On June 14, 1985, TWA Flight 847 left Cairo for Athens. After arriving in Athens, a new crew boarded the flight and departed for Rome.
Just after takeoff, two Lebanese men speaking Arabic hijacked the plane using a pistol and grenades they managed to smuggle past airport security. The plane’s course was altered for Beirut in Lebanon. Upon landing, the hijackers released 19 passengers in exchange for fuel.
As TIME later reported, millions watched the drama unfold from their television sets and radios. Captain John Testrake argued with air traffic control at Beirut International Airport after they were initially refused for landing.
“He has pulled a hand-grenade pin and is ready to blow up the aircraft if he has to. We must, I repeat, we must land at Beirut. We must land at Beirut. No alternative,” Testrake said.
The Beirut control tower eventually responded: “Very well. Land. Land quietly. Land quietly.”
Testrake then detailed the threats against passengers: “They are beating the passengers. They are threatening to kill the passengers. We want fuel now. Immediately. Five minutes at most, or he is going to kill the passengers.”
One of the hijackers then took over, telling the control tower that the “plane is booby-trapped.”
“If anyone approaches, we will blow it up. Either refueling the plane or blowing it up. No alternative,” he added.
The plane was then flown to Algiers where it remained for five hours and another 20 passengers were released. The plane then returned to Beirut. During the flights, the hijackers singled out members of the military for beatings. Once they landed in Beirut a second time, however, they focused their attention on U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem. The hijackers beat Stethem and then shot him in the head. They tossed his body out of the plane and then shot him again. Seven passengers believed to have been Jewish were also removed from the plane and taken to a Shia prison.
Armed men boarded the plane in Beirut before it set off for Algiers once again on June 15. Back at Algiers, another 65 passengers and all female crew members were released. The hijackers then flew back to Beirut once more, demanding those responsible for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait be released and all Shias held in an Israeli prison be released. The hijackers also demanded Israel withdraw from southern Lebanon and for the international community to condemn the U.S. and Israel.
On June 17, the 40 remaining passengers were taken into Beirut and held hostage by the terrorist organization known as Hezbollah. They were eventually released on June 30 after President Ronald Reagan intervened.
Those involved in the hijacking were placed on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists List by President George W. Bush. Just one alleged hijacker, Mohammed Ali Hammadi, was arrested in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled by German officials in 2005 and was placed on the Most Wanted list again in 2006.
On September 20, CBS News reported that a suspect in the hijacking was arrested while on a cruise in Mykonos. The suspect, a 65-year-old man, has not been identified by police but is rumored to be either Lebanese journalist Mohammed Saleh or Hammadi. The suspect’s role in the hijacking was not disclosed.