N656PA, plane involved in hijacking, seen in January 1985 at now closed Munich Riem Airport
|Date||September 5, 1986|
|Site||Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan |
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747-121|
|Aircraft name||Clipper Empress of the Seas|
|Operator||Pan American World Airways|
|Flight origin||Sahar International Airport|
|Stopover|| Jinnah International Airport|
|Last stopover|| Frankfurt am Main Airport|
Frankfurt am Main, West Germany
|Destination|| John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport|
New York, United States
On September 5, 1986, the Boeing 747-121 serving the flight was hijacked while on the ground at Karachi by four armed Palestinian men of the Abu Nidal Organization. The aircraft, with 360 passengers on board, had just arrived from Bombay. A grand jury later concluded that the militants were planning to use the hijacked airliner to pick up Palestinian prisoners in both Cyprus and Israel.
Forty-three passengers were injured or killed during the hijacking, including nationals from India, the United States, Pakistan, and Mexico. All the hijackers were arrested and sentenced to death in Pakistan. However, the sentences were later commuted to life in prison. Neerja Bhanot, head attendant on the flight, posthumously received India's highest peacetime award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra Award, for her efforts to save passengers' lives.
Hijacking at Karachi
Pan Am Flight 73 originated in Mumbai and stopped at the Karachi airport for a scheduled stopover at 4:30 AM. It was carrying 394 passengers and 9 infants, an American flight crew and 13 Indian flight attendants. A total of 109 passengers disembarked at Karachi. The first busload of fresh passengers from Karachi had barely reached the aircraft standing on the tarmac when the hijacking began to unfold.
Two hijackers dressed in sky-blue uniforms of the Pakistan Airport Security Force drove up to the aircraft in a van fitted with a siren and flashing lights. They rushed up the ramp, firing shots into the air. Another two hijackers joined the first two men, one of them dressed in Pakistani shalwar kameez and carrying a briefcase full of grenades. There was also gunfire outside the aircraft reported around this time, which killed two Kuwait Airlines staff members working on an aircraft nearby. The hijackers fired shots at the feet of a flight attendant forcing him to close the door. Another flight attendant, Neerja Bhanot, was out of sight of the hijackers and relayed the hijack code to the cockpit crew, who subsequently exited the aircraft via the Inertial Reel Escape Device.[a][b] After about 40 minutes from the landing of Flight 73, the airliner came under the control of the hijackers. The exit of the pilots immobilised the aircraft.[c]
The four hijackers were dressed as Karachi airport security guards and were armed with assault rifles, pistols, grenades, and plastic explosive belts. The hijackers drove a van that had been modified to look like an airport security vehicle through a security checkpoint up to one of the boarding stairways to Pan Am Flight 73.
The four hijackers were later identified as Zayd Hassan Abd al-Latif Safarini (Safarini, alias "Mustafa"), Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim (alias "Fahad"), Muhammad Abdullah Khalil Hussain ar-Rahayyal ("Khalil"), and Muhammad Ahmed Al-Munawar (alias "Mansoor"). Pakistani authorities also identified another accomplice Wadoud Muhammad Hafiz al-Turki ("Hafiz") and arrested him a week later.
Demand for pilot
Within a short time after seizing control of the aircraft, the lead hijacker Safarini realized that the cockpit crew had escaped and therefore he would be forced to negotiate with officials. First and business class passengers were ordered to go towards the back of the plane. At the same time, passengers at the back of the plane were ordered forward. Since the aircraft was nearly full, passengers sat down in the aisles, galleys and door exits. At approximately 10:00, Safarini went through the plane and arrived at the seat of Rajesh Kumar, a 29-year-old Indian American resident of California who had recently been naturalized as an American citizen. Safarini ordered Kumar to come to the front of the aircraft, to kneel at the front doorway of the aircraft, and to face the front of the aircraft with his hands behind his head. Safarini negotiated with officials, in particular Viraf Daroga, the head of Pan Am's Pakistan operation, stating that if the crew was not sent on the plane within 30 minutes, then Kumar would be shot. Shortly thereafter, Safarini became impatient with the officials and grabbed Kumar and shot him in the head in front of witnesses both on and off the aircraft. Safarini heaved Kumar out of the door onto the ramp below. Pakistani personnel on the ramp reported that Kumar was still breathing when he was placed in an ambulance, but he was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital in Karachi.
