TWA Flight 847 Hijacked
TWA Flight 847 Captain with one of the hijackers. Photo: AFP

June 14, 1985

Two Lebanese Shiite terrorists armed with grenades and handguns hijack TWA Flight 847, a 727 traveling from Cairo to San Diego with scheduled stops in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles, shortly after its departure from Athens for Rome. The hijackers force the plane to fly to Beirut.

The hijackers release 19 passengers in Beirut in exchange for fuel. Still carrying 120 passengers and eight crew members, the plane flies to Algiers, releases 20 more passengers, then returns to Beirut. The hijackers have already beaten any military passengers, and after this second landing in Lebanon, they select U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem for execution. They beat him, shoot him in the head, dump his body on the tarmac and shoot him again. Having asked passengers about possible Jewish identity, the terrorists separate out seven American passengers with Jewish-sounding names and move them to a Shiite prison in Beirut.

A dozen armed men join the hijackers on the plane, which flies back to Algiers on June 15. There, 65 more passengers and five female flight attendants are released before the plane returns to Beirut on June 16, despite the hijackers’ stated desire to go to Tehran.

Hezbollah spreads the passengers around Beirut while the flight crew is held on the plane for the next two weeks. Eight Greek passengers are released after Greece frees a Hezbollah terrorist, Ali Atwa. For the remaining hostages, the hijackers demand the release of 17 men connected to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and 766 men, mainly Lebanese Shiites, held by Israel and its South Lebanese Army ally.

The hostages are released through Syria on June 30 after the intervention of President Ronald Reagan. Soon after, Israel begins freeing its Lebanese Shiite prisoners. Israel says the release was planned before the hijacking, and the United States denies making any deal to win the freedom of the Flight 847 hostages.