“If anyone moves, you will be shot!” shrieked a middle aged would-be hijacker. His shrill declaration resonated throughout the fuselage of Boeing 707, Flight 806, and instantly terminated all conversation. Dressed in faded green trousers, a wrinkled white shirt and badly scuffed brown side-tie shoes, he stood in the aisle facing all passengers in tourist section. His wavy black hair and heavily pockmarked swarthy face framed two fanatical beady eyes, surveying his prisoners with quick dart-like movements.
The words were not what Karen Taylor wanted to hear. She had been enjoying her holiday. It was supposed to be fun. Too terrified to move her head, she slowly shifted her brown eyes to the right to see a gray steel 45-caliber pistol clutched tightly in the hijacker’s trembling hand, inches from her head. She risked directing a speechless stare at her best friend, Patti Arthur, strapped in the seat to her left. Patti’s horrified gaze portrayed the same fear: their safe and wonderful European tour was on the threshold of becoming their worst nightmare.
Karen grasped the gravity of the situation. Most of the passengers boarding 806 were Jewish, carrying either U.S. or Israeli passports, and had at least two more things in common. All were escapees from Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and all had chosen this particular time to re-visit Germany.
Karen’s view of Patti’s face blurred when she focused on the window to Patti’s left, then beyond. Heat from the mid-day sun over Athens, Greece was unmerciful. The azure sky was cloudless, the temperature well above ninety degrees. The motionless flags of numerous nations hung above the terminal building. The tarmac glimmered in tormenting seething heat waves. Thoughts of Mike raced through her head. She desperately wished he was beside her in her moment of terror. She remembered the bitter sweetness of their final night together, and wished she had gone to British Columbia with him. She hated his decision to “go it alone,” but privately applauded it.
“We are The Angels of Freedom!” the hijacker shouted. “We are in complete control of this airplane. We will shoot anyone who moves!” The terrified silence continued for seconds until cries and screams erupted at the sound of two shots at the front of the airplane. Silence was quickly restored when the man with the pockmarked face fired a shot through the back of an empty seat. “Do not make any more noise or I will shoot to kill!” he warned loudly. “You must all put your passports on the floor in the aisle, immediately!”
Only muffled whispers and shuffling could be heard when the passengers moved to comply with the demand of the terrorist. Some stood slowly and nervously to remove carry-on luggage from overhead compartments. When it appeared that all passports had been placed on the aisle floor, the terrorist pointed his pistol at the head of an old man wearing a scull-cap. “You will pick up the passports and bring them to me,” he ordered.
Shaken and trembling, the old man pulled himself unsteadily from his seat and did as he was ordered. “Put them on the floor at my feet,” the terrorist stipulated. He waited until the old man had knelt to comply. “Zionist pig!” the terrorist screamed, then struck the side of old man’s face with his pistol and shoved him violently to the floor. He snatched the old man’s skull-cap and used it to wipe blood flowing from the old man’s wound. He laughed hysterically when he spit on the cap, threw it to the floor and stepped on it repeatedly.
The blue curtains separating first class from tourist were flung open by a second terrorist with a thick shock of white hair. Larger and older than his compatriot, he wore a brown pinstriped suit with a pale yellow shirt, opened at the neck. In one hand was a pistol, the passports of the first class passengers in the other. The two terrorists whispered in muffled tones briefly, then sat on the floor with their backs to one another as they examined the passports.
Karen leaned slightly to her right and stared forward in horror. The captain of the airplane was lying face down on the aisle floor of first class. His arms and legs had been tightly bound with rope, his mouth bound with a red napkin. On the floor of the cockpit was the lifeless body of the co-pilot. The back of his head rested in a large pool of blood.
The failure of the airplane to move once it had been cleared for takeoff made it obvious to air traffic controllers that something was wrong with Flight 806. Their attempts to communicate with the cockpit went unanswered. Following routine procedure, Airport Security was quickly notified of the incident.
At 12:50, a maintenance crew was ordered to approach the airplane to determine what was wrong. A yellow and blue truck raced down the runway in the direction of the stalled aircraft, attracting the attention of numerous passengers on the plane’s left side. The older of the two terrorists stood to look, then dashed to the cockpit and lifted the headset of the co-pilot. “Do not approach this airplane!” he shouted. “All passengers will die if you persist!”
Now painfully aware that Flight 806 had been hijacked, Airport Security radioed the maintenance vehicle and ordered its retreat. Within minutes, numerous two-note sirens could be heard as countless police vehicles converged on the airport.
Throughout the ordeal, Karen and Patti had remained silent and frozen in their seats. They were terrified, as were all other passengers.
