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Dawson's Field hijackings
The airliners on the ground during the PFLP-hosted press conference.
Location Zarka, Jordan
Coordinates 32°6′22″N 36°9′36″E / 32.10611°N 36.16°E / 32.10611; 36.16Coordinates: 32°6′22″N 36°9′36″E / 32.10611°N 36.16°E / 32.10611; 36.16
Date 6 September 1970
Target Release of Palestinian prisoners imprisoned in Israel
Attack type
4 successful aircraft hijackings, 1 foiled
Weapons Firearms and hand grenades
Victim 310 hostages
Perpetrator Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Defenders Bar Lev, passengers and sky marshal (Flight 219)

In September 1970, four jet airliners bound for New York City and one for London were hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Three aircraft were forced to land at Dawson's Field, a remote desert airstrip near Zarka, Jordan, formerly a British Royal Air Force base, then become PFLP's "Revolutionary Airport". By the end of the incident, one hijacker had been killed and one injury reported. This was the second instance of mass aircraft hijacking, after an escape from communist Czechoslovakia in 1950.

  • On 6 September, TWA Flight 741 from Frankfurt (a Boeing 707) and Swissair Flight 100 from Zürich (a Douglas DC-8) were forced to land at Dawson's Field.[1][2]
  • On the same day, the hijacking of El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam (another 707) was foiled: hijacker Patrick Argüello was shot and killed, and his partner Leila Khaled was subdued and turned over to British authorities in London. Two PFLP hijackers who were prevented from boarding the El Al flight, hijacked instead Pan Am Flight 93, a Boeing 747, diverting the large plane first to Beirut and then to Cairo, rather than to the small Jordanian airstrip.
  • On 9 September, a fifth plane, BOAC Flight 775, a Vickers VC10 coming from Bahrain, was hijacked by a PFLP sympathizer and brought to Dawson's Field in order to pressure the British to free Khaled.

While the majority of the 310 hostages were transferred to Amman and freed on 11 September the PFLP segregated the flight crews and Jewish passengers, keeping the 56 Jewish hostages in custody, while releasing the non-Jews. Six hostages in particular were kept because they were men and American citizens, not necessarily Jews. The six men held in particular were Robert Norman Schwartz, a U.S. Defense Department researcher stationed in Bangkok, Thailand; James Lee Woods, Schwartz's assistant and security detail; Gerald Berkowitz, an American-born Jew and college chemistry professor; Rabbi Abraham Harrari-Raful and his brother Rabbi Joseph Harrari-Raful, two Brooklyn school teachers; and John Hollingsworth, a U.S. State Department employee. Schwartz was a convert to Catholicism whose father was Jewish.[3][4][5] On 12 September prior to their announced deadline, the PFLP used explosives to destroy the empty planes, as they anticipated a counterstrike.[1]

The PFLP's exploitation of Jordanian territory in the drama was another instance of the increasingly autonomous Arab Palestinian activity within the Kingdom of Jordan – a serious challenge to the Hashemite monarchy of King Hussein. Hussein declared martial law on 16 September and from 17 to 27 September his forces deployed into Palestinian-controlled areas in what became known as Black September in Jordan, nearly triggering a regional war involving Syria, Iraq, and Israel with potentially global consequences.

Swift Jordanian victory, however, enabled a 30 September deal in which the remaining PFLP hostages were released in exchange for Khaled and three PFLP members in a Swiss prison.[1]


El Al Flight 219Edit

El Al Flight 219
El Al 707 at Zurich 1982.jpg
An El Al Boeing 707-358B similar to the hijacked craft, landing at Zürich Airport, Switzerland in 1982
Hijacking summary
Date 6 September 1970
Summary Attempted Hijacking
Site English Channel
Passengers 138
Crew 10
Injuries (non-fatal) 1
Fatalities 1 (hijacker)
Survivors 148
Aircraft type Boeing 707–458
Operator El Al Israel Airlines
Registration 4X-ATB
Flight origin Ben Gurion Int'l Airport
Stopover Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport

El Al Flight 219 (type Boeing 707, serial 18071/216, registration 4X-ATB) originated in Tel Aviv, Israel, and was headed to New York City. It had 138 passengers and 10 crew members aboard. It stopped in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and was hijacked shortly after it took off from there by Patrick Argüello,[6] a Nicaraguan American, and Leila Khaled, a Palestinian.

