The hijack of G-ASGO was a relatively low-impact event as the aircraft was the only casualty. But this view has the obvious benefit of hindsight. At the time, a hijacking was a fairly regular occurance and the outcome could be serious. In 1970 the crew of G-ASGN had spent 16 days in captivity before being released, but it could have been worse as not all hijacks were bloodless. So when the worst happened, and someone else took over control of the aircraft you were on, you did not know what would happen. In the account below, First Officer David Warren recounts what happened to him while he was in the left seat on the flightdeck of G-ASGO.
"This is my account of what happened that day and subsequently. Obviously this is only my version of the incident and of course the official report was, and remains, the true story of what happened. My observations are merely those of somebody who was there in the middle of it.
We were established in the cruise at Flight Level 350, about an hour out of Beirut on airway UG18 between Rhodes and Salonica approaching the reporting point UG18A. (Aerad chart H109) We were on the last leg of a 7 day trip routing London-Beirut-Bombay-Bahrain-Beirut-London. The crew was:
Captain Colin Harrison
A friendly crew who had gelled making a very pleasant trip.
As breakfast was announced the Captain elected to have his in the back of first class since we had an empty rear row. I had already had breakfast in the hotel due to waking early so jumped into the left hand seat so that Geoff could have his in the usual fashion, on a tray on his lap, whilst I flew the aircraft and did the communications. All normal practice. Bill decided to go to the toilet before his meal so he set his panel up for safe and left, standard flight engineer practice and this event proved its worth. Geoff received his meal and about a minute later all hell broke loose.
Two Arabic featured men burst onto the flight deck shouting something we didnít understand, however since one was holding two hand grenades and the other was waving a firearm we got the idea of what they meant. Immediately headsets were ripped away, all charts thrown back, briefcases removed and our guns demanded.
Trying to explain that we were unarmed seemed to perplex them but they eventually accepted that fact. By now Geoff and I were sitting with the leader standing with an arm over each of our shoulders and a hand grenade under each of our chins. Incidentally, these werenít the traditional pineapple shaped ones but tapered smooth sided ones that a friend of mine, a Lt. Col in the Paras, assured me were Chinese and were rather nasty and powerful. Wonder where they got them from?
The two gentlemen were the leader Abu Said and his henchman Sami Tamimi. In the reports these two seem to have changed identities so for this narrative I shall retain the names as we knew them.
Abu Said, the flight deck controller was medium build and bearded, Sami Tamimi, the cabin controller and bomb setter was slim and very jittery.
It appears that they may have switched names to confuse any future accounts such as this. Suffice to say is that Sami Tamimi did the Chapel siege in Scheveningen jail near The Hague and Abu Said was the guy whose photo appeared in the Daily Telegraph, walking down the steps, on his release that ended Jimmy Futchers hijack in G-ASGR in Tunisia on November 25th 1974.
So back to the narrative, I shall refer to our hijackers by the names they gave to us, whether or not they are correct.
Sami Tamimi covered Geoff and I with his automatic whilst Abu Said struggled to get the pins back into the grenades. The fact that it caused him so much trouble leads me to believe the damn things were for real.
During all this furore I believe the Captain and Flight Engineer attempted to return to the flight deck but were stopped and a shot was fired. We asked who had been shot but got no answer, I donít believe our man knew what had happened. Thankfully it turned out that it was an accident and no one was hurt. The hijacker in the cabin was really nervous.
After our flight deck character had managed to get the pins back into the grenades whilst his companion covered us with his automatic, looking into the cabin and quickly returning, our man then put his arm over my left shoulder so that the automatic was against my chest. He then required us to show him how to speak on the PA whereupon he announced to the passengers that he was now Captain and a soldier of The Devre Soir unit of the youth movement of the PLO. Apparently the Devre Soir lakes are where the Israeli military crossed the Suez Canal during the six day war.
He then announced that he wanted to go to Innsbruck but we persuaded him that we had no charts for there and he swiftly picked Amsterdam instead making us wonder whether Innsbruck was ever a serious destination or just something to say to give himself thinking time.. We then pointed out that we needed a chart, namely H109/H110 to get there. We managed to get a map holder and extract the chart and also the Amsterdam let down plates. Whilst this was going on the cabin hijacker was running around wiring explosives to the doors and then leaving us our own bomb on the flight engineers desk. It was a hold all with a split in the side showing the explosive tubes and seemed to be controlled by a clockwork timer that our chap frequently reset.
