‘Rescuee Us and We Die,’ Pilot Warns From Cockpit : Reporters Permitted to Talk to Crew
With a gunman brandishing a pistol behind him, the exhausted pilot still on board a hijacked TWA jetliner told reporters “we’d all be dead men” if a rescue is attempted.
Capt. John L. Testrake and two remaining crewmen on the grounded Boeing 727 talked with three ABC reporters on the sixth day of a crisis that left 37 other American hostages under the guns of Shia Muslims in secret locations in Beirut.
ABC correspondents Charles Glass, Julie Flint and Derwin Johnson were allowed to approach the plane and stand under the cockpit for eight minutes to interview Testrake, First Officer Philip G. Maresca and Flight Engineer Benjamin Zimmermann.
Testrake, looking “very tired,” told the reporters, “Not very much is happening to us now, since Sunday night (when the plane’s odyssey stopped) because they removed the other passengers and took them away, and the three of us have been on the aircraft since then.”
“It’s just a case of wait and see what happens, so we’ve just been taking up quiet housekeeping on the aircraft,” he said.
‘Taken to a Safe Place’
Asked about the remaining hostages, Testrake said: “We’ve been told that they’ve been taken to a safe place, that they are comfortable and being well taken care of.”
Asked by Glass about a possible rescue attempt, Testrake replied: “I think we’d all be dead men if they did because we are continually surrounded by many, many guards.”
Testrake, 57, and his two crewmen appeared frequently in the cockpit and occasionally peered out of an open window.
Testrake said: “I’d like for my wife and my family and all of my friends back in Missouri to know the Lord has taken very good care of us so far and he has seen us through some very trying times, and he will see us through to the end.”
Maresca, 42, of Salt Lake City, told the reporters: “I’m fine, and the message to my family is they can worry a little bit, not too much. Our treatment has been tolerable.” Zimmermann, of Cascade, Ida., said: “Everything is OK. We’re surviving.”
A gunman with a rifle fired six or seven times over the terminal, where dozens of reporters and photographers watched the plane from balconies.
“Many reporters below you to the right,” the gunman told the control tower. “They’re popping up from every way like thieves. I will begin shooting.”
He ended the interview by pulling the pilot back inside the cockpit.
In an aircraft-to-tower interview later, Testrake repeated his assessment of a rescue operation: “There are many men in this aircraft, and it’s not any better a plan than it was before.”
He said he and the other crewmen are “in excellent condition. They had been treating us quite well. We have plenty of food and water.”
‘Finish! It’s Over’
When the tower asked the pilot what he thought would happen, a gunman shouted: “Control tower! Control tower! Finish! It’s over!”
Asked what the hijackers intend to do with the plane and the crew, the gunman said: “We’ll talk about that later! I’m busy now! We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. . . . I hope we will get what we want.”
The hijackers demand release of more than 700 Shia prisoners held by Israel.
President Reagan told a news conference Tuesday night in Washington that his only course is to wait out the hijackers, because to retaliate “would probably be sentencing a number of Americans to death.” (Story on Page 12.)
Two young Shias who boarded in Athens hijacked TWA Flight 847 last Friday with 153 people aboard, most of them Americans planning to connect in Rome with a flight to Boston.
Body Thrown From Plane
The hijackers freed more than 100 people during shuttle stops in Beirut and Algiers but killed U.S. Navy Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem, 23, of Waldorf, Md. They threw his body from the plane in Beirut.
Gunmen of Nabih Berri’s Shia militia Amal joined the hijackers on the plane in Beirut, and all hostages except the three crew members were taken off the plane under cover of darkness early Monday. Three were freed Tuesday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said today in Geneva that the United States had asked it to approach Israel about possible plans for releasing the Shias. They were taken prisoner during the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon on grounds that they either plotted or carried out attacks on Israeli forces.
Red Cross spokesman Jean-Jaques Kurz said the organization is waiting for the Israelis to contact the Red Cross in Tel Aviv.
An official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, however, said the Shias will be freed when the situation in southern Lebanon has “calmed.” An upsurge of attacks has been reported on an Israeli-backed militia there and on the relatively few Israeli military personnel who remain.
U.S. Gaining Support
Meanwhile, with Reagan vowing, “We will not cave in,” the Administration said it is determined to gain the swift release of the hostages without granting concessions to their captors.
Officials said the United States is gaining support for its position internationally, in the Arab world and elsewhere.
Aboard Air Force One, en route to Indianapolis, White House spokesman Larry Speakes indicated some movement in the hostage situation.
“There are things in motion that could bring some benefit,” he said. Asked to elaborate, Speakes responded only, “Diplomatic contacts.”