The original plan was to have four hijackers aboard this flight, but two were prevented from boarding in Amsterdam by Israeli security—these two conspirators, traveling under Senegalese passports with consecutive numbers,[7] were prevented from flying on El Al on 6 September. They purchased first-class tickets on Pan Am Flight 93 and hijacked that flight instead.

Posing as a married couple, Argüello and Khaled boarded the plane using Honduran passports—having passed through a security check of their luggage—and were seated in the second row of tourist class. Once the plane was approaching the British coast, they drew their guns and grenades and approached the cockpit, demanding entrance. According to Khaled, in an interview in 2000,

"So half an hour (after take off) we had to move. We stood up. I had my two hand grenades and I showed everybody I was taking the pins out with my teeth. Patrick stood up. We heard shooting just the same minute and when we crossed the first class, people were shouting but I didn't see who was shooting because it was behind us. So Patrick told me 'go forward I protect your back.' So I went and then he found a hostess and she was going to catch me round the legs. So I rushed, reached to the cockpit, it was closed. So I was screaming 'open the door.' Then the hostess came; she said 'she has two hand grenades,' but they did not open (the cockpit door) and suddenly I was threatening to blow up the plane. I was saying 'I will count and if you don't open I will blow up the plane.'"[8]

After being informed by intercom that a hijacking was in progress, Captain Uri Bar Lev decided not to accede to their demands:

"I decided that we were not going to be hijacked. The security guy was sitting here ready to jump. I told him that I was going to put the plane into negative-G mode. Everyone would fall. When you put the plane into negative, it's like being in a falling elevator. Instead of the plane flying this way, it dives and everyone who is standing falls down."[6]

Bar Lev put the plane into a steep nosedive which threw the two hijackers off-balance. Argüello reportedly threw his sole grenade down the airliner aisle, but it failed to explode, and he was hit over the head with a bottle of whiskey by a passenger after he drew his pistol. Argüello shot steward Shlomo Vider and according to the passengers and Israeli security personnel, was then shot by a sky marshal.[7] His accomplice Khaled was subdued by security and passengers, while the plane made an emergency landing at London Heathrow Airport; she then claimed that Argüello was shot four times in the back after he and Khaled failed to hijack the airplane. Vider underwent emergency surgery and recovered from his wounds; Argüello died in the ambulance taking both him and Khaled to Hillingdon Hospital. Khaled was then arrested by British police.

Nationalities on Flight 219Edit

Flag of Israel.svg Israel11810128
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlands10010
Flag of the United States.svg USA909
Flag of Canada.svg Canada101

TWA Flight 741Edit

TWA Flight 741
TWA Boeing 707 Volpati-2.jpg
A TWA Boeing 707 similar to the hijacked craft
Hijacking summary
Date 6 September 1970
Summary Hijacking
Site Brussels, Belgium
Passengers 144
Crew 11
Injuries (non-fatal) none
Survivors 155 (all)
Aircraft type Boeing 707–331B
Operator Trans World Airlines
Registration N8715T
Flight origin Ben-Gurion Int'l Airport
2nd stopover Ellinikon International Airport
3rd stopover Frankfurt International Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport

TWA Flight 741 (type Boeing 707, serial 18917/460, registration N8715T[9]) was a round-the-world flight carrying 144 passengers and a crew of 11. The flight on this day was flying from Tel Aviv, Israel to Athens, Frankfurt am Main and then to New York City, and was hijacked on the Frankfurt-New York leg. In an interview for the film Hijacked, Flight 741's purser, Rudi Swinkles, recalled, "I saw a passenger running toward first class. I ran after him, and when he came to first class to the cockpit, he turned around, had a gun in his hand, and pointed the gun at me, and said, 'Get back, get back.' So right away, I dove behind the bulkhead first class divider, and I hid behind it, over here."[10]

It landed at Dawson's Field in Jordan at 6:45 p.m. local time.[11]

Hijackers gained control of the cockpit and a female stated, "This is your new captain speaking. This flight has been taken over by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. We will take you to a friendly country with friendly people."[5]

Yitzchok Hutner[12] and Tova Kahn and her children were also on the plane.[13]

Nationalities on Flight 741Edit

Flag of Germany.png Germany16218
Flag of Greece.svg Greece202
Flag of Israel.svg Israel55055
Flag of India.svg India303
Flag of Italy.svg Italy101
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlands101
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg UK18018
Flag of the United States.svg USA51960

Swissair Flight 100Edit

Swissair Flight 100
Douglas DC-8-53 HB-IDD SWR ZRH 02.08.65 edited-3.jpg
Swissair's Douglas DC-8-53 HB-IDD at Zurich Airport in 1965.
Hijacking summary
Date 6 September 1970
Summary Hijacking
Site Dijon, France
Passengers 145
Crew 8
Injuries (non-fatal) none
Survivors 152 (all)
Aircraft type Douglas DC-8-53
Aircraft name Nidwalden
Operator Swissair
Registration HB-IDD
Flight origin Zurich Kloten Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport

Swissair Flight 100 (type Douglas DC-8-53, registration HB-IDD, Nidwalden) built in 1963 was carrying 143 passengers and 12 crew from Zürich-Kloten Airport, Switzerland, to New York JFK. It also landed at Dawson's Field.

Nationalities on Flight 100Edit

Flag of France.svg France303
Flag of Germany.png Germany25025
Flag of Israel.svg Israel20020
Flag of Switzerland.svg  Switzerland571067
Flag of the United States.svg USA26026

Pan Am Flight 93Edit

Pan Am Flight 93
Pan Am Boeing 747 at Zurich Airport in May 1985.jpg
Boeing 747-100 (N742PA) at Zürich Airport, similar to the plane that was hijacked.
Hijacking summary
Date 6 September 1970
Summary Hijacking
Site Scotland
Passengers 136
Crew 17
Injuries (non-fatal) none
Survivors 153 (all)
Aircraft type Boeing 747–121
Aircraft name Clipper Fortune
Operator Pan American World Airways
Registration N752PA
Flight origin Brussels Airport
Stopover Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport

Pan American Flight 93 (type Boeing 747, serial 19656/34, registration N752PA,[14] name Clipper Fortune) was carrying 136 passengers and 17 crew. The flight was from Brussels, Belgium, to New York, with a stop in Amsterdam. The two hijackers bumped from the El Al flight boarded and hijacked this flight as a target of opportunity.

In-flight director John Ferruggio recalled,

"We were ready for take off in Amsterdam, and the aircraft came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the runway. And Captain Priddy called me up into the cockpit and says, 'I'd like to have a word with you.' I went up to the cockpit, and he says, 'We have two passengers by the name of Diop and Gueye.' He says, 'Go down and try to find them in the manifest, because I would like to have a word with them.' ... So Captain Priddy sat them down at these two seats over here. He gave them a pretty good pat. They had a Styrofoam container in their groin area where they carried the grenade, and the 25-mm pistols. But this we found out much later."[10]

The plane first landed in Beirut, where it refueled and picked up several associates of the hijackers, along with enough explosives to destroy the entire plane. It then landed in Cairo after uncertainty whether the Dawson's Field airport could handle the size of the new Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Flight director John Ferruggio, who led the plane's evacuation, is credited with saving the plane's passengers and crew.[15] The plane was blown up at Cairo seconds after it had been evacuated.[16] An audio recording of Feruggio's landing instructions to passengers was made by one of them and can be heard in a National Public Radio report.[17] The hijackers were arrested by Egyptian police.

