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1972: Israeli commandos storm hijacked jet
Twelve Israeli soldiers disguised as maintenance staff have stormed a hijacked Sabena Boeing at Lod airport in Tel Aviv and released the 100 people on board.

Two of the Arab hijackers were shot dead and their two female companions were captured, although one of them was injured in the attack.

Six of the passengers were also wounded in the gun battle. The 90 passengers and 10 crew had been held hostage for 23 hours.

The end to their ordeal came when two vans, said to be carrying repair men, drove onto the runway and approached the plane.

Two of the men burst into the cockpit and said they were taking over the jet
Captain Reginald Levy
The men got out and pretended to begin work on the airliner but suddenly climbed onto the wings and opened the emergency doors.

The British pilot, Captain Reginald Levy, said: "Everyone of us is lucky to be alive. I have had some tough times but this was my toughest."

The airliner was hijacked after leaving Vienna, where it had made a stop on a flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv.

Capt Levy said: "Two of the men burst into the cockpit and said they were taking over the jet."

He was ordered to fly the plane to Lod, where the gunmen offered to free the passengers in exchange for 100 Arab prisoners held by the Israelis.

While the plane was sitting on the tarmac, the Israelis managed to let down the tyres and empty the fuel tanks to prevent it taking off again.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan took charge of negotiations with the hijackers, initially offering to free the Arab prisoners in return for the release of the hostages.

Later Israeli officials said there was never any intention to release the prisoners. It was simply a delaying tactic.

The gunmen belonged to the Black September Organisation of Palestine guerrillas, a splinter group of the PLO.

One of the rescued passengers, Mor Weiss, from Brooklyn, told The Times: "The soldiers opened the four doors, two on either side at the same time. Immediately the Arabs started shooting wildly.

"The troops fired back and I saw the younger of the two male hijackers fall with a bullet through his forehead. Seconds later the other one was shot."

Mr Weiss said he had been picked on because he was wearing a skull cap. He was sent to the back of the plane and made to sit with a stick of dynamite between his feet.

Captain Levy, who comes from Slough, told a news conference, the drama had happened on his 50th birthday. His wife had accompanied him on the flight so they could have a celebratory birthday meal in Tel Aviv.


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Plane on tarmac with steps and front door open
Israeli commandos posing as maintenance staff burst into the plane



In Context
The two women hijackers were jailed for life in August 1972. They were found guilty after boarding the Sabena aircraft with explosives packed into the lining of corsets they were wearing and also carrying a pistol and grenade concealed in cans of talcum powder.

They were jailed for life - although one of the three judges voted for the death penalty.

On 29 May 1972 three Japanese gunmen opened fire on crowds at Lod International Airport in Tel Aviv, killing 26 people and injuring dozens more.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said they had recruited the gunmen from the Japanese Red Army. Two died in the attack, the third, Kozo Okamoto, was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Lod, or Lydda airport, has since been renamed Ben Gurion Airport and has some of the strictest airport security in the world.

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