Pan Am Flight 110: Wikis

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Pan Am Flight 110
Occurrence summary
Date December 17, 1973
Type Aircraft Attack
Site Rome, Italy
Passengers 167
Crew 10
Injuries 20
Fatalities 30
Survivors 137
Aircraft type Boeing 707-300
Operator Pan American World Airways
Tail number N407PA
Flight origin Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport
Stopover Beirut International Airport
Destination Mehrabad Airport

On December 17, 1973, Pan Am Flight 110 was scheduled to fly from Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport in Rome to Beirut International Airport in Lebanon and then on to Tehran, Iran. At the controls of the Boeing 707-321B (registration number N407PA), the Clipper Celestial, were Captain Andrew Erbeck, First Officer Robert Davison, and Flight Engineer Kenneth Pfrang.

At approximately 1:10 PM (13:10) local time, just as Flight 110 was preparing to taxi, between six and ten Palestinian guerrillas made their way through the terminal building, armed with automatic weapons and grenades. The guerillas removed submachine guns from hand luggage bags and began firing throughout the terminal, shattering windows and killing two. Crew in the cockpit of the aircraft were able to observe travelers and airport employees in the building running for cover. Captain Erbeck announced over the plane's public address system that there was some commotion in the terminal and ordered all on board to get down on the floor.

Several of the gunmen ran across the tarmac toward the Pan American jet, throwing at least two and as many as five phosphorus incendiary hand grenades through the open front and rear doors of the aircraft. The explosions knocked crew and passengers to the ground, and the cabin filled with thick, acrid smoke from the resulting fires. Flight attendants were able to open the emergency exit over the wing on one side of the plane; the other was obstructed by gunmen. The crew attempted to evacuate as many passengers as possible through the available exit, but twenty-nine passengers and Purser Diana Perez perished on the plane, including all eleven passengers in the first class section. Four Moroccan high officials heading to Iran for a visit, and Bonnie Erbeck, wife of the captain, were among the dead. Captain Andrew Erbeck survived the attack. Also killed were fourteen Aramco employees and employee family members.

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Lufthansa hijacking

Other gunmen took several Italian hostages and Lufthansa ground crewmembers into a Lufthansa Boeing 737 waiting to depart for Munich. An Italian customs officer was shot dead on the ground after resisting. The plane, containing Captain Joe Kroese, the first officer, two flight attendants, two ground crew, and eight Italian hostages, took off for Athens, Greece on the orders of the five guerrillas also on board. After landing in Athens, the guerrillas demanded by radio the release of two Palestinian gunmen responsible for a previous attack on an Athens airport terminal lounge. They claimed to have killed five hostages, including the plane's first officer. The guerrillas also threatened to crash the jet in the middle of Athens if their demands were not met. In reality, only one Italian hostage had been killed and one wounded. The plane took off again from Athens after sixteen hours on the ground and after the gunmen had released the wounded hostage and dumped the body of the dead hostage onto the tarmac.

The plane next headed for Beirut, where Lebanese authorities refused to allow landing, and blocked the runway with vehicles. Cyprus also refused to allow landing. The guerrillas on board finally ordered the plane to be landed in Damascus, Syria, allegedly because the plane was running low on fuel. In Syria, Air Force Commander Major General Naji Jamil attempted to persuade the Palestinians to release the hostages, but they refused. The Syrians provided food and refueled the plane. They also treated a head injury suffered by one of the hijackers. The plane took off again after about two to three hours.

The commandeered jet next headed for Kuwait, where Kuwaiti authorities refused to allow it to land. Captain Kroese was ordered by the guerrillas to land anyway on a secondary runway. An hour of negotiations between the Palestinian gunmen and the Kuwaiti authorities ended with the release of all twelve remaining hostages in exchange for "free passage" to an unknown destination for the gunmen. The gunmen were permitted to retain their weapons and made a V-for-victory sign with their hands upon leaving the plane.

It was reported that Kuwaiti authorities later took the hijackers to an air base for interrogation purposes. Kuwait announced that it had no intention of putting the hijackers on trial, and initially considered releasing the hijackers to the Palestine Liberation Organization. In March 1974, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt agreed to allow them to come to Cairo under the responsibility of the PLO, which said the men would be tried for carrying out an "unauthorized operation."

The five guerrillas were later released under negotiations during another hijacking that took place on November 21, 1974, but were then returned to the custody of the PLO. It is unclear what happened to them after their return to PLO custody.

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