I am led to believe that the firearms were hidden in the terroristsí seats and the explosives came aboard in the air larders.
Having settled down into an uneasy calmness I tried to select the hijack code into the radar transponder, this did not go down well and I explained that it would help ATC keep other flights away from us. We silently watched a Trident fly the other way two thousand feet below and quietly dropped the subject.
During conversation we informed them of the Turkish DC10 catastrophe (see here) and a little European hijack would not get much publicity. He had not heard about that but did ask if we had any knowledge of the Pan Am hijack. We never got to the bottom of that, perhaps something else was meant to happen?
As we continued across Europe we changed the ATC frequencies as indicated by the chart and he then gave his speech to another audience, I think Geoff and I could have recited it by heart by then.
About an hour out from Amsterdam our chap asked how much fuel we had so as I was in the left hand seat I looked over, added it up and halved it to give us some bargaining time and he seemed happy with that, however I noticed that we were way past fuel transfer time and alerted Geoff to the situation. We explained what we had to do to keep the aircraft c of g etc. and he was happy that Geoff should run his seat right back and open the transfer valves, at the same time he set the tanks up for landing. Great forethought.
On approaching our new destination we were told that landing was forbidden and the runways would be blocked, at this point we had established a rapport so that he almost trusted us and we negotiated our headsets back so we could talk to ATC directly. After telling them that we were going to have to circle over the city until we ran out of fuel they decided, much to our relief, to allow a landing and talk about it all on the ground. Since Geoff was the only crew member in his correct seat and was also the senior copilot he took control and did an immaculate approach and landing.
At the end of the landing roll our chap told us to turn round and return to the runway threshold, unfortunately the runway was not quite wide enough so we performed a three point turn with Geoff steering and me on engines, outboards in reverse, inboards forward thrust, very interesting but hairy. At the threshold we turned again using the turning pan and were told to prepare for take off again, to what purpose I donít know. By now we were beginning to lose our sense of humour so it was with some relief I saw an armoured car turn onto the runway some distance away but effectively curtailing any more aviation.
He suddenly said that we had done well and to leave the flight deck leaving the engines running. We arrived in first class to be greeted by the sight of all the passenger passports on a table, the two hijackers, Captain Harrison and Bill McCracken. All the passengers were standing in the economy aisle with Stewardess Mary LeFeuvre in front. Instructions were then given to evacuate the aircraft because they had saturated everything with the duty free alcohol and were setting it ablaze. Geoff and I were told to remain behind and Bill got the galley door open, after removing a cup jamming it, deploying the chute. Captain Harrison had to go first and remained at the bottom of the slide helping the passengers off that Bill had launched from the top. When everyone else was off and the two hijackers turned their backs Geoff and I did a runner as well leaving them on board.
We shepherded the passengers along the runway and the Dutch police stepped in and were getting them into transports when we realised that the two hijackers had also jumped and were trying to merge with the passengers. We identified them and they were taken into custody. In the terminal building we were greeted by the press who had been on their way to Paris to cover the Ermonville DC10 crash but diverted to Amsterdam to cover what they hoped would be a live story.
We were picked up by a VC10 and returned to Heathrow to face the press and eventually got away, returning home by company car, thus ending another day as an airline pilot."
There were several events with a relation to this day that ended at Amsterdam. During a session in the Haarlem courts of Justice, which were heavily guarded for the day, the two hijackers were convicted to several years in prison and locked up in the Scheveningen jail. In this facility, on 26th October 1974, hijacker Adnan Nuri (the one in the cabin of G-ASGO) joined forces with two Dutch inmates and an Algerian inmate and took control of the prison chapel, holding 22 members of a choir hostage. After three days the siege ends when a hostage rescue team storms into the chapel. Abu Said (real name Sami Tamimah) was in the prison hospital at the time and refused to join his colleague in the chapel.
One month after this siege, G-ASGR is captured in Dubai and flown to Tunis, where the hijackers request the release of both Adnan Nuri and Sami Tamimah, who are brought to Tunis and set free. The Tunis hijackers later surrender but their action set free seven Palestinians who were held for different actions in Holland and Cairo, Egypt. The jail chapel siege earns Adnan Nuri an additional 7.5 years of incarceration but as he was no longer in custody, he was tried in absence and never served this sentence.