Nationalities on Flight 93Edit

Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Belgium25025
Flag of France.svg France25025
Flag of Germany.png Germany10010
Flag of Indonesia.svg Indonesia 202
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlands35338
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg UK202
Flag of the United States.svg USA231437

BOAC Flight 775Edit

BOAC Flight 775
Vickers VC10 Prototype(G-ARTA) in BOAC colours 1962
Hijacking summary
Date 9 September 1970
Summary Hijacking
Site Persian Gulf
Passengers 105
Crew 9
Injuries (non-fatal) none
Survivors 114 (all)
Aircraft type Vickers VC-10-1151
Operator BOAC
Registration G-ASGN
Flight origin Sahar International Airport
Stopover Bahrain International Airport
Destination London Heathrow Airport

On 9 September a fifth plane, BOAC Flight 775, a Vickers VC10 (registration G-ASGN[18]), from Bombay to London via Bahrain and Beirut was hijacked after departing Bahrain and forcibly landed at Dawson's Field. This was the work of a PFLP sympathizer who wanted to influence the British government to free Leila Khaled.

Footage of the plane taking off from Beirut for Dawson's Field is in the Pathe News archive.[19]

Nationalities on Flight 775Edit

Flag of Albania.svg Albania505
Flag of Denmark.svg Denmark15015
Flag of France.svg France25025
Flag of Germany.png Germany505
Flag of India.svg India404
United States21021


Unnamed passengers later recounted their days as hostages.

Unknown speaker 1: "I was held hostage in the front of the plane by the Arabs. They wouldn't believe that I was an American citizen, because they saw my passport that I was in Israel two weeks before. They thought I was connected with the Israeli military, and I was held at gunpoint in front of the plane."

Unknown speaker 2: "Well, then they were told that we were being hijacked to Beirut, which we, we originally were, and everyone was to remain calm and do exactly what they said."

Unknown speaker 3: "I landed at the airport, we got off, and like they told the captain that we had three minutes to evacuate; but like I didn't, I think there were still a couple of people on board when they blew the, they blew the front part of the plane up. They had dynamited the they had dynamite all over the front and the back of the plane. They brought on 20 kilos of plastic dynamite or something in Beirut."[16]

Days in the desertEdit

On 7 September 1970, the hijackers held a press conference for 60 members of the media who had made their way to what was being called "Revolution Airport." About 125 hostages were transferred to Amman, while the American, Israeli, Swiss, and West German citizens were held on the planes.[20] Jewish passengers were also held. Passenger Rivke Berkowitz of New York, interviewed in 2006, recalled "the hijackers went around asking people their religion, and I said I was Jewish." Another Jewish hostage, 16-year-old Barbara Mensch, was told she was "a political prisoner."[5]

As groups of the remaining passengers and crew were assembled on the sand in front of the media, members of the PFLP, among them Bassam Abu Sharif, made statements to the press. Sharif claimed that the goal of the hijackings was "to gain the release of all of our political prisoners jailed in Israel in exchange for the hostages."[10][21]

Nixon 30-0316a

United States President Richard Nixon advised a direct military response to the hijackings.

