TWA 847 & Achille Lauro Hijackings

Published: 1985
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

Dennis Daly: 1985 will be remembered as the deadliest year in the history of commercial aviation. Just as the year was ending, tragedy struck again: 248 American service personnel, returning from a peacekeeping stint in the Middle East, were killed when their charter jet crashed on takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland.

President Reagan went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to comfort the surviving families and friends …

President Ronald Reagan: "We wonder at the stark tragedy of it all, for lost were not only the 248, but all of the talent, the wisdom and the idealism that they had accumulated. Lost, too, were their experience and their enormous idealism. Who else but an idealist would choose to become a member of the armed forces and put himself or herself in harm's way for the rest of us?"

Dennis Daly: Two jumbo jets were lost in '85, one belonging to Air India. UPI's John Ryan reported after the jet fell into the sea off the Irish coast …

John Ryan: "The aircraft was on its way from Montreal to London's Heathrow Airport. The cause of the crash isn't known yet, and there was no warning from the pilot that the jumbo was in trouble."

Dennis Daly: That same day, baggage from another jet, also en route out of Canada, exploded at the Narita Airport outside Tokyo. Two baggage handlers died in that incident.

The worst accident of the year was the worst ever. A Japan Airline's jet went out of control on a domestic flight. The plane's pilot struggled with the controls of the 747 for many minutes before it finally hit a mountainside; 520 died.

Here in the U.S., there was string of airlines crashes: a major crash at Milwaukee; several commuter crashes; and a Delta L-1011 fell short of the runway on August 2nd in bad weather while on approach to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport …

Unknown Speaker: "The only thing left that I could see from the freeway was the tail of the plane and a section of about five or six windows ahead of the tail, totally charred."

Dennis Daly: 31 in the tail section survived, 133 others did not. By year's end, nearly 2,000 people were to have died in air crashes worldwide.

Air safety and the safety of travelers was further complicated this past year by a rise in terrorism and hijackings. We have two reports, the first from UPI Radio's Carol Brooks in London.

Carol Brooks: "America held hostage: it all sounded familiar, but this time it was Beirut, not Iran, and this time it was an airliner, not an Embassy. On June 14th, TWA Flight 847 took off from Athens bound for Rome when two passengers armed with guns and hand grenades ordered the pilot to fly to Beirut. The nightmare didn't end until 17 days later. The plane zigzagged back and forth between Beirut and Algiers, and several of the 153 people on board were let go in different groups. The hijackers were demanding that over 700 Shiite Muslim prisoners be released from Israeli jails. U.S. Navy diver Robert Stetham was the victim of their threat to execute the hostages. He was beaten, shot in the head, and his body was thrown onto the tarmac in Beirut Airport.

(00:15:13) tragedies

"President Reagan vowed not to give in to the hijackers …

President Ronald Reagan: "'To do so would only invite more terrorism. Nor will we ask, nor pressure, any other Government to do so.'"

Carol Brooks: "The situation also sparked one of the biggest media wars ever. The hijackers were calling all of the information shots, and they chose an ABC crew to interview Captain John Testrake, the pilot of the plane. Testrake called on the Reagan Administration not to try and rescue the hostages by force. He spoke with a gun held to his head …

Captain John Testrake: "'I think that we'd all be dead men if we did, because we're continually surrounded by many, many guards.'"

Carol Brooks: "In the days that followed, there was a lot more confusion; but finally on June 30th the remaining 39 hostages were set free. But the Reagan Administration is still faced with the problem of how to obtain the safe release of 6 other Americans who are still being held hostage in Lebanon.

"This is Carol Brooks."

Dennis Daly: As the year went on, terrorists again struck tourists in the Middle East. This time a cruise liner was involved, and another American died. We have that story from Jazelle McCallus-Falso at our London bureau …

Jazelle McCallus-Falso: "The Italian luxury liner Achille Lauro was hijacked by Palestinians in mid-October. At first, Yasser Arafat denied the captors were members of the PLO … "

Yasser Arafat: "'We are trying to find the -- the lead, from where and to whom they belong.'"

Jazelle McCallus-Falso: "Despite the Arafat's claim, when the ship anchored off Egypt's Port Said, PLO member Mohammad Abbas helped negotiate an end to the hijacking and was later accused of masterminding the attack. Relief for the apparent peaceful conclusion to the takeover was quickly replaced by outrage over the coldblooded murder of the elderly American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer. And when Washington discovered Egypt was flying Abbas and the hijackers to freedom in Tunis, President Reagan ordered the plane intercepted and forced to land in Italy … "

President Ronald Reagan: "'These young Americans sent a message to terrorists everywhere, a message you can run, but you can't hide.'"

Jazelle McCallus-Falso: "On November 24th, air travelers were the victims once again with the hijacking of an Egyptian passenger jet on route from Athens to Cairo. The plane landed in Malta, and when the hijackers began shooting passengers with each passing hour, Egyptian commandos were brought in to storm the plane. It was a tragic end to a terrible ordeal, with 60 passengers dying in the crossfire between the soldiers and the hijackers.

"Australian passenger Anthony Lyons described what happened … "

Anthony Lyons: "'A lot of people were being shot on tarmac, because the Egyptian commandos didn't know who was a terrorist and who wasn't.'"

Jazelle McCallus-Falso: "Since the shootout, there has been an international debate about the use of force to end a hijacking; but the only conclusion all seem agreed upon is the need to tighten security at the world's airports.

"This is Jazelle McCallus."