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Ulrike Patzelt (August 8, 1944 – February 18, 2007) a.k.a. Uli Derickson (by marriage), was a German American flight attendant best known for her role in helping protect 152 passengers and crew members during the June 14, 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by Organization of the Oppressed on Earth terrorists, a group with alleged links to Hezbollah.
Born in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic, Derickson and her parents were expelled to East Germany in 1945. The family later escaped to West Germany. Derickson immigrated to the United States in 1967, where she became a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines.
In 1985, on Flight 847 between Athens and Rome, the flight was hijacked. Derickson took a kick to the chest from one of the hijackers as he forced her to go with him into the cockpit. The other hijacker — who was holding a grenade with the pin removed — started kicking open the door. Once inside, they pistol-whipped the pilot and flight engineer.
The two hijackers spoke poor English, but Derickson was able to speak with one of them in German, eventually gaining their trust. This put her at the center of the drama for the next 55 hours as she translated the tense communication between the plane's crew and the hijackers. At one point, one of the two hijackers asked her to marry him.
Later in the ordeal, a ground crew in Algiers refused to refuel the plane without payment despite the terrorists' threat to kill passengers. It occurred to Derickson to offer her Shell Oil credit card. The ground crew charged about $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of fuel.
Derickson was asked to sort through passenger passports to single out people with Jewish-sounding names. Initial reports suggested that she had followed the orders. It was later revealed she had actually hidden the passports.
The plane flew back toward Beirut. The hijackers had earlier identified some American military personnel on the flight. They singled out U.S. Navy diver Robert D. Stethem. After beating him severely with an armrest, they shot Stethem and dumped his body on the ramp. Additional henchmen boarded the plane to assist the hijackers. The plane then headed back toward Algiers.
After about 36 hours, the terrorists released a second wave of hostages including Derickson and the 65 remaining women. The plane, now with only 39 American men on board as hostages, flew back to Beirut where they were held for 17 days. The ordeal ended on June 30 after Israel released 31 Lebanese prisoners, a fraction of the 766 the hijackers had demanded.
Aftermath, later life, and death
Life was less than peaceful for Derickson after the hijacking ordeal ended. Unfounded reports, including some in the mainstream news media, that she had given the hijackers names of Jewish passengers on the flight, brought threats from extremist groups. When the truth about her efforts to protect Jewish passengers by hiding their passports was verified, she received threats from other extremists. A resident of Fredon Township, New Jersey Derickson’s family relocated to Arizona as a result of these threats. She moved to Delta Air Lines in the 1990s and continued her work there as a flight attendant.
Subsequently, Derickson testified as a prosecution witness at the trial of Mohammed Ali Hamadi, one of the hijackers convicted of murdering Stethem. He received a life sentence. She later advised TWA, Delta Air Lines and the FBI on crisis management.
Derickson was still working as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines when she received a diagnosis of cancer in August 2003. She died on February 18, 2007, at the age of 60. She was survived by her son, Matthew, who resides in California.
On December 15, 2005 the German government released Hamadi from prison and sent him back to Lebanon, where he joined his family. There are speculations that this was part of a deal to release the German hostage Susanne Osthoff in Iraq.
- via United Press International. "Hero Of Twa Hijacking Wins Medal Derickson Forgives Those Who Said She Aided Terrorists", Orlando Sentinel, October 5, 1985. Accessed April 29, 2015. "Derickson, of Fredon, N.J., is the first woman to receive the medal given by the Legion of Valor, the nation's senior organization of war veterans."
- "Uli Derickson, 60, Who Helped Airline Hostages, Dies". The New York Times (Requires login)
- "Bomb kills Hezbollah militant wanted by U.S.". NBC News. February 13,2 008.