Flight 847 departed from Athens Airport at about 10 a.m. Friday morning, almost an hour late. There had been two security checks before boarding.
Takeoff was normal and we were looking forward to a hot breakfast. I was reading when suddenly there was a sound of rapidly running footsteps up the aisle and a couple of shouts and the first-class passengers started to come down the aisle to the back of the plane with their hands above their heads.
Two hijackers appeared. They had a silver pistol and hand grenades. We had been in the air about 10 minutes. We were ordered to put our hands on heads and bend forward.
Some of the first passengers were hit as the hijackers screamed, "Down! Down! Down!" The flight attendants were made to sit in passenger seats except for the purser. She spoke German as well as English, and one of the hijackers spoke German.
The hostess announced, "We are cooperating with these two gentlemen who are brothers of the black Moslem Shiite sect. Please keep your heads down. We are flying to Beirut."
During the flight to Beirut and for the hour on the ground we were kept in this agonizing position. The moment a head moved the hijacker would scream, "Down! Down!" and hit the head.
Passports were collected, and some young men who did not have passports but military travel documents were screamed at.
The first-class area had been turned into the hijackers' headquarters. One man was taken into this and severely bashed -- ribs, cheeks broken and possibly internal injuries.
No one was allowed to talk. Suddenly the hijacker ordered me from the seat and held a pistol in my back while the purser assisted a sobbing, groaning, bleeding lad down the aisle. He was dumped into my seat next to my daughter, Ruth. I was then shoved with a pistol up forward to a different seat. During the entire time I had six different seats. It was almost as if they did not want me to have a chance to form any relationships with anyone.
As we flew toward Algiers we were given an orange drink and a roll. All this was done by the purser, who was the only one of the flight crew allowed to move in the cabin. Before landing at Algiers we again went through the heads-down procedure. The flight attendant then called for any pregnant women to put their hands up. One did and I was again moved to another seat with a gun in my back, and the pregnant woman was given my last seat.
As we landed in Algiers we were instructed to close all the window blinds. After the landing in Algiers there was a great deal of running and shouting by the two hijackers up and down the plane, and it was my recollection that one of the Americans who had a military travel pass was taken outside. There were terrible groans, thuds and screams.
When the plane had refueled we were allowed to lift our heads and the purser gave us the breakfast, which had been prepared that morning. Then we took to the air again but with no knowledge of where we were going.
My mind was doing some geography. Would we go to Libya, Beirut or Iran? I calculated that if it was Libya the flight would be one hour. We had been allowed to lift the screens from the windows. I calculated from the sun that we were headed northeast. I mentally ruled out Libya and decided that Beirut was more likely, given our fuel capacity.
Darkness settled when the purser announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, put your heads down, shut your eyes. You will hear some noises. Do not look up. Your fate depends upon it. Everyone must cooperate." There was one shot and the sound of the first-class partition curtains being drawn.
Next, the purser announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves for an emergency landing. Our pilot is looking for Beirut Airport now. It has no night lights. The landing will be very rough. It may be fatal."
A few minutes later the pilot spoke, "Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the Beirut airport may remove the barriers on the strips and provide light." We circled and then started to descend rapidly. The pilot announced it would be a normal landing, then we touched down safely. The hijackers were full of cheerfulness as they admitted extra people from the ground. With our heads down, all we could see were military-type boots, butts of rifles and here and there joyful kissing and backslapping.
After takeoff we were allowed to lift our heads and see the new captors. From my observations we now had a total of eight. Among them were two taller, lightly bearded, smiling men, one of whom spoke fairly good English and appeared to take charge. The other four were semimilitary and had to be introduced to the four organizers. They all had automatic rifles, full ammunition webbing slung over their shoulders, knives and pistols. They were like teen-agers, although much older, on an exciting outing.
There was "Bulgy Eyes," a man with very large protruding bloodshot eyes, a beard and a lot of hair, waving his rifle about, pointing down the cabin, laughing, tripping his safety catch on and off, pulling clips of bullets in and out.
Next was "Black Beard," very densely bearded and almost as mad as "Bulgy." "Youngster" came next. He was younger and obviously more intelligent and tried to give some restraint to "Bulgy." The fourth was down the rear of the craft and I did not see him in detail although Ruth said he was "reasonable."
With the reinforcement the hijackers were more relaxed and very cheerful. The English speaker began to give little sermons: "Our people are good people, and we will not hurt you. No one will die. There are 700 of our brothers in Israel prisons. One hundred Americans for 700 of our brothers. Your government must push pressure on the Israelis."
I protested that some of us were Australians and he responded, "Australian. Australian. Bad government. Bad government. Support Israel. It is up to your government."
We were given water and a sandwich of thick dry bread and strong cheese. I tried to eat this but could not. The cheese turned to glue in my mouth. I was given more water and an apple, and was promptly sick, vomiting all over myself. Bulgy found this very funny, and I was not allowed to move, but an American behind me managed to go to the toilet and bring me a wet towel. For the rest of the time I just sat in my vomit until it dried. Bulgy and Blackie then started pointing to the girls and insisting that a girl sit beside each of them.
Next the looting began. This took two forms. In the organized official looting each person was taken to the first-class section, where their watches, rings and jewelry were removed. All wallets were opened and most were not given back.
Money was taken, and one of the "originals" carried this out while the other was stacking and sorting the notes and dropping the jewelry into a plastic container. Some persons pleaded and had their faces slapped.
Down in the cabin, Bulgy and Blackie were doing their own private looting, demanding wallets and taking most of the money. Bulgy took mine and was angry that it had no money at all so he put a $1 American bill in it. I gave this immediately to Blackie as I did not want an American bill in my pocket. When I came to be searched officially I was asked, "Where is your money?"
"Those fellows down there take it," I said. No, I had no money. I was leaving Greece. I'd spent all my Greek currency and I would have got more currency in Italy.
A little later the "leader" went and spoke to Bulgy and Blackie and I believe that he was telling them they must pool the loot and it would be shared later. Then the bags from the lockers were taken to the hijackers' headquarters and progressively searched for valuables, although I don't think that this task was completed. Finally we were back in Algiers.
The leader explained that one of their brothers had been captured in Athens. They had told the Greek government that if it would deliver their brother to Algiers then they would let most of the women and the Greek citizens go. An hour later, he announced that the Greek government had agreed.
After another hour or so -- telling the time was difficult as we had no watches -- the seating was reorganized, with all the men in the front of the wings and the women and Greek citizens at the rear. After what seemed years, there was clapping as he announced to the women that the plane had arrived with their brother.
Then the women were allowed to leave, one at a time in small groups. Ruth was allowed to kiss me goodbye, but not my wife, Rosie. At that time I had no doubt that this would be the last time I would see them.
Then some Algerian people came into the plane and asked if there was anyone who wasn't American or was under 18. A few people rose and I called out, "I Australian." Suddenly I was waved out past the Algerians and down the steps. I was the last person to leave the plane.
I don't think Rosie and Ruth could believe their eyes. But the most wonderful thing of all was to be greeted by the Australian ambassador with a mighty hug as he said, "You are the Hendersons."