Rome Plane Hijacking by Arab Guerillas 50 Years Ago

In 1973, a Pan Am Flight from Rome to Iran was hijacked by Arab militants, resulting in the deaths of 21 passengers. The incident, which also involved the hijacking of a Lufthansa Boeing 737, sparked a 30-hour guerilla operation that ended in Kuwait. This event marked a turbulent time in air travel history, and its impact on airport security was significant.

The Hijacking

On December 18, 1973, a scheduled Pan Am Flight from Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome to Iran through Beirut, Lebanon was targeted by a group of Arab militants. As the plane was preparing for takeoff, the militants stormed the terminal, opening fire and throwing grenades at the aircraft. The crew made efforts to evacuate the passengers, but tragically, 21 individuals lost their lives in the attack.

The Guerilla Operation

The hijackers also commandeered a Lufthansa Boeing 737, where they reportedly held Italian hostages. Seeking the release of two Palestinians imprisoned in Greece over an airport attack, the terrorists traveled to Greece to make their demands. Following failed negotiations in Athens, the plane took off again, but both Lebanon and Cyprus refused to allow it to land. Ultimately, the hijackers ordered the plane to be put down in Damascus, where the flight was refueled.

The Surrender and Aftermath

After 30 hours, the guerillas surrendered in Kuwait, allowing the hostages to be freed. The hijackers, claiming to be from Palestine, raised their hands in a victory sign, but the Palestinian Liberation Organization disapproved of their actions, stating that it served the enemies of the Palestinian cause.

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Impact on Air Travel

Incidents of air hijacking were once a common occurrence, with more than 20 cases reported annually until 2001. However, with increased security measures at airports, the number of hijacking cases has significantly decreased in recent years.

The aforementioned events underscored the need for enhanced airport security and paved the way for the tight security checks in place today. It is a reminder of the importance of vigilance to ensure the safety of air travelers.

Production : Gayatri Menon

Research : Gayatri Menon & Murali N Krishnaswamy

Archive Photo courtesy : Dinesh Krishnan & Akhila Easwaran

Voiceover: Sharmada Venkatasubramanian

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