Safarini joined the hijackers and ordered the flight attendants: Sunshine Vesuwala and Madhvi Bahuguna, to begin collecting passports. They complied with this request. During the collection of the passports, believing passengers with American passports would be singled out by the hijackers, the flight attendants proceeded to hide some of the American passports under seats, and dumped the rest down a rubbish chute.[non-primary source needed]
After the passports had been collected, Mary Anne Niggli came onto the intercom and asked for Michael John Thexton, a British citizen, to come to the front of the plane. He went through the curtain into the front of the plane where he came face to face with Safarini, who was holding Thexton's passport. He asked Thexton if he was a soldier and if he had a gun, Thexton replied "No". He ordered Thexton onto his knees. Safarini told the officials that if anyone came near the plane that he would go on to kill another passenger. Viraf Daroga told Safarini that there was a crew member on board who was able to use the cockpit radio and asked him to negotiate through radio. Safarini went back to Thexton and asked him whether he would like a drink of water, to which Thexton replied "Yes." Safarini also asked Thexton if he was married, and claimed he did not like all this violence and killing and said that the Americans and Israelis had taken over his country and left him unable to lead a proper life. One of the hijackers ordered Thexton back through the plane to a seat.
The hijack stalemate continued on into the night. During the stalemate, Dick Melhart was positioned by the door and was able to unlock it when the firing started. About 21:00 the auxiliary power unit shut down, all lighting turned off, and emergency lights came on. Passengers at the front were ordered toward the back, while passengers at the back were ordered forward. Since the aisles were already full of passengers, those passengers standing just sat down.
With the plane out of power and sitting in near darkness, a hijacker at the L1 door said a prayer and then aimed to shoot at the explosive belt worn by another hijacker near the door. The intent was to cause an explosion massive enough to kill all passengers and crew on board, as well as themselves. Since the cabin was dark, the hijacker missed, causing only a small detonation. Immediately the hijackers began shooting their weapons into the cabin at passengers and attempted to throw their grenades. Yet again the lack of light caused them to not pull pins fully and to create only small explosions. Ultimately it was the bullets that created the most damage since each bullet would bounce off aircraft cabin surfaces and create crippling shrapnel. An air hostess at the L3 door opened the door; although the slide did not deploy, several passengers and crew jumped down the fifteen feet or 6m/20 ft. to the ramp. Dick Melhart was able to unlatch the door at R3 which was the exit over the wing, passengers jumped out from this exit. A grounds staff trapped on board during the ordeal was responsible for opening the R4 door, which was the only door armed to deploy the emergency slide. Ultimately this slide allowed for more passengers to evacuate safely and without injuries.
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Pakistan quickly sent in the Pakistan Army's Special Services Group (SSG) commandos and Pakistan Rangers were put on high alert. The 17-hour long hijacking came to an end when the hijackers opened fire on the passengers at 21:30 Pakistan Standard Time, but soon ran out of ammunition, resulting in some passengers fleeing the aircraft through the aircraft's emergency exits. The SSG responded by storming the aircraft and seizing the hijackers. The SSG commando unit was headed by Brigadier Tariq Mehmood and the Shaheen Company of the SSG's 1st Commando Battalion carried out the operation. [failed verification]
The 365 total passengers plus crew on Pan Am 73 were citizens of 14 different countries. Citizens of India represented roughly 26% of the people on board the flight, and 28% of those killed.
- Captain William Allen "Bill" Kianka (born June 1, 1934), Age 52, He served in the U.S. Navy from 1952 to 1954 and fought in one tour in the Korean War, and was serving with Pan Am as a Captain since 1954.
- First Officer Conway Tehan Dodge, Sr. (born November 1, 1932), Age 53, He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1950 to 1954 and fought in two tours in the Korean War, and was serving with Pan Am as a First Officer since 1954.
- Flight Engineer John Joseph Ridgway (born September 25, 1940), Age 45, He was serving with Pan Am as a Flight Engineer since 1962.
Trial and sentencing
On July 6, 1988, five Palestinian men were convicted in Pakistan for their roles in the hijacking and murders and sentenced to death: Zayd Hassan Abd al-Latif Safarini, Wadoud Muhammad Hafiz al-Turki, Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, Muhammad Abdullah Khalil Hussain ar-Rahayyal, and Muhammad Ahmed al-Munawar. The sentences were later commuted to life in prison.
According to a CNN report, Safarini was handed over to the FBI from a prison in Pakistan in September 2001. He was taken to the United States where on May 13, 2005 he was sentenced to a 160-year prison term. At the plea proceeding, Safarini admitted that he and his fellow hijackers committed the offences as members of the Abu Nidal Organization, also called the ANO, a designated terrorist organization.
