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‘Bodily Harm’ Told : Cruelty Not Forgivable, Palmer Says

Times Staff Writer

Describing his ordeal as one of the victims of the Beirut hostage crisis, Jimmy Dell Palmer said Thursday that he will never “forgive or forget” the cruelty exhibited by the two gunmen who hijacked TWA Flight 847 two weeks ago on an Athens-Rome flight.

Besides killing one American passenger--a U.S. Navy petty officer--the two gunmen beat the passengers, hit Palmer on the neck with some kind of weapon and warned all his fellow hostages that their lives were in danger, he said. Palmer flew here from Beirut after he was freed Wednesday because of a heart ailment.

Palmer, 48, of Little Rock, Ark., said the additional hijackers--reported to have numbered about 10, who boarded the plane as it shuttled back and forth between Beirut and Algiers during the first two days of the hijacking--were more humane than the original two. And especially humane, he added, were the militiamen guarding the hostages in Beirut after they were taken off the TWA Boeing 727.

“I’ll never forget, but they (the later hijackers and Beirut guards) never did bodily harm to anybody as the others did,” Palmer said.

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Reunited With Wife

“They have a cause that they tried to put forth without hurting anybody. To me, there is a distinct difference between the original two hijackers and the people that held us (in Beirut).”

Palmer was joined here by his wife, Sammie, who flew in from Little Rock for a reunion.

At a news conference in a London hotel, Palmer was optimistic about a happy resolution to the hostage crisis, saying that he thinks the 39 remaining TWA passengers and crew will be released in a few days.

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“I do not see how the Lebanese (captors) can gain by holding the hostages any longer,” he said. “They have had propaganda. Now I am certain they are looking for a deal.”

Palmer looked reasonably fit but tired as he described his ordeal aboard the plane and later on the ground in Beirut.

Describing life as a captive, he said: “There’s absolutely nothing to do. You sleep a lot. You eat. You drink coffee. You read newspapers, listen to the radio, pray and talk to the other hostages. You name it, we talked about it.”

Braced for Ordeal

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At first, Palmer said, the hostages were preparing for a long period of captivity, recalling the 444 days that the U.S. Embassy hostages were held in Iran before being freed in January, 1981.

After the hostages were taken off the plane, he said, they were treated well and provided with radios and newspapers from many countries.

“We had a lot of sandwiches, dry bread and cheese, dry bread and eggs, airline-type food like chicken and rice, occasionally fruit.”

Palmer praised the attention given to the hijacking by the news media, saying that it boosted the morale of the hostages. But he said that morale “slumped drastically” when the hijacking lost top billing to Sunday’s Air-India jetliner disaster in the British Broadcasting Corp. radio broadcasts heard by the hostages.

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“Everybody was tuned in to the radio when we heard on the BBC early news bulletin that we were no longer really big news. At that moment, we felt we were being forgotten about and nobody was making a fuss any longer.”

Palmer said he was annoyed by a photograph published in some newspapers Thursday, showing him holding a gun and laughing with a Shia Muslim militia leader in Beirut.

“I really did not want that picture to be taken,” he said. “The last thing I felt like doing was laughing. But what alternative did I have? My freedom was at stake and I did not want to upset anyone. They were insisting on it. I’m sorry the picture was taken. It’s very misleading indeed.”

Palmer said that his religion helped him and that two priests among the hostages had taken over the role of group leaders.

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“We held morning prayers every day, and the priests made a point of ensuring that they kept up the Christian ethos by including a prayer of forgiveness for enemies,” he said.

“Although I am deeply religious myself, I found this part very difficult after everything they had put us through.”

His wife added: “I just can’t believe that Jimmy is back in my arms again, safe and well. He looks absolutely marvelous.”


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