Relatives and friends of the estimated dozen Americans held hostage by Palestinian hijackers on the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro yesterday went through what has now become a familiar ritual for victims of international terror: they waited, wept and prayed.
Many of the American hostages are close friends who planned the $1,700 Mediterranean voyage together and became captives when they opted to remain aboard while most passengers took a 15-hour bus tour of the Pyramids near Cairo. Those still aboard had planned to be reunited with the sightseers in Port Said late Monday night.
State Department spokesman Joe Reap said yesterday there had been no contact with the Americans on board and there was no confirmation of reports that two passengers had been killed.
For friends and family in the United States trying to follow the drama unfolding 5,000 miles away in the eastern Mediterranean, the lack of information was the most difficult and most frustrating part of the ordeal, particularly since many of the passengers are frail.
"Somehow, it might be helpful if the condition of these people would be made public to the world," said Steven Hodes, the son of one of the hostages, "so these terrorists would be shown to be even more cowardly than they are. You have the walking wounded there."
Hodes' mother, Mildred, 70, became separated from her husband, Frank, when he decided to take the bus tour from Alexandria to Port Said, which included sightseeing of Cairo, the Pyramids and the Sphinx.
"I cannot imagine why Mildred didn't go with him," said Bert Kriegman, an employe of Frank Hodes' insurance business in West Orange, N.J. "They are very close."
Mildred Hodes was left on board with a friend, Seymour Meskin, of Union, N.J., his wife, Viola Meskin, and their cousin, Sylvia. Meskin had already seen the Pyramids.
"This is a real nightmare for us," said Carol Hodes of Woodbridge, the Hodes' daughter. "It's very scary because these people don't play by any rules of civilization."
The Hodes and the Meskins were among a group of 11 acquaintances, mostly retirees, from the New York-New Jersey area who share apartments in a beach-front condominium in Long Beach, N.J.
Six of the 11 are still on board. Among the six hostages are Marilyn Klinghoffer, 58, and her husband, Leon, 69.
In New York, their daughters, Ilsa and Lisa, anxiously waited with their husbands by the telephone for news of their parents' fate.
"We've heard from some of the others in their group who got off the ship in Alexandria," said Jerry Arbittier, the Klinghoffers' son-in-law. "They did not get off because my father-in-law is disabled from a stroke he suffered five years ago.
"He [Leon] did not want to make the long excursion . . . she stayed with him, " Arbittier said. "Now they are trapped."
Arbittier's wife, Lisa Klinghoffer, broke down in tears at a New York news conference yesterday: "I'm terrified. I know my parents have a strong will," she said before becoming overcome by emotion.
The Klinghoffers, the Meskins and the Hodes were among 57 other Americans from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Florida, who booked the Mediterranean tour with the Club ABC Tours of Union, N.J.
Also believed aboard are Jerry Saire and her husband Donald who works for the United Nations Atomic Energy Administration in Vienna. None of the Americans held captive appeared to be from the Washington area. Most of the more than 400 left on board are Italian.
The 16-day holiday began for the New York-New Jersey group last Wednesday night when they flew from New York to Genoa, joining the Achille Lauro for a 12-day cruise of the Mediterranean, which was scheduled to end with three days in San Remo on the Italian Riviera.
The Palestinian hijackers struck on Day 5 as the Achille Lauro sailed from Alexandria to Port Said.
"I really did not think of any danger in the Middle East," said Jennie Meskin, the daughter-in-law of Seymour Meskin, adding that the family had thought the elderly couple would be "safer on a cruise than on a plane."