Thursday, May 17, 2018

Meeting The Only Pilot Who Successfully Stopped A Hijacking In-Flight

Last night I attended a presentation featuring Uri Bar-Lev.

Who is Uri Bar-Lev You ask?

Well, as the title of this post would suggest, he's the only pilot who has so far prevented a hijacking in flight.

Now 87 years old, Bar-Lev gave a great recounting of the events on September 6, 1970.

Sharing the stage with him was a passenger (left) who was a teenager on that flight, who gave a recounting of his experiences during the attempted hijacking.

Bar-Lev fought as a 16-year-old in the War of Independence and then in 1950 learned to fly, with the PT-17 Stearman as his first aircraft. After a stint in the Israeli Air Force, he went on to fly with El Al, Israel's Airline.

The 70's were quite a time for aircraft related terrorism. Bar-Lev noted that during his flying career with El Al, his planes had been the subject of 5 attempted bombings, and one attempted RPG attack, all in addition to the September 6 hijacking attempt.

The IATA's policy on hijackings in those days were the crew were to hold their passenger's safety as paramount and not resist the terrorists. This policy only changed some 30 years later.

On September 9, 1970 while preparing to leave from Amsterdam to New York, Bar-Lev and the crew of Flight 219, a Boeing 707, were alerted to two discrepancies - four passengers had shown up with tickets to be picked up. Two had passports from Senegal- that were in sequential order, but were to be seated separately and had acted as if they did not know each other. They were not allowed to board, and went on to successfully hijack Pan Am Flight 93.

The other two, a man and a woman on Honduran passports were "searched" by the Amsterdam police who did a rather cursory and insufficient job of it. Leila Khaled and Patrick Argüello had easily smuggled a handgun and two grenades on board. Khaled was a member of the PFLP and Argüello was a Sandinista. Terrorism had a very international and leftist flavor in those days.

As the pane reached 28,000 feet, the terrorists announced the hijacking, advanced on the locked cockpit door and pointed a gun at one of the cabin crew, demanding entry to the cockpit.

Uri Bar-Lev decided he wasn't going to let them hijack his plane. He had a sky-marshal in the cockpit with him, and told him to hang on.

Bar-Lev then put the plane into a diving maneuver, immediately dropping rapidly from 28,000 to 10,000 feet.

The maneuver caused Khaled to fall and pass out and she was apprehended by the second sky marshal on board, and the dive also disoriented Argüello who was immediately engaged by the sky marshal who left the cockpit as soon as Bar-Lev pulled out of the dive. Argüello before being killed managed to hit one of the cabin crew multiple times, seriously wounding him. Captain Bar-Lev decided to immediately land in London to get medical treatment for the crew member.

While these days Bar-Lev and his crew and sky marshals would receive a heroes' welcome for such a feat, in those days they feared being arrested by the British for shooting the terrorists. This was not an unfounded fear.

Just a short while before, in 1969 an Israeli air marshal named Mordechai Rachamim had engaged a group of terrorists attacking an El Al plane and killing the first officer in Zurich. After he jumped out of the airplane door under fire, he apprehended three of the terrorists and killed the fourth, he was arrested and the Swiss authorities put him on trial for manslaughter. Yes, really.

So Bar-Lev decided he didn't want his sky marshals arrested and speaking on the El Al internal frequency, had an EL Al plane aout to leave London hold on the tarmac. The sky marshals exited his plane by the rear maintenance door and boarded the other plane in the confusion, and were given tickets showing they were proper passengers. With no other evidence to the contrary, the British had to let them go. Bar-Lev and the other crew were questioned by the Brits, especially as all other planes that day had been successfully hijacked, but then they were released and returned to Israel.

As for Leila Khaled, she is still alive and a member of the PFLP and feted to this day by the left as a celebrated terrorist, including being a guest of honor in Japan invited by Japanese leftists commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Lod Airport massacre by the Japanese Red Army Faction.

Yep, leftist international idiots still abound today.

Bar-Lev has retired from El Al and lives with his family in Israel today.

Since Captain Bar-Lev's quick thinking and heroic actions, and the lessons learned from them, not a single El Al aircraft has been hijacked since.

It was a great experience, hearing from a rather humble hero first-hand, and a great honor to meet him in person.


Glenn B said...

A little interesting side note on El Al security. When I worked in the Customs Office of Investigations at JFK, I had frequent encounters with El Al personnel including sky marshals and ground security, let me just say they were rather paranoid but they got the job done. While working El Al flights, I got more or less surrounded by them on more than one occasion until all of them became familiar with the fact I was a Customs Special Agent and they pretty much left me alone.

Some of them carried fully automatic weapons on the ground in the US and as far as I am aware they were all armed with at least with a pistol. They also carried diplomatic passports, that is not a myth as some think but was fact. Should they ever get in an armed encounter with shots fired, they had a plan to follow: they were to board an El Al aircraft and depart the US as soon as possible. Since they pretty much only would get in an altercation while passengers were boarding or deplaning - there was virtually always a plane there for them.

Funny story, one day in a warmer month, I had two of them following me in the International Arrivals building. I did not mind much, in fact I was rather amused. They kept looking at me oddly though and after a bit I confronted them and asked them why they were following me since they by that time knew I was a Customs agent. They kind of timidly said they had a question for me. They asked where I had gotten the vest I was wearing. I had one of those quasi-outdoorsmen / photographer style vests on that I picked up at the Banana Republic (where I stopped shopping many years ago because of their leftist stance) for like $9.99 on sale. Only day or two later you could easily pick most all of El Al security, almost every one of them were wearing the same type of vest. I stopped back at Banana Republic where I had gotten my vest a few days later to get another in a different color - they were sold out.

MrGarabaldi said...

Hey Aaron;

That was a fascinating posting, I immediately started reading the links and chasing more links. Very enjoyable. The act of appeasing terrorist went out of vogue especially after 9/11. I remember living in Europe in 1977 and there were terrorist seizing trains, especially the Dutch were having problems with the Mullocans that were pissed off and being difficult.

Old NFO said...

Great story, and yes, he clanks when he walks...

Aaron said...

Glenn B: That's a great story! They certianly are very good at security and rather comprehensive in their questioning before they let you board.

MrGarabaldi: Yep, that was a crazy time, what with the Soviets backing terrorists of every stripe and the Westy having no comprehensive plant or procedure to resist it. It's sad that it took 9/11 for it to happen, but it's about time the IATA officially said pilots can choose to resist hijackings.

Old NFO: Yep, I wonder how much they had to adjust the weight and balance every time he flew due to the weight of his big brass ones.