight 1847". PBS. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  11. 1 2 Ranstorp, Magnus, Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis, New York, St. Martins Press, 1997, p. 95.
  12. "Named for Steelworker 2nd Class Robert Stethem". United States Navy . Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  13. "TWA RETIRES THE B-727". Youtube. ampicoab. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  14. "REGISTRATION DETAILS FOR N64339 (TRANS WORLD AIRLINES (TWA)) 727-231". Planelogger. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  15. Germany paroles terrorist after 19-year term, NBC News
  16. Will Germany Release an American-Killer?, January 27, 2004
  17. "German Hostage Freed in Iraq: Freed Osthoff Not Heading Home Yet". December 19, 2005 via Spiegel Online.
  18. US 'seeks justice' for hijacker, BBC News
  19. FBI updates most wanted terrorists and seeking information – War on Terrorism Lists Archived 2010-01-29 at the Wayback Machine , FBI national Press Release, February 24, 2006
  20. Hezbollah: Top militant wanted by U.S. slain, MSNBC February 13, 2008
  21. "Hijacking of TWA Flight 847". Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  22. Εντοπίστηκε στη Μύκονο o αεροπειρατής της πτήσης της TWA το 1985 [The 1985 TWA flight hijacker was located in Mykonos]. Kathimerini (in Greek). 2019-09-21.
  23. "Germans release Lebanese hijacker". 2005-12-20. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
  24. "Suspect arrested in Greece over 1985 TWA plane hijacking | DW | 21.09.2019". DW.COM.
  25. "TWA hijacker arrested in Greece after 34 years (photos)".
  26. Elinda Labropoulou, Nada Altaher and Evan Perez. "Greek police release TWA hijacking suspect and say it was a case of mistaken identity". CNN. Retrieved 2019-09-30.