Sadly, the lessons were forgotten.
TV Review: The Dawn of Terror
By Dorothy Rabinowitz
24 February 2006
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2006, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
HIJACKED" (an "American Experience" production airing Monday, 9-10 p.m. EST, on PBS; check local listings) is a richly instructive look back at plane hijackings perpetrated more than three decades ago, and a surprisingly chilling one. After the events of 9/11, something like a string of hijackings back in the '70s from which all the victims emerged safely can seem minor. Yet there is nothing minor about the sense of shock, the raw tension, that comes ripping from this report.
It's a sense that owes much to pure documentary power -- to the onscreen recollections of so many of those involved, the perpetrators and planners as well as their victims. It owes much as well to the haunting consciousness of 9/11 -- haunting, not least, in the beginning scenes, depicting the ease with which teams of hijackers, in September 1970, managed to take command of three passenger planes. (Two more would be taken in the next few days.) It won't fail to serve as a reminder of the ease with which terrorists were able to board planes similarly on a September morning 31 years later.
To be sure, those 1970 hijackers didn't manage to hold all the planes they tried to take. The story began Sept. 6 when teams of Palestinian terrorists arrived at European airports and boarded three New York-bound planes -- TWA Flight 74 from Frankfurt, El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam, Swissair Flight 100 from Zurich. The first business of the hijackers -- after subduing the passengers by displaying their grenades -- was to get into the cockpit. And here we come to one of the film's richly instructive parts.
On the Swissair and TWA planes taken that day, narrator Campbell Scott notes, the hijackers met little resistance -- but matters were different aboard El Al. Ignoring the banging on the cockpit door, the intercom calls from a crew member warning that the terrorists were threatening to blow the plane up, the captain threw the plane into a dive, ensuring that everyone standing would be thrown to the floor. In the ensuing uproar, passengers succeeded in disarming one hijacker, while a security agent shot another. A man of some age now, but an unmistakably powerful presence, filmed in the cockpit of a plane, the former pilot explains he had decided there would be no hijacking.
The El Al plane -- which, the film makes clear, the terrorists wanted above all others -- landed safely in London with its relieved passengers, one captured hijacker and another soon to die of his gunshot wounds. There might have been two more to contend with, had El Al's security agents not alerted the captain to their suspicious passports, the way they had purchased their tickets, and had them taken off the plane. For aspiring hijackers the moral of this story has long been clear -- they would be wise to choose a carrier other than El Al.
The case of the other passengers and crews of the planes successfully seized was another story -- the film's main drama -- a saga of hundreds of wretched hostages, men, women and children, flown to a remote stretch of the Jordanian desert, where they would be kept on the planes nearly a week, with little food and scarcely drinkable chlorinated water. One of the planners of this action by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine explains, "We could not just give them the felafel we ate ourselves."
The PFLP issued demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners, and world leaders pondered the crisis. No one pondered more than President Nixon -- most of the hostages were, after all, Americans -- who wanted PFLP targets bombed. He was falsely informed by Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, who wanted to avert any such action, that the weather wasn't favorable. Filmmaker Ilan Ziv's is a marvelously detailed chronicle -- one that makes these events lost to time, and surpassed by horrors infinitely worse, seem suddenly fresh and menacingly near.
We haven't seen an attempted hijacking of a US plane since 9-11. I wonder how the crew and passengers would react?
There haven't been attempted hijackings but there has been mentally disturbed passengers who have charged the cockpit. In all cases the passengers and crew swiftly laid the smack down on the person. The only way the terrorists will get another US plane is by blowing it out of the sky.