In the United States, President Richard Nixon met with his advisers on 8 September and ordered United States Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to bomb the PFLP positions in Jordan. Laird refused[citation needed] on the pretext that the weather was unfavorable, and the idea was dropped. The 82nd Airborne Division was put on alert, the Sixth Fleet was put to sea, and military aircraft were sent to Turkey in preparation for a possible military strike.[22]

In contrast, British Prime Minister Edward Heath decided to negotiate with the hijackers, ultimately agreeing to release Khaled and others in exchange for hostages. This was bitterly opposed by the United States:

"Tensions between London and Washington are reflected in a bitterly acrimonious telephone conversation between top Foreign Office official Sir Denis Greenhill and senior White House aide Joseph Sisco... 'I think your government would want to weigh very, very carefully the kind of outcry that would occur in this country against your taking this kind of action.' Greenhill replied: 'Well, they do, Joe, but there is also an outcry in this country,' expressing concern that 'Israel won't lift a bloody finger and... our people get killed. You could imagine how bad that would look, and if it all comes out that we could have got our people out but for the obduracy of you and other people so to speak... I mean people say, why the bloody hell didn't you try?'"[23]

On 9 September the United Nations Security Council demanded the release of the passengers, in Resolution 286. The following day, fighting between the PFLP and Jordanian forces erupted in Amman at the Intercontinental Hotel, where the 125 women and children were being kept by the PFLP, and the Kingdom appeared to be on the brink of full-scale civil war.[10] The destruction of the aircraft on 12 September highlighted the impotence of the Jordanian government in Palestinian-controlled areas, and the Palestinians declared the city of Irbid to be "liberated territory", in a direct challenge to Hussein's rule.

On 13 September the BBC World Service broadcast a government announcement in Arabic saying that the UK would release Khaled in exchange for the hostages.[24]

According to United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, "At this point, whether because [American] readiness measures had given [King Hussein] a psychological lift or because he was reaching the point of desperation, Hussein resolved on an all-out confrontation with the fedayeen."[25]

Complicating the international crisis was the fact that Syria and Iraq, which had links with the USSR, had already threatened to intervene on behalf of Palestinian groups in any confrontation with the Kingdom of Jordan. In an astounding turn of events, according to British documents declassified under the "thirty year rule", an anxious King Hussein asked the United States and UK to pass a request to Israel to bomb Syrian troops if they entered Jordan in support of the Palestinians.[24] When a Syrian tank crossed the border, Israeli aircraft overflew the area in warning.

Resolution and consequencesEdit

King Hussein declared martial law on 16 September and initiated the military actions later known as the Black September conflict. Hostage David Raab described the Jordanian military actions:

"We were in the middle of the shelling since Ashrafiyeh was among the Jordanian Army's primary targets. Electricity was cut off, and again we had little food or water. Friday afternoon, we heard the metal tracks of a tank clanking on the pavement. We were quickly herded into one room, and the guerrillas threw open the doors to make the building appear abandoned so it wouldn't attract fire. Suddenly, the shelling stopped."[20]

About two weeks after the start of the crisis, the remaining hostages were recovered from locations around Amman and exchanged for Leila Khaled and several other PFLP prisoners. The hostages were flown to Cyprus and then to Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport, where on 28 September they met President Nixon, who was conducting a State visit to Italy and the Vatican.[26] Speaking to reporters that day, Nixon noted he had told the released captives that

"[A]s a result of what they had been through... the possibility of reducing hijackings in the future had been substantially increased, because the international community was outraged by these incidents. Now we have not only mobilized guards on our planes, but we are developing facilities... for the purpose of seeing that people who might be potential hijackers do not get on planes with weapons or explosive material."[27]

During the crisis, on 11 September President Nixon initiated a program to address the problem of "air piracy", including the immediate launch of a group of 100 federal agents to begin serving as armed sky marshals on U.S. flights.[7] Nixon's statement further indicated the U.S. departments of Defense and Transportation would determine whether X-ray devices then available to the military could be moved into civilian service.[28]

The PFLP officially disavowed the tactic of airline hijackings several years later, although several of its members and subgroups continued to hijack aircraft and commit other violent operations.[29]

Documentary filmEdit

In 2006, Ilan Ziv described the Dawson's Field hijackings in Hijacked, an hour-long episode of PBS's program American Experience, which he wrote and directed and which originally aired on 26 February 2006. Ziv included archival footage of the events and interviewed hijackers, hostages, members of the media, and politicians.

