The Pan Am Series – Part III: The Cairo Hijacking

Remains of hijacked Pan Am Flight 93, N752PA "Clipper Fortune" a Boeing 747 after being blown up at Cairo.

Remains of hijacked Pan Am Flight 93, N752PA “Clipper Fortune” a Boeing 747 after being blown up at Cairo.

On 6 September 1970, Pan Am’s flight 93, a Boeing 747, departed Brussels for New York via Amsterdam.  The flight never made it to New York.

During the flight’s stopover in Amsterdam, four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (“PFLP”) attempted to board an El Al flight, a Boeing 707 bound for New York.  Two got through but the other two were denied by Israeli security. These two then purchased First Class tickets on flight 93.

On the same day in Frankfurt, another group of PFLP members boarded TWA Flight 741, a Boeing 707 bound for New York; and in Zurich, members also boarded a Swissair DC-8 bound to New York as well. The Pan Am, TWA and Swissair flights were hijacked.  An attempt to hijack the El Al flight was foiled by the crew and a sky marshal. The TWA and Swissair flights were flown to and eventually landed at the PFLP’s “Revolutionary Airport” at Dawson’s Field, a remote desert airstrip in Jordan, formerly a British Royal Air Force base. The Pan Am flight was flown to Beirut, where it refueled and took on board additional PFLP members. The aircraft then flew on to Cairo instead of Dawson’s Field, because the Jordan airfield was considered too small to accommodate a 747.

On 9 September, a BOAC (now British Airways) VC-10 bound for London was hijacked after it departed from Bahrain and was taken to Dawson’s Field.

This became known as the “Dawson’s Field Hijacking”.

800px-Dawsonfieldcamels

The “Revolutionary Airport” at Dawson’s Field

The BOAC, TWA and Swissair aircraft were blown up on September 12, 1970 (below).

Dawson's_Field blowing up on Sep 12

The Pan Am aircraft, upon arrival in Cairo, was blown up almost immediately.  The late John Ferruggio was the In-Flight Director, and having been told the 747 would be blown up within eight minutes after landing, led his cabin crew team in the evacuation of 136 passengers and 17 crew-members.  Everyone survived.

Nellie Beckhans was a flight attendant on that trip, her first in Europe after years working Pan Am’s Central and South America routes.  Below are excerpts from her story about this event that appears in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, published by BlueWaterPress.

From Nellie Beckhans:

“* * * We picked up passengers in Amsterdam.  Now it was time to go home.  On taxiing to the runway the plane stopped.  A few minutes later I heard a commotion in the First Class section.  From my assigned position at R3 door, facing the aft of the airplane, I turned around to see Captain John Priddy talking to the purser and some passengers.* * * After a short period of time the Captain made an announcement stating that he had to check some passengers and we were now ready for departure.  * * *  

“The airplane took off, headed for New York.  About 20 minutes later when we thought we were going to start our service, the In-flight Director made an announcement that we were to remain seated.  We were going to a different destination.   * * * The flight attendant working First Class told me that there were two hijackers and they had a gun and grenades.  They did not want anybody in First Class.  She said that the Purser was taken to the cockpit with a gun at her head.  * * * Thankfully the passenger load was light and everyone remained calm.   * * *

“Much later I heard we were going to Beirut.  * * * The hijackers wanted to go to Amman to blow up the plane.  I remember flying and flying. Meanwhile a hijacker was stringing the dynamite fuses between the seats.  * * * When the hijackers finally agreed to land in Cairo the In-flight Director called the crew together and informed us of the plan.  * * * As soon as the plane stopped I opened R4 door and the passengers evacuated.  When I was going down the chute the airplane moved and I went off the slide.  * * * It was a happy moment when we heard everyone got off the airplane.  We lost our possessions and our shoes but we were alive and safe.     

Nelida (Perez) Beckhans was based in New York from 1967 to 1970 as a Special Services Representative and from 1970 to 1982 as a Flight Attendant.  She transferred to Miami in 1982 and was stationed there through 1991.  Her length of service with Pan Am was 24 years and 8 months.

