Hijackers Both Terrifying, Kind, Freed Hostages Recall

Associated Press

Some of the hostages released Saturday by Arab hijackers described the fear they felt toward their captors, who killed one passenger during a Beirut stopover, but others said the gunmen also were “kind and considerate.”

Penny Danford, a 34-year-old nurse from Lexington, Ky., told reporters, “It was terrible. It was the most terrifying experience I ever had.”

The sky pirates “were a little nervous but also kind to us,” she said. “They fed us and gave us water, but sometimes they kind of shoved us with their guns.”

The passengers’ nightmare began Friday morning when the Athens-to-Rome TWA Flight 847 was hijacked and forced to land in Beirut. Initially, there were 153 people, including a crew of eight, on board. In Washington, the State Department said that number included 122 Americans.


Some hostages were freed when the plane first landed in Beirut and others were released when the Boeing 727 arrived in Algiers. The plane then returned to Beirut where one passenger, who the hijackers said was a U.S. Marine, was killed. The jetliner then returned to Algiers where more hostages were released.

In Paris, airport officials said 16 freed hostages--14 American women, a Greek woman and a Sudanese man--arrived Saturday. The officials refused to give any other details except to say the 16 would spend the night in Paris.

Shortly before 11 a.m. Saturday, a group of passengers left the plane at the Algiers airport and were taken by buses to the terminal. Dejected and tired, they talked of their 24-hour ordeal.

Paula Sukeforth, 45, a housewife from Lexington, Mass., said of the gunmen: “They were kind and considerate towards us. They praised Algeria, saying it worked hard for our freedom.


“At the beginning of the hijacking, a couple of people were beaten up. But afterwards they just told us to keep our heads between our knees. It lasted for many hours. We couldn’t sleep. We couldn’t talk to each to each other. I’m glad I’m here now because I was terrified.”

Gail Zillgett, a 20-year-old student from Indianapolis, said she was returning from a five-week vacation and was traveling with another woman and her boyfriend. “He’s still on the plane, and we’re very worried about him,” she said.

“The worst thing was we had to put our heads down for hours. It was very hot in the plane, but the hijackers gave us enough food and enough water. They were relatively calm and they had a certain sense of humor. I was scared, but they were nice and tried to help. At the same time, they always made sure we obeyed them.

“They criticized American policy in the Middle East and said they wanted as much money from the U.S. as Israel gets.”


Janine Cataldo, 34, a psychologist from Lexington, Ky., called the hijackers “very anti-American. They especially criticized the arrival of the battleship New Jersey (during the U.S. military intervention in Lebanon). They also talked about the Palestinians.

“But I don’t want to say anything more because there are still a lot of people in the plane and the hijackers listen to the radio all the time.”

Christine Cook, 34, a psychologist from Boston, was close to tears as she spoke.

“I was tense the whole time and never got any sleep. I just sat there worried,” she said. “The hijackers kept running up and down the plane showing their weapons. They had guns, they had grenades, pistols and machine guns. The passengers were very calm. We just kept quiet and we couldn’t talk to each other. The crew was fantastic.”