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1970 Hijackings

Simultaneous Hijackings
September 6, 1970


"Palestinian guerrillas in a bold coordinated action ... thrust back to the world's attention a problem diplomats have tended to shove aside in hesitant steps towards Middle East peace."

Walter Cronkite, September 6, 1970

Early Afternoon

  • New York-Bound Plane Hijacked
    At 12:20pm local time, terrorists armed with guns and hand grenades seize TWA Flight 74, a Boeing 707 traveling from Frankfurt to New York, carrying 145 passengers and ten crew members.

  • Terrorists Screened
    Four Palestinian terrorists are detained while boarding El Al Flight 219, a Boeing 707 departing Amsterdam for New York. Prior to its 1:20pm scheduled departure, security removes two of the group because their passport numbers are sequential. The other two militants, Leila Khaled and Patrick Arguello, board the plane.

  • Second Plane Hijacked
    At 1:14pm local time, Palestinian terrorists seize Swissair Flight 100, a DC-8 en route from Zurich to New York, carrying 143 passengers and twelve crew members.

Mid Afternoon

  • Third Plane Hijacked
    At 1:45 pm local time, Leila Khaled and Patrick Arguello run towards the cockpit on El Al Flight 219, holding grenades and shouting. Pilot Uri Bar Lev puts the plane into a nose dive. In the confusion, Arguello shoots a flight steward, security guards restrain Khaled, and an air marshal mortally wounds Arguello. The hijacking has failed and the flight heads to London to land.

  • Terrorists Board Fourth Plane
    Between 2pm and 3pm local time — after Amsterdam airport security staff fail to detect pistols and a concealed grenade — the two terrorists who had been removed from El Al Flight 219 take first-class seats on a Pan Am 747 jumbo jet, Flight 93 departing for New York.

Late Afternoon

  • Hijacking of Third Plane Fails
    Less than twenty minutes after the attempted hijacking, Pilot Uri Bar Lev lands the El Al Flight at Heathrow Airport in London. Police escort Leila Khaled and Patrick Arguello to a nearby hospital. Arguello dies en route and authorities arrest Leila Khaled for the attempted hijacking of El Al Flight 219.

  • Fourth Plane Hijacked
    At 3:30pm local time, the two terrorists commandeer Pan Am Flight 93 en route from Amsterdam to New York, carrying 152 passengers and 23 crew members.

Early Evening

  • First Plane Lands in Jordan
    At 6:45pm local time, the first hijacked plane, TWA Flight 74, lands in Jordan at Dawson Field, a desert airstrip which the terrorists dub "Revolution Airport."

  • Second Plane Lands in Jordan
    At 6:55pm local time -- ten minutes after TWA Flight 74 lands -- the second hijacked plane, Swissair Flight 100, lands at Revolution Airport.

Late Evening

  • Fourth Plane Diverted
    Hijackers divert Pan Am Flight 93, the jumbo 747, from its New York route to refuel in Beirut. The pilots have convinced them that the plane is too large to land at the desert airfield in Jordan. In Beirut, nine more Palestinian terrorists board the plane and wire it with explosives before it departs at 9:35pm local time for Cairo.

  • Standoff With Hostages
    At 11:00pm, the Jordanian army surrounds the two planes that have landed at Revolution Airport with tanks and artillery. Three hundred and ten hostages prepare for a tense night in the desert.

Negotiations and Another Hijacking
September 7-12, 1970


September 7, morning

  • Fourth Plane Destroyed
    After circling over Cairo for two hours, the Pan Am jumbo jet lands at 2:23 am. The passengers and crew frantically evacuate moments before the plane explodes. Egyptian police arrest the terrorists on the scene.

  • Terrorist Demands
    In the morning, leaders of the organization behind the hijackings, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (P.L.F.P.), issue their demand: Palestinian militants held in Germany, Switzerland, England and Israel must be released within 72 hours or the hostages will be killed. The P.F.L.P. includes the United States in the group of governments it will negotiate with in hopes of softening Israel's response.

September 7, midday

  • Negotiation
    By noon the Jordanian army has successfully negotiated with the terrorists for the release of 127 women and children in exchange for a pullback of Jordanian forces.

  • Some Non-Jewish Hostages Freed
    In the afternoon, the freed women and children arrive at the Intercontinental Hotel in Amman, Jordan. They cannot leave the hotel; the terrorists have their passports. All Jewish men, women and children are kept on the planes.

September 7, evening

  • Prisoner Transfer
    The terrorists transfer three U.S. government employees, two rabbis, and another Jewish man from Revolution Airport to a secret location 100 miles away in case the Israelis try to mount a rescue operation.

  • Civil War Crossfire
    In Amman, hostages at the Intercontinental Hotel are caught in the crossfire between the Jordanian army and Palestinian guerrillas, as the threat of civil war grows.

September 8

  • The U.S. Response
    President Richard Nixon assembles his advisers to discuss an American response to the hijackings. He later calls Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and instructs him to bomb the terrorists. Laird claims the weather is not favorable for an air strike. He will later admit that he was opposed to any military action and used the weather as an excuse.

  • Terrorists' Press Conference
    In the afternoon, the terrorists hold a press conference at Revolution Airport. Reporters are allowed to photograph and film while the hostages answer questions shouted over a 20-foot gap. The hostages describe generally good conditions and fair treatment.

September 9

  • A Fifth Hijacking
    Three days after the initial hijackings, the British government confirms that there are no British citizens among the hostages taken on September 6. It's a moot point. Shortly after lunch is served on BOAC flight 775, three Palestinian militants skyjack the British VC-10, en route from Bahrain to London via Beirut, with 105 passengers and ten crew members.

  • Refueling
    In the afternoon, BOAC Flight 775 lands in Beirut to refuel, before continuing on to Revolution Airport.

  • More Hostages
    In the evening, the VC-10 lands at Revolution Airport, next to the two previously hijacked planes. The Palestinians now hold over two hundred hostages at the desert airstrip.

  • Extended Deadline
    After the BOAC plane lands at Revolution Airport in the evening, the terrorists extend the deadline for meeting their demands until Sunday, September 13. Meanwhile, Palestinians continue to battle King Hussein's troops just outside the hotel where the freed hostages are staying.

September 10

  • U.S. Troops on Alert
    Nixon ratchets up the U.S. response, putting the 82nd Airborne Division on "semialert" and deploying transport planes to a US Air Force base in Adana, Turkey, to facilitate the evacuation of Americans.

September 11

  • U.S. Naval Support
    The U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet stands by off the coast of Lebanon, ready to assist in potential hostage rescue operations.

  • Passports Returned
    The Palestinian terrorists move over twenty hostages from Revolution Airport to the Intercontinental Hotel in Amman. They also return passports to many of the freed hostages still at the hotel.

September 12

  • Aircraft Blown Up
    The P.F.L.P. guerrillas evacuate the remaining hostages from Revolution Airport. They blow up the three aircraft simultaneously. Many hostages are released, but more than 50 Jewish passengers and all male crew members are kept as "political prisoners."

September 13-28, 1970

  • On September 16, while the terrorists are still holding the remaining hostages, heavy fighting breaks out in Jordan between the Palestinian Liberation Organization — of which the P.F.L.P. is one faction — and the Jordanian army.

    On September 27, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser summons P.L.O. leader Yasser Arafat and Jordan's King Hussein to Cairo and brokers a settlement. Nasser will die of a heart attack the next day.

    By the end of September, all the remaining hostages will be released. The six P.F.L.P. hijackers held in European jails, including Leila Khaled, will be released without punishment.

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