The world watched in fear as 5 aircraft were blown up at Dawson's Field in a hijacking that would stun the world and cause a change in political tensions in the Middle East. The defenders were the Americans and Israelis, the attackers were the Palestinians, aiming for world recognition and release of prisoners. It would also symbolize the massive failure of intelligence agencies in multiple countries.
Most boarded the flight as a normal hop between Amsterdam and New York. Little did they expect that their flight was among 5-targeted planes that would be attacked by several members of The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or the PFLP. Their aircraft would be attacked but not in the way the terrorists would have anticipated. The Boeing 707 they was flying had a load of 148 passengers and crew. 2 of the passengers in row 2 did not intend on landing in New York. They intended to fly the aircraft to a place in the Middle East and use the passengers as pawns to a plan that was intended to see the release of hundreds of PFLP operatives.
The PFLP mission had already been jeopardized before anybody even got on the plane, as 2 of the terrorists who were supposed to board the aircraft were stopped by security, they would go on to hijack another flight, Pan Am flight 93. The other 2, however, made it on with grenades, guns and all. They were posing as a married couple on Honduran passports. Their names were Patrick Arguello and Leila Khaled. Khaled had hijacked another EL AL flight from Rome to Athens a month earlier and planed to do the same on this flight. Arguello would, however, not live to see the end of his mission and would die between Amsterdam and New York.
Captain Uri Bar Lev readied his aircraft for takeoff from Amsterdam New York. He didn't expect to see much action in the air, but was wary of the threat of attack from terrorists. Just a month earlier, another EL AL aircraft had been hijacked and landed in Greece. His copilot and flight engineer were also wary of this threat but none of them expected it. In the jump seat behind Bar Lev was an EL AL air marshal. He carried a gun and several grenades. In the event of a hijacking he was supposed to rush up and prevent a hijacking. However, on this flight, he sat in the cockpit, which was against regulations. He still believed that in the face of danger, he could ably protect the crew.
After the control tower had given them clearance, they were pushed back from the gate and headed towards the runway. "Power" said Bar Lev as he pushed the aircrafts four engines up. The massive aircraft slowly gained speed."V1" called the co-pilot. This is the point at which the plane cannot safely be stopped on the runway. The pilots were now committed to the sky. "Rotate" called the co-pilot, and the aircrafts nose rose into the sky. The passenger's fate was now sealed in the tin can known as EL AL flight 219 to New York.
Shortly after takeoff, the action began. As the aircraft passed over the English coast Arguello stood up. Khaled followed suit and bared the grenade pins in her teeth to show how she would go about the process. The 2 drew their guns. Another air marshal in the back of the aircraft fired but missed and the 2 raced towards the cockpit. A flight attendant tried to catch Khaled as she raced through the first class galley. Khaled in turn rushed the woman and continued on. As the 2 reached the door Arguello was attacked by purser Shlomo Vider. Vider hit Arguello in the face but fell and was shot 7 times by Arguello. He fell, spattered with blood and lost consciousness.
Leila Khlaed began screaming into the cockpit "Open the door, OPEN THE DOOR!" A flight attendant hurried up and yelled at the same time "She has grenades!" Seeing the door would not open, Khaled began shouting "I will count and if you don't open I will blow up the plane." Arguello stood behind her keeping the passengers at bay. Most of the passengers were to stunned to act and simply obeyed the hijackers.
Uri Bar Lev decided, "We will not be hijacked" and instructed the air marshal to attack after he put the aircraft into a steep dive. He knew everyone would momentarily lose balance and probably fall, this would give time for the air marshal to attack while the hijackers were down. He pushed control column and the aircraft fell like a falling elevator. As predicted, the hijackers fell and as soon as gravity returned, a passenger hit Arguello with a bottle of whisky and the air marshal emptied his weapon into him. Arguello also fell and as he did his sole grenade fell down the aisle but, thankfully, failed to explode. Several passengers attacked, beat and bound Leila Khaled. She was then restrained and the flight returned to normal. The entire event took place in less than 10 minutes. The pilots requested an emergency landing at London and headed in that direction. Further drama would ensue on the ground.
The aircraft has suffered minor damage; several bullets had exited the aircrafts hull, but had little effect. Soon the aircraft touched down in London and was met by security and medical officers. Vider, Arguello and Khlaed were quickly removed from the plane. Vider was in a profound state of shock and was rushed to hospital, having an unrecordably low blood pressure. It took surgeons hours to save his life. Arguello was not as lucky and died on the way to hospital. Khaled was arrested and treated for minor injuries sustained in the brawl. The pilots were now faced with a dilemma; the air marshals had killed someone and were illegally on the plane, as British law forbid the presence of an armed guard on the plane.
Another EL AL flight that was in the area decided to assist with the situation. Talking in Hebrew, the 2 crews organized to meet at the runway and put the air marshals on the other flight as ordinary passengers. The plan was initiated and the 2 air marshals went through the door in the belly of the aircraft, carrying an attaché with all the guns and grenades and boarded the other aircraft. The pilots of the other aircraft made an excuse and stopped at the foot of the runway with flight 219 close behind. After the trade, the aircraft took off bound for Israel. Although clever, the exchange fooled nobody. Made in broad daylight and with plenty of people there to see, flight 219 was stopped and forced to return to the gate, where the pilots were handed over to the British police. They still managed to act cool and denied ever knowing of air marshals on the plane. However, the government held the pilots until the air marshals were surrendered by Israel. They remained in a British jail and were released after intense negotiation's with Israel. Khaled, however, remained in a British jail with the British maintaining the fact that the event occurred in British airspace.