U.S. Air Force facilities near here where the 52 American hostages are expected to be flown after their release, practically the only signs that anything special is in the works are U.S. television networks' trucks parked outside the hospital near the Rhein-Main airfield.
The news media apparently have made far more special preparations during the last few days for the release than the U.S. government, whose Air Force facilities at Rhein-Main Air Base have long been in full readiness for the situation. The news teams of the three major networks as well as Cable News Network have rented the top four floors in a wing of a modern hotel with the best view of the runway where the planes carrying the hostages would land.
We're all set up so we can get 'em in here anytime we get the word," said Air Force spokesman Maj. Bruce Fagaley. Fagaley said the Air Force has C9 medical evacuation planes standing by here that could be dispatched to pick up the hostages on a moment's notice whenever they are flown out of Tehran.
Zurich or Geneva in Switzerland and Algiers are generally considered the most likely first stops for the hostages after release. The Air Force says it would need two evacuation planes to transport all the hostages at once.
Fagaley and all the other U.S. spokesmen in this area stressed that there have been hardly any special preparations here so far. The Air Force routinely flies medical evacuation missions from here to bring in critically injured people for treatment at the large Air Force hospital here in Wiesbaden.
At the hospital, the only preparation for the arrival of the hostages that authorities admit to is the installation of extra telephones for use by the freed hostages or their families to call friends or relatives in the United States.
So far, no extra medical or State Department personnel have arrived on the scene. There is currently a wing of the Wiesbaden Hospital that is completely free of patients, but hospital spokesmen say that wing is always kept free for emergency use.
Security measures have been reinforced on the hospital grounds, however, apparently to keep out the many reporters who have tried to penetrate the hospital in recent days. An attempt to get some information inside the hospital last night ended with this reporter being taken by the arm by a medical orderly, who said, "We have strict orders to escort all press off the compound."
Relatives of the hostages have been discouraged from coming here, and none has, as far as anyone knows. When the relatives finally come, they are expected to be housed primarily at the Air Force's Amelia Earhart Hotel next door to the hospital.
Hospital staff say that they do not really know in what physical or psychological condition to expect the freed hostages. "We plan to treat them as 52 separate cases," said one hospital staffer. Psychiatrists in the United States and at U.S. government facilities elsewhere in Europe are said to be ready to come to Wiesbaden when needed to talk to the freed diplomats individually.
The news media have made their preparations much more apparent. Each of the networks has flown in a half-dozen camera crews from all over Europe and the Middle East -- about 150 television people altogether.
"German TV is filming us, and we are filming them filming us," said ABC's Rome correspondent William Blakemore.
"We've had oodles of practice," said William Milldyke, ABC's European news manager. All the systems for a live satellite broadcast have been tested by all three networks. They intend to pool the live coverage because there are only two satellite paths available for the four U.S. television users. The Air Force has given the networks tours of the arrival point so that they could rehearse.
With NBC coordinating, each network has been assigned a different phase of the arrival. NBC is to cover the airport, CBS the hospital, and ABC the postarrival press conference. There are "chase crews" ready with visas to go to Algiers. Crews are already on the scene in Zurich and Geneva.
ABC has occupied the same top-floor room, No. 977, in the hotel as its communications center on and off for a year, ever since the first 13 hostages were released a year ago.
On the hotel roof are four microwave dishes to receive live TV images from cameras trained on the airport and on the hospital at Wiesbaden. "If the Air Force decides to keep us away from the field, we could film with telephoto lenses from the roof," said a TV crewman.