The hijackers of TWA flight 847 gave lectures to American passengers critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East and struck some aboard the plane, but also acted considerately toward others, released hostages recounted.
One of those freed early today, Father Bill McDonnell from Illinois said that the hijackers acted as though they were flight attendants: "They handed out food and drinks and they were very cordial.
"They explained their position and their anxiety about Lebanon. We were able to catch some sleep. We talked, we read and we prayed a lot."
Paula Sukeforth, a 45-year-old housewife from Lexington, Mass., said the hijackers had praised the Algerian authorities for their handling of the situation. Like many other passengers she complained of lack of sleep and discomforts but said the hijackers had been considerate.
"The worst thing was having to put our heads between our knees," said Gail Zillgett, a 20-year-old student from Indianapolis. "The plane was very hot but there was enough food and water. The hijackers were calm and had a certain sense of humor. The passengers were not allowed to talk to each other."
Zillgett said she felt relieved and happy to be free but afraid for a friend still on board.
Barry William, of Burbank, Calif., said that the only physical attack on a passenger that he knew of occurred Friday night when he heard the hijackers slapping a passenger who then started screaming.
"Apparently he did not put his head down as he was told to," William said.
Dorothy Sullivan, a retired schoolteacher from Aurora, Ill., told reporters in Larnaca, Cyprus yesterday, that one hijacker ordered passengers "to hold our hands high above our heads, then to bend forward at the waist with our hands on our heads."
Sullivan, speaking for 19 Chicago area women released, added "All the time, he was hitting people with his fists. No one screamed when they were hit. They just grunted and took it. I lifted my head for a moment and saw him kick a woman in the head. She was about 55. If he saw you with your head up, he would run up and smash it back down again."
She said the second hijacker had a "softer, calmer voice. I thought he might show some mercy," according to The Chicago Tribune.
Those hopes were dashed when the second man held up a satchel filled with explosives to one of the stewardesses and warned her, "quietly but firmly," that he would not hesitate to detonate the charge if his orders were not followed.
Sullivan said her muscles ached as she was forced to remain bent forward with her hands on her head. "They were always shouting 'No speak! No speak! We kill you!' It was maniacal. And all the time, they were waving those grenades around."
The hostages' fears were compounded by the fact that the pilot was silent throughout the entire flight, apparently forbidden by the air pirates to speak to the passengers.
"The pilot didn't come on the address system at all. Only one stewardess did all the talking, and her voice shook. But she kept us calm. If she hadn't done that, we would have been hysterical."
The hostages freed in Algiers were flown to Cyprus, then on to Paris to await the end of the drama still unfolding.