When the terrorists had completed their inspection of the passports, they stood and waved their guns at the passengers. On the floor below them were all but five of the passengers’ passports. The younger terrorist held the five passports above his head and shouted the names of the owners, “Malcolm and Mary Christianson...David Alexander...Patti Arthur...Karen Taylor. Those five people will come to me now!” Again muffled whispers erupted throughout the plane. Several passengers correctly speculated that the Jewish passengers had been segregated. The five whose names had been called were moved to first class, while the seven Jewish passengers in first class were ordered into tourist class.
The older of the two terrorists again lifted the co-pilot’s headset. “We are the Angels of Freedom,” he declared loudly. “Please confirm that you can hear me.”
“We can hear you,” was the reply.
“Ten million American dollars must be brought to this airplane and our flight to Libya must be guaranteed. This must be done by three, P.M., or all passengers will die.”
“We’ll get back to you within an hour.”
Before being tied and gagged, the pilot had turned off the airplane’s engines to conserve fuel. The heat inside the airplane had quickly become unbearable. The stewardesses, only after constant pleadings, had obtained permission to do whatever they could to comfort the passengers. They had been warned, however, that they would be shot if they tried to do anything else.
Three o’clock passed without a response from the control tower. By four, the terrorists had begun to argue openly. The younger terrorist paced nervously up and down the aisle while his partner stood at the rear exit. He stared anxiously through the small window in the door.
Tension and heat escalated with each passing minute.
The younger terrorist, his pockmarked face contorted with rage, untied the ropes binding the legs and arms of the pilot. When the pilot flinched in pain, the terrorist slapped his face and swore loudly. He jerked the pilot to his feet and pressed the muzzle of his pistol to the pilot’s temple. “In the name of freedom you will fly the airplane to Libya!” he hissed loudly. “You will do this now, or we will all die!” He poked his gun between the shoulder blades of the pilot and prodded him into the cockpit.
From her window seat, Patti Arthur could see the flashing red, blue and yellow lights on numerous approaching vehicles. Within minutes, she heard the familiar whine of the airplane’s engines. The engines roared to life and the plane started to move. As the airplane accelerated down the runway, the passengers’ heads and bodies were thrust against the backs of the seats. Minutes later, the passengers could see the reflection of the setting sun on the waves of the Mediterranean Sea, a thousand feet below. A deafening silence filled the airplane as all passengers struggled to contain their fearful panic.
The Boeing 707 landed at an abandoned military base, almost a hundred miles from Tripoli. The older terrorist quickly opened the front door, allowing a welcome rush of fresh cool evening air into the passenger compartment. He turned and waved his pistol at the five passengers in first class. “Come with me now!” he demanded, beckoning excitedly with his left arm. “Get up quickly! We must go now!” he hissed, then ushered the five passengers from the plane and into the rear section of a waiting truck.
After waiting in silence for less than a minute, they were joined by the younger terrorist. He jumped head first through the opening in the back of the truck. “Go now! Quickly!” he screamed.
The truck raced down the runway away from the airplane. It had traveled less than three hundred yards when a brilliant white light lit up the night sky. A thunderous explosion shook the ground and the truck less than a second later. Through the opening in the back of the truck a huge orange and yellow ball of fire could be seen rising from the spot where the airplane had come to rest.
Sickened and horrified, Karen and Patti trembled silently as a cold nauseating sweat bathed their bodies. It was obvious that the terrorists had blown up Flight 806, along with all remaining passengers and crew. It was impossible for them to comprehend the dimension of hatred required to motivate the terrorists to commit such an atrocity.
At a hastily convened press conference the following day, the Libyans reported to the world that Palestinian terrorists were responsible for the hijacking and the explosion of Olympic Airways, Flight 806. They further reported that the perpetrators had been apprehended and punished accordingly. They concluded, with extreme regret, that all passengers and crew had perished.
Karen Taylor’s parents received official confirmation of the tragedy from the Canadian Embassy in England. After enduring the devastating shock of the news, they had questions about the arrangements for recovering Karen’s body and returning it to Canada for burial.
The Taylors were stunned to learn that because of the violence of the explosion and the heat from the ensuing fire, no bodies were recovered. They were told that whatever charred remains of Flight 806, crew and passengers had been bulldozed into an open pit and buried.
May 23,1963. Eleven, A.M.
A memorial service was held on that rainy morning for Karen Taylor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Rosedale, Toronto. In his tearful eulogy to Karen, George Taylor sadly concluded that she would have celebrated her twenty-first birthday in August of that year.