The Ordeal of Flight 847

From Associated Press

Here is a chronology of events in the hijacking of TWA Flight 847:

June 14--Two Shia Muslim gunmen board Trans World Airlines Flight 847 at Athens and hijack the Boeing 727 after it takes off for Rome with 153 aboard.

Plane is allowed to land in Beirut after pilot says one hijacker has pulled the pin on a grenade. Hijackers release 17 American women and two children, while several more gunmen come aboard. Plane is flown to Algeria, where 19 American women, one American child and three people of other nationalities are released.

June 15--Aircraft returns to Beirut. Hijackers kill Navy Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem, 23.


After airliner is flown back to Algiers, hijackers release 64 hostages including five female flight attendants.

June 16--Jetliner returns to Beirut. Hijackers release letter signed by 29 passengers, appealing to President Reagan to refrain from “any direct military action on our behalf.”

Amal, Shia Muslim militia, moves into crisis, demanding release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

Remaining passengers are taken off aircraft, but the three crew members remain aboard.

June 17--Amal leader Nabih Berri says hostages have been split up into small groups to thwart rescue mission.

It is reported that at least half a dozen hostages with “Jewish-sounding names” are being held separately by Hezbollah (Party of God), a radical Shia faction.

Robert C. McFarlane, President Reagan’s national security adviser, says Berri “has in his hands the ability to end the hijacking.”


Ailing hostage Robert Peel Sr. of Hutchinson, Kan., is released.

June 18--Hijackers release two Americans and a Greek.

Berri urges United States to pressure Israel into releasing 766 Lebanese prisoners, most of them Shias.

At news conference, Reagan says any retaliation “would probably be sentencing a number of Americans to death.” Reagan accuses Greek government of lax airport security.

June 19--The three crewmen are interviewed briefly by ABC television reporter. “We’re OK,” says Capt. John L. Testrake.

June 20--Five hostages appear at chaotic news conference and appeal to Reagan “at all costs” to refrain from rescue mission. Allyn B. Conwell, 39, of Houston, says he wants Israel to free Lebanese prisoners.

Navy Petty Officer Stethem is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

June 23--Israel announces it will release 31 Shia prisoners, and Secretary of State George P. Shultz says he would be glad if that led to the release of U.S. hostages. However, Shultz and Israel insist there is no linkage.

June 24--Israel releases 31 prisoners. Amal leaders dismiss the gesture as insufficient.

June 25--White House spokesman Larry Speakes says Reagan is considering forcing closure of Beirut airport and blockading Lebanon if diplomatic moves do not pay off “in the next few days.”


Amal gathers all 37 hostage passengers together to meet two International Red Cross officials, and the three crew members are visited separately.

June 26--Berri releases hostage Jimmy Dell Palmer, 48, who suffers from a heart ailment.

June 27--Reagan tries to work out package deal in which seven Americans, kidnaped before TWA hijacking, would be freed along with passengers.

There are reports that hostages may be moved to French Embassy, or perhaps to Swiss Embassy or to Damascus. Berri expresses belief that “we’re in the end . . . of this thing.”

June 28--A Syrian source says hostages would be “fully freed” in Damascus the following day (Saturday) and would arrive in Damascus at midday for three-hour stay.

Most of the hostages dine at a luxury hotel in Beirut and leave carrying roses from their captors.

June 29--Speakes announces that hostages are on their way to Damascus and are expected to travel later in the day to Frankfurt, West Germany.


Most of the hostages are assembled at a Shia school in Beirut’s Borj el Brajne camp, where Red Cross buses are gathered. The three crew members join 32 other hostages for the first time since the passengers were taken off the plane. Four hostages, however, remain in custody of Hezbollah.

Syria says it has secured hostages’ release. But Shia Muslim leaders delay release of the 39, saying they want guarantees from the United States and Israel that there will be no retaliation after Americans are freed.

Late in the day, State Department says the United States “reaffirms its longstanding support for the preservation of Lebanon, its government, its stability and its security for the mitigation of the suffering of its people.”

June 30--Radical Shia Muslim faction turns over four American hostages to Berri’s Amal militia. All 39 hostages then travel overland in Red Cross convoy to Damascus, where they board U.S. aircraft for flight to West Germany.