Pan Am Flight 73
|Date||September 5, 1986|
|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
Pan Am Flight 73, a Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121, was hijacked on September 5, 1986, while on the ground at Karachi, Pakistan, by four armed men of the Abu Nidal Organization. The aircraft, with 360 passengers on board, had just arrived from Sahar International Airport in Mumbai, India, and was preparing to depart Jinnah International Airport in Karachi for Frankfurt Airport in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, ultimately continuing on to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, United States. The motivation for the hijacking was to attack the Israeli defense ministry, using the aircraft as a missile.
Twenty of the passengers were killed during the hijacking, of which 12 were from India and the rest were from 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 against the wishes of India and the United States.
Hijacking at Karachi, Pakistan
The incident began as passengers boarded the Frankfurt-bound aircraft in Karachi. A subsequent FBI investigation revealed that the hijack occurred despite the presence of armed agents near the aircraft. The four hijackers were dressed as Karachi airport security guards and were armed with assault rifles, pistols, grenades, and plastic explosive belts. At about 06:00 a.m. local time, 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 hijackers stormed up the stairways into the plane, fired shots from an automatic weapon, and seized control of the aircraft. Flight attendants were able to alert the cockpit crew using intercom, allowing the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer to escape through an overhead hatch in the cockpit, effectively grounding the aircraft.
Safarini takes control
Within a short time after seizing control of the aircraft, Zayd Safarini had realized that the crew had escaped off the plane so was therefore made to set a deal with the officials and ordered all passengers to keep their hands up in the air. 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 plane was nearly full, passengers sat down in the aisles, galleys and door exits. At approximately 10:00 a.m., Safarini then went through the plane and he arrived at the seat of Rajesh Kumar, a 29-year-old Indian American California resident 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. He negotiated with officials, in particular Viraf Daroga, the head of Pan Am Airlines Pakistan, that if the crew wasn't sent on the plane within 15 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 then heaved Kumar out of the door onto the tarmac below. Pakistan personnel on the tarmac 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 then joined the hijackers and ordered the flight attendants to collect the passports of all passengers. The flight attendants complied with this request, risking their own lives. During the collection of the passports, one clever and brave stewardess, Neerja Bhanot, the senior flight purser, had thought that the American passports would be the ones they would single out and she decided to hide some under a seat with the rest dumped down a trash chute.
After the passports had been collected one of the crew members came onto the intercom and asked for Michael John Thexton, a British citizen, to come to the front of the plane. He then 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 then asked Thexton if he was a soldier and if he had a gun, Thexton replied "No". He then ordered Thexton onto his knees. Safarini then told the officials that if anyone came near the plane that he would go on to kill another passenger. Viraf Daroga then told Safarini that there was a crew member on board that was able to use the cockpit radio and asked him to negotiate through radio. Safarini then 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 was unable to lead a proper life.
Then one of the hijackers ordered Thexton back through the plane to a seat. The hijack stalemate continued on into the night. During the stalemate, one of the passengers in the number 3 door area discovered an airplane manual that explained all the procedures the cabin crew needed to know, including information on how to open the exit door and deploy the slide down to the apron. This book was passed around so all passengers in the door area knew exactly what to do to make sure the slide extended when the door was opened. About 09:00 p.m. the main power system shut down, all lighting turned off, and emergency lights came on. Passengers at the front were order 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 threw a grenade and then all hijackers started random shooting into the passengers. Passengers in the door 3 area immediately opened door 3 and extended the chute and started exiting the plane. Neerja Bhanot, flung a chute and assisted a number of passengers escape from the flight, while she laid down her life shielding three children from the bullets fired by the terrorists. 20 passengers were killed and over a hundred were injured, but many escaped the ordeal including Michael Thexton, who came close to death a few hours before and returned to the U.K. The hijackers were arrested in the terminal trying to get away from the airport.
||This section may contain original research. (December 2010)|
The ISI had learnt that U.S. Special Operation Forces's Delta Force was planning to launch an assault to liberate the airliner from the attackers. Pakistan quickly negotiated with the United States, and SSG Division and Army Rangers were put on high-alert. The situation came to an end when hijackers opened fire on the passengers aboard the plane. Passengers fled the aircraft through emergency exits, and Pakistani commandos responded to the gunfire by storming the plane. The commando unit was headed by Brigadier-General T.M Shah. The Shaheen Company of the 1st Battalion of the Pakistan Army's Special Service Group (SSG), were employed to carry out the operation. Casualties were heavy, with twenty-two dead and more than 150 injured.