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 BBC News, "On This Day: 12 September". "Hijacked jets destroyed by guerrillas.". BBC News. 12 September 1970. Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  2. Dawson's Field was named after Air Chief Marshal Sir Walter Dawson Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Chief Marshal Sir Walter Dawson refers
  3. "Britain Releases Girl Guerilla". The Palm Beach Post. 1 October 1970. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  4. "Robert Schwartz; Defense Official Was Hostage in Hijacking". The Washington Post. 17 June 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Tugend, Tom (24 February 2006). "The Day a New Terrorism Was Born". Los Angeles, California: Jewish Publications. ISSN 0888-0468. OCLC 13450863. Retrieved 10 November 2007. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Public Broadcasting Service website for Hijacked, "The American Hijacker". Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Public Broadcasting Service, Hijacked website, "Flight crews and security". Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  8. Baum, Philip. Aviation Security International September, 2000. "Leila Khaled: In her own words". Archived from the original on 24 March 2006. Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  9. "FAA Registry". 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Hijacked "Transcript". Retrieved 2 May 2006. 
  11. Hijacked "Timeline and map.". Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  12. Terror in Black September: An Eyewitness Account in Middle East Forum
  13. Hostages Tell Concerns $3, 12 September 1970
  14. "FAA Registry". 
  15. Marquard, Bryan (22 June 2010). "John Ferruggio, at 84; hero of 1970 Pan Am hijacking". Boston Globe. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Apollo 13". UPI. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  17. "The Skyjacking of 1970". NPR. 9 September 2003. Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  18. "GINFO Database". 
  19. "Pathe News film". Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Raab, David. The New York Times Magazine, 22 August 2004. "Remembrance of terror past.". Retrieved 2 May 2006. . Reprinted at
  21. Public Broadcasting Service, American Experience, "Hijacked:Journalists and the Hijacking.". Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  22. Hijacked "People and events.". Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  23. Davis, Douglas. The Jerusalem Post, 2 January 2001. "Declassified documents show how UK gave in to terrorists.". Retrieved 1 May 2006. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 UK Confidential, 1 January 2001 "Black September: Tough negotiations.". BBC News. 1 January 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2006. 
  25. Kissinger, Henry. "Crisis and Confrontation".,10987,916938,00.html. Retrieved 2 May 2006. . Time Magazine, 15 October 1979.
  26. The Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace, "Nixon Papers, 1970". Retrieved 5 May 2006. , PDF transcript "Exchange of remarks with released American hostages."
  27. The Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace, "Nixon Papers, 1970". Retrieved 5 May 2006. , PDF transcript Exchange of remarks with reporters at Leonardo da Vinci Airport about released American hostages. 28 September 1970.
  28. The Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace, "Nixon Papers, 1970". Retrieved 5 May 2006. , PDF transcript "Statement announcing a program to deal with Airplane hijacking" 11 September 1970.
  29. "On This Day, 23 February 1972: Hijackers surrender and free Lufthansa crew". 23 February 1972. Retrieved 11 April 2011. "It later emerged the hijackers belonged to the PFLP (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and had been paid ,00m in ransom." 

Further readingEdit

  • Arey, James A. The Sky Pirates. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972.
  • Carlton, David. The West's Road to 9/11. Resisting, Appeasing and Encouraging Terrorism since 1970. Palgrave Macmillan. 3 April 2006. ISBN 1-4039-9608-3 Cites the Western capitulation to the Dawson's field hijackings as the rise of modern terrorism.
  • Phillips, David. Skyjack: The Story of Air Piracy. London: George G. Harrap, 1973.
  • Raab, David. Terror in Black September: The First Eyewitness Account of the Infamous 1970 Hijackings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 1-4039-8420-4.
  • Snow, Peter, and David Phillips. The Arab Hijack War: The True Story of 25 Days in September 1970. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971.

External linksEdit

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