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

About James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin
James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin is an author, blogger, lecturer and consultant in air transportation, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster (London) and a Visiting Lecturer at Emirates Aviation University (Dubai). He is also a Contributing Editor to Airways Magazine. Previously at ERAU’s College of Business he taught Business Law, Business Law for Airline Managers, and Airline Management. He was also faculty advisor to Sigma Alpha Epsilon. As a lecturer he coordinates Aviation Law workshops for Aeropodium, a UK-based aviation-related events company and organizes Aviation Law Conferences at his law school, American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL). As a consultant he specializes in start-up airline strategies, airline marketing, regulatory compliance, licensing, aircraft sourcing, strategic planning, contracts, agency agreements and preparing business plans. An avid golfer, Mr Baldwin periodically writes a golf column for the Dorchester Banner. Previously Mr Baldwin served as Deputy General Manager for Legal and Regulatory Affairs of Star Airways, a small Turkish cargo airline of which he was a founder, and prior to that, the US Representative of Tajik Air, the international airline of the Republic of Tajikistan. In the latter capacity, he represented the airline’s interests before the US government, multilateral development banks and private US and international business interests. He also coordinated and prepared on behalf of the government of Tajikistan a request for a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency for a feasibility study on its air transport sector. Mr Baldwin also served as an officer in the US Navy (1974-1978) and the active US Naval Reserve (1978-1994). His latest assignments included service as a Naval Liaison Officer on tanker convoys during the Iran/Iraq War, Officer in Charge of military officers boarding, inspecting and briefing masters of merchant ships delivering military cargo during the first Gulf War and Commanding Officer of a US Naval Reserve unit. He is now retired with the rank of Commander. Mr Baldwin is the author of Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline (BluewaterPress, 2011). He also co-edited, with Jeff Kriendler, former Vice President, Corporate Communications at Pan Am, Pan American World Airways – Aviation History through the Words of its People (BluewaterPress, 2011). He, along with Mr Kriendler, recently published Pan Am - Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer. Mr Baldwin obtained an A.B. (Bachelor’s) Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) and a J.D. (Juris Doctor) Degree from the AUWCL (Washington DC). He is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, the U. S. Golf Association, Cambridge Multi Sport (CMS) and Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He has traveled widely and includes among his interests distance running, golf, hill walking, sailing, model railroading, spectator sports, classical music and writing. He is married and resides in Maryland.

10 Responses to The Pan Am Series – Part III: The Cairo Hijacking

  1. Fernando Moreira says:

    Pan Am is an important part of the history of my life that I’ll keep forever on my mind. The world will always miss Mr. Juan Tripp who with his brilliant mind defintely changed the it for better!
    My Sincere Tribute From Brazil.

  2. Thank you for your kind reply. One of Pan Am’s last flights was from New York to Sao Paulo. I’ll be featuring it in the Pan Am Series soon…..

  3. Doug Miller says:

    You’re doing a great job with your series. Please keep it going!

  4. My father was the co-pilot, Pat Levix, on Pan m Flight 93 so thank you for posting this information.

  5. Sharon Levix Baechtle says:

    Thank you for letting me know. I am very proud of my father and his career at Pan Am.

  6. Maria Maestri says:

    I was one of the passengers on Pan Am Flight 93…..47 years ago!!! what an experience…thanks to the professionalism of the crew, we all got off safely. As we were running away from the plane, two of us noticed that an older woman ran back in the direction of the plane. We ran back to grab her. She said her husband had not gotten off. We had to force her to run away from the plane…As we were running, within seconds, behind us the plane blew up…A few more minutes and it would have been over for the three of us….We were picked up by uniformed men in jeeps….When we arrived at the Cairo airport, there was her husband. Another plane came to get us the next day and we took off for a reception in Rome and then on to NY. She could not stop thanking us.

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