In my recent interview with Rodney Khazzam – who was a child on board El Al flight 219, one of the planes hijacked by palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled – he described the heroic actions of the pilot Uri Bar-Lev.
Here is a 2014 article describing in more detail what Bar-Lev did, and how it stopped Khaled and her fellow terrorist:
Seconds later a flight attendant’s voice came through the intercom: two people, armed with a gun and two grenades, wanted to enter the cockpit. If he didn’t open the door, they would blow up the plane.
Bar-Lev sent flight engineer Uri Zach to look through the peep hole. The “Honduran” man, Nicaraguan-American Sandinista supporter Patrick Argüello, a former Fulbright scholar operating on behalf of George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was holding a gun to a female flight attendant’s head.
Uri, she said to the pilot through the locked door, they are going to kill me if you don’t open up.
According to the International Air Transport Association rules, Bar-Lev said, a pilot is responsible “for the welfare of his passengers” and therefore must acquiesce to the demands of terrorists.
His thinking was just the opposite: acceding will only further endanger the passengers. Giving voice to an unformed thought, he said aloud, “We are not going to be taken hostage.”
Sitting in the right-hand seat, having let the co-pilot handle the takeoff from Amsterdam, Bar-Lev recalled his mandatory training on the Boeing 707 at the company headquarters several years earlier. The certification training was eight hours long. After six hours, the company instructor told Bar-Lev he was cleared to fly and wondered if he had any other questions.
He did. He wanted to know the outer limits of the plane’s capacity. The instructor, a Korean War vet, walked him through some of the maneuvers and explained that the passenger plane was very strong and could endure more than it would seem at first glance.
Bar-Lev told Kol, the air marshal, to hold on tight. He was going to throw the plane into a dive.
The negative g-force, akin to the feeling one gets on the downhill section of a roller coaster ride, would accomplish two things: it would lower the plane’s altitude, reducing the pressure difference between the inside and outside of the plane, which would make a bullet hole or a grenade explosion less dangerous; and it would throw the hijackers off their feet. The passengers, he said, were all belted in and would be fine.
Bar-Lev lifted the nose of the aircraft, dipped one of the wings, and then tilted the nose down to earth. The plane began to plummet, dropping 10,000 feet in a minute. When he pulled out of the dive, Kol charged through the door and killed Argüello.
The second terrorist, Leila Khaled, a Palestinian veteran of previous skyjackings, rolled a grenade forward but it didn’t explode. In her memoir, Bar-Lev said, Khaled claimed to have been violently subdued, but the air marshals found her passed out from the dive and quickly arrested her.
“The whole thing took two-and-a-half minutes,” Bar-Lev said.
It seems luck also played a part in stopping Khaled from committing the murders she intended to commit.
But make no mistake: she intended to kill and is not sorry about it.
Update: Bar-Lev will be recounting his story Wednesday, October 7th 1pm Israel time at the following Zoom link. (hat tip: Barry)