Courage of Slain Navy Diver Told
U.S. Navy diver Robert D. Stethem “never made a sound” as he bravely endured savage beatings by the hijackers of a TWA jetliner, flight attendant Ulrike (Uli) Derickson testified Tuesday.
But Derickson also testified that she did not know whether Mohammed Ali Hamadi, on trial for air piracy and murder, or his accomplice fired the shots that killed the sailor during the 17-day hijacking ordeal.
The German-born Derickson, 44, now a naturalized U.S. citizen and the subject of a U.S. television movie earlier this year, said Hamadi held a gun to her head shortly after the Athens to Rome flight took off on June 14, 1985.
She said the hijackers threatened to blow up the airplane if they were not allowed into the cockpit.
“They said they had come to die. They said it didn’t make any difference to them,” said Derickson, the purser aboard TWA Flight 847.
In the most emotional testimony of the trial, Derickson described the suffering endured by Stethem. The hijackers “took him up to the cockpit and started to brutally beat him. They beat on him as long as he stood,” she told the court. “When Mr. Stethem collapsed, one of the hijackers took the armrest of a seat--it still had the screws sticking out of it--and beat on him,” she said.
Derickson said that after the beating, Hamadi turned to her and said: “Look at him now, he thinks he’s so strong.”
Fighting back sobs, Derickson said: “Mr. Stethem was a very courageous man. He never made a sound.”
Derickson, who is credited with shielding passengers whose names sounded Jewish by hiding their passports, also said Hamadi asked her to translate while the hijackers questioned Stethem.
“Mr. Stethem was taken to the last row of first class. He was asked where he was from and what he did. He said he was a Navy diver. I tried to translate the word navy for Hamadi,” Derickson said.
She said Hamadi was confused because the German word for navy is marine . Other witnesses have testified the hijackers shouted “marine” as they beat Stethem. “I tried to convince him that Stethem was not a U.S. Marine, that his job was underwater welding,” she said.
Hamadi, a Lebanese Shia Muslim who lived in West Germany from 1982 to 1984, speaks German but very little English.
Derickson said that, when Stethem was killed, she was at the rear of the aircraft and that a curtain kept her from seeing which of the two hijackers shot him. But she said Hamadi constantly had carried the pistol used to shoot Stethem.
Derickson told the court that shortly after Stethem was slain at Beirut airport, Hamadi had the pistol in his hand and began beating another U.S. Navy diver, Clinton Suggs.
“I pushed Suggs down between the seats in first class and told him to stay there. Then I told the hijackers to stop--they had done enough,” she said.
In testimony earlier this month, the captain of the flight, John Testrake of Richmond, Mo., said he believed Hamadi was the hijacker who shot Stethem although he didn’t actually witness the shooting. Hamadi has admitted taking part in the hijacking but has denied killing Stethem.
Thirty-nine Americans were held hostage in the ordeal.