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Passenger Slain in Hijacking Identified as U.S. Navy Diver

Times Staff Writer

The hostage murdered by Shia Muslim terrorists aboard the hijacked TWA airliner in Beirut was identified Monday as Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver from the Washington suburb of Waldorf, Md.

The body of Stethem, 23, was identified at a U.S. air base in Torrejon, Spain, in accordance with his service and medical records. He joined the Navy after graduating from Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf in 1980 and served as an underwater construction worker based in Norfolk, Va.

Freed hostages said the hijackers killed Stethem on Friday during a refueling stop at Beirut airport and dumped his body onto the tarmac.

The office of Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.), who represents Waldorf, confirmed identification of Stethem’s body Monday. Reese Meisinger, an executive assistant to Dyson, said, “We were just hoping it wasn’t him.”

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Meisinger, 22, who attended school with Stethem, recalled: “He was a very nice guy. He wasn’t the type of guy who would provoke something, start something. But he was the type who if trouble started--like if (the hijackers) were pushing around women and children . . .-- he would be one of the guys who would do something.”

Friends in his hometown Monday remembered Stethem, who visited Waldorf three weeks ago and was still on an extended leave when the plane was hijacked, as “an all-American type.”

Rick Conley, who coached Stethem’s high school football team, said Stethem sat on the bench a lot but always did his best when called upon to play. “In this day . . . that’s a rare commodity,” he said.

Conley said Stethem came from a military family, following both his father and older brother into the Navy. “The kids were well-behaved in school. Good grades. Sort of a textbook kind of family,” he said.

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Jim Mooney, a Navy ensign in Pensacola, Fla., said in a telephone interview that he and Stethem both joined the Navy in December, 1980, after graduation. He said Stethem did not like the Navy at first but recently decided to make a career in the underwater construction battalion.

“The Navy made him grow up,” Mooney said. “He got squared away.”

Robert Rosasco, another classmate and now a senior at the University of Maryland, said Stethem “couldn’t have been a nicer guy. When I needed someone to talk to, Rob would always be there. He was always caring for other people.”


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