Libyan involvement and legal action
In August 2003, Libya accepted responsibility for "the actions of its officials" in respect of the bombing Pan Am Flight 103, but was silent on the question of the Pan Am Flight 73 hijacking. Libya offered US$2.7 billion in compensation to the families of the 270 victims of Pan Am Flight 103 and, in January 2004, agreed to pay $170 million to the families of the 170 UTA victims. The seven American UTA victims' families refused the offer and instead filed a claim for $2.2 billion against Libya. From 2004 to 2006 the U.S. and UK opened up relations with Libya, including removing sanctions and removing the country as a sponsor of terrorism.
In June 2004, a volunteer group of families and victims from the incident, Families from Pan Am Flight 73, was formed to work toward a memorial for those killed in the incident, to seek the truth behind this terrorist attack, and to hold those responsible for it accountable. On April 5, 2006, the law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP, representing the surviving passengers, estates and family members of the hijacking victims, announced it was filing a civil suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking $10 billion in compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitive damages, from Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi and the five convicted hijackers. The lawsuit alleged Libya provided the Abu Nidal Organization with material support and also ordered the attack as part of a Libyan-sponsored terrorist campaign against American, European and Israeli interests.
British media that was critical of normalisation of relations between Gaddafi and the West reported in March 2004 (days after Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Tripoli) that Libya was behind the hijacking.
As of September 2015 about $700 million of funds that Libya gave the US to settle claims related to Libyan sponsored terrorism has not been distributed to families of victims who were Indian passport holders.
Reward and reported killing of accused
The other four prisoners were deported by Pakistani authorities to Palestine in 2008. On December 3, 2009, the FBI, in coordination with the State Department, announced a $5M reward for information that leads to the capture of each of the four remaining hijackers of Pan Am 73.
One of the four, Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, was allegedly killed in a drone strike on 9 January 2010. His death was never confirmed and he remains on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list and the State Department's Rewards for Justice list.
In hopes of generating new leads for the alleged hijackers the FBI released new age-progressed images on January 11, 2018. The case is still under investigation by the Washington Field Office of the Bureau.
The aircraft was a four-engined Boeing 747-121 delivered to Pan Am on 18 June 1971, with registration N656PA and named Clipper Live Yankee by the airline. It was later renamed and at the time of the incident was named Clipper Empress of the Seas. After the incident the aircraft was renamed Clipper New Horizons. Pan Am sold the aircraft to Evergreen International in 1988 and then leased it back. The aircraft was returned by Pan Am to Evergreen in April 1991. Evergreen scrapped the aircraft the next month.
In popular culture
The film Neerja was released in 2016 depicting the hijacking and the actions of all the flight attendants on the aircraft. Neerja Bhanot was the Senior Flight Purser and the youngest awardee of the highest Indian bravery award, Ashoka Chakra. She also received the United States Special Courage award and the Pakistani Tamgha-e-Insaaniyat.
- The Inertial Reel Escape Device consists of five metal cables attached to the roof of the cockpit. Up to five crew can reach the roof through an emergency hatch and slide down to the ground retarded by the cables.
- According to an India Today report, Neerja Bhanot, the head purser of the flight, alerted the cockpit crew. But other accounts indicate that she had a gun pointed to her head at that time.
- The Pan Am executives supported the decision of the flight crew abandoning the plane. Martin Shugrue, the Chief Operating Officer, stated, "In a situation like this, one of our immediate prime objectives (is to) immobilize the aircraft, turn the aircraft into a building."
- "Jordanian Hijacker Sentenced in D.C. for 1986 Hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 as Victims from Around the World Recount Horrors" (Press release). Washington, DC: Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2004-05-14. Retrieved 2017-11-09.
- "Pan Am Flight-73 alleged hijacker 'killed' in drone attack in Pakistan". Asian Tribune.
- "United States of America v. Wadoud Muhammad et al Indictment" (PDF). justice.gov. United States Department of Justice. 2001-06-11. Retrieved 2015-04-18.
- "24 yrs after Pan Am hijack, Neerja Bhanot killer falls to drone". The Times of India. 2010-01-17.
- Dilip Bobb, M. Rahman, Zahid Hussain, and Ramindar Singh. Pan Am hijack in Karachi: Pakistan security forces handling of situation raises questions, India Today, 1986-09-30.
- A video demonstrating the Cockpit Escape Reels on a Boeing 747-300, You Tube video.
- Ghosh, Flight 73: The Inner Story 2018, Chap. 2.
- Mohan, Megha (2016-03-31). "Inside a hijack: The unheard stories of the Pan Am 73 crew". BBC News.
- "Jordanian hijacker sentenced to 160 years in prison for deadly 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 as victims from around the world recount horrors". Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice. 2004-05-13. Archived from the original on 2016-12-26.