Killed in the incident were:
- 12 Indians
- Neerja Bhanot, 22
- Trupti Dalal, 36
- Rupal Desai, 26
- Krishna Kumari Gadde, 28
- Seetharamiah Krishnaswamy, 61
- Kodiyattu K. Kurian, 25
- Boby Thomachen Mulloor, 7
- Thomachen Thomas Mulloor, 30
- Aleyamma Scaria Nagatholy, 39
- Ramakant Naik, 55
- Kuverben Patel, 81
- Ganapathi Thanikaimoni, 48
- Adel zalat, 34
- 3 Pakistanis
- Syed Nesar Ahmad, 43
- Meherjee Minocher Kharas, 28
- Imran Rizvi, 17
- 3 Americans
- Rajesh Kumar, 29
- Surendra Manubhai Patel, 50
- Kala Singh, 36
- 2 Mexicans
- José Álvarez Lamar Nuñez, 57
- Ricardo Muñoz Rosales, 28
Most of the passengers and crew were from India, while the rest were mainly from Germany, Italy and 11 other countries including 19 Americans.
On July 6, 1988, five men were convicted of their roles in the hijacking and sentenced to death, but the sentences were later commuted to life in prison. On September 28, 2001, Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini was captured by the FBI in Bangkok after he was released in Pakistan and was on his way back to Jordan. He was taken to the United States where on May 13, 2004 he was sentenced to a 160-year prison term. At the plea proceeding, Safarini admitted that he and his fellow hijackers committed the offenses as members of the Abu Nidal Organization, also called the ANO, a terrorist organization. Safarini and the other hijackers were initially prosecuted in Pakistan and convicted of numerous crimes pertaining to the hijacking.
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 $2.7 billion USD 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 2004-2006 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.
Reward and Reported Killing of Accused
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 hijackers of Pan Am 73 who were released from prison.
Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, who was allegedly involved in the hijacking, was reported killed in a drone strike on January 9, 2010 in Pakistan.
Delivered to Pan Am as Clipper Live Yankee. Later renamed Clipper Empress of the Seas. Finally renamed Clipper New Horizons.
Aircraft Type: Boeing 747 - 121 Operator: Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) Registration: N656PA Delivery Date: 18 June 1971 Service Dates: 1971 to 1991 Engine Type: Pratt & Whitney P&W JT9D – 3A CN / LN: 20351/127
- Pan Am "Clipper Empress of the Seas" pictures from airliners.net
- Pan Am "Clipper Empress of the Seas" hijack info from planecrashinfo.com
- Pan Am "Clipper Empress of the Seas" info from airfleets.net
- Pan Am "Clipper Empress of the Seas" info from aviation-safety.net
- Pan Am "Clipper Empress of the Seas" info from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Pan Am Flight 73: victims recount horrors DOJ May 13, 2004
- What happened to the hippyman?
- Karachi hijack ends in bloodshed
- Libya takes blame for Lockerbie bombing
- Libya Will Pay $170 Million In Bombing of French Airliner
- Victims of September 1986 Hijacking of Pan Am 73 File US$10 Billion Suit Against Libya
- Revealed: Gaddafi's air massacre plot The Times March 28, 2004
- U.S. airstrike reportedly kills terrorist, The Los Angeles Times, 2010-01-16
For details about the Pan Am Flight 73 criminal case in Federal Court in D.C. see—
- U.S. Department of Justice Attorney's Office For the District of Columbia Information on court proceedings of Pan Am Flight 73
- U.S. Department of Justice May 13, 2004, press release on the Pan Am Flight 73 criminal case
For more details about the civil suit see—
- 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