- United States of America vs. Zaid Hassan Abd Latif Safarini: Rule 11 Proffer of Facts, US Department of Justice, November 12, 2003.
- Leonnig, Carol D. (2004-05-13). "A Day of Horror in 1986 Is Relived". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-02-21.
- Mohan, Megha (2016-03-31). "Inside a hijack: The unheard stories of the Pan Am 73 crew". BBC News. Retrieved 2020-02-21.
- Thexton, Mike (2006). What happened to the hippy man (1st ed.). Great Britain: Lanista Partners Ltd. pp. 48–50. ISBN 0-9553185-0-5.
- Markham, James M.; Times, Special To the New York (1986-09-08). "Jet Survivors Say Army Didn't Help". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-21.
- Feb 18, Shilpa Baburaj | TNN | Updated:; 2016; Ist, 12:20. "'I saw Neerja being shot in the head' | Bengaluru News - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 2020-06-06.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- "On This Day - 5 September – 1986: Karachi hijack ends in bloodshed". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
- "Act of Terror: Seeking Information Leading to Those Responsible: Pan Am Flight 73 Hijacking". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2016-06-25.
- "Suspect in 1986 hijacking brought to U.S. for trial". CNN. 2001-10-01.
- "Neerja Bhanot killing: FBI releases age-progressed images of 4 wanted hijack suspects". Economic Times.
- "FBI releases age-processed pictures of four 1986 Pan Am hijacking suspects". Geo News. 19 January 2018.
- Arieff, Irwin (2003-08-16). "Libya takes blame for Lockerbie bombing". Independent Online.
- Smith, Craig S. (2004-01-10). "Libya Will Pay $170 Million In Bombing of French Airliner". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
- "Victims of September 1986 Hijacking of Pan Am 73 File US$10 Billion... -- WASHINGTON, April 5 /PR Newswire UK/ --". prnewswire.co.uk. CROWELL & MORING LLP. 2006-04-05. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
- Revealed: Gaddafi's air massacre plot, The Times, 2004-03-28
- "1986 Pan Am survivors pin hopes on Modi". The Times of India. 2015-09-29.
- "FBI releases age-processed pictures of four 1986 Pan Am hijacking suspects". Geo News. 19 January 2018.
- U.S. airstrike reportedly kills terrorist, Los Angeles Times, 2010-01-16
- "FBI most wanted terrorist : JAMAL SAEED ABDUL RAHIM". Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
- "Rewards for Justice - Wanted for Terrorism - Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim". Retrieved 2020-09-10.
- "New Images Released in 1986 Hijacking Case". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 2018-01-12.
- "FAA Registry (N656PA)". Federal Aviation Administration.
- "Evergreen International Airlines N483EV (Boeing 747 - MSN 20351) (Ex N656PA ) | Airfleets aviation". www.airfleets.net. Retrieved 2020-09-10.
- Ghosh, Tarak (2018), Flight 73: The Inner Story, Munich: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
- Stettler, Jeremaiah. "25 years later, experiencing Pan Am hijacking still haunts Utahn." The Salt Lake Tribune. August 7, 2014.
- "New Security Measures for Pan Am Airlines." ABC News. December 6, 1986. Getty Images Clip #450000364
- Hijacking of Pan AM Flight 73: Significant Events, The United States Attorney's Office, US Department of Justice, 25 February 2016.
- U.S. Department of Justice Attorney's Office For the District of Columbia Information on court proceedings of Pan Am Flight 73
- "UNITED STATES ARRESTS KNOWN HIGHJACKER FROM PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS FLIGHT 73" (Archive). U.S. Department of Justice. Monday October 1, 2001.
- U.S. Department of Justice May 13, 2004, press release on the Pan Am Flight 73 criminal case
- Crowell & Moring Pan Am Flight 73 civil suit against Libya, Gaddafi and the five hijackers
- Naqvi, Jawed. "This Karachi nightmare and that." Dawn. July 1, 2014.
- For the book by Mike Thexton about his experience on Pan Am Flight 73, 'What happened to the Hippy Man?', see the book's web page
- Photos of the airliner at airliners.net
- "Karachi hijack ends in bloodshed." bbc.co.uk.
- Pan Am Flight 73 September 1986 Karachi ABC News Nightline, September 6, 1986. YouTube video. uploaded December 26, 2017.
- Macneil, Robert, & Lehrer, Lim. "Flight 073: What Happened? What Next?" The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. September 5, 1986
- Inside a hijack: The unheard stories of the Pan Am 73 crew
- Jet Survivors Say Army Didn't Help