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Hijackers Panic, Kill 15 on Jet : Fire Blindly in Cabin; Troops Storm Plane

September 06, 1986|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

KARACHI, Pakistan — A 16-hour hijacking ordeal reached a bloody conclusion late Friday when Arabs who had hijacked a Pan American World Airways jumbo jet at Karachi International Airport began firing automatic weapons at the passengers, and Pakistan army commandos stormed aboard and captured the plane.

At least 14 of the 384 hostages on board the plane were killed in the hijacking's final minutes, another passenger was slain earlier by the terrorists and about 127 people were wounded, according to airline and Pakistani officials. The Karachi newspaper Dawn reported 30 dead, based on reports from reporters at local hospitals.

Khurshid Anwar Mirza, Pakistan's civil aviation director, said two terrorists were killed and two were captured by the commandos. A fifth hijacker may have been aboard posing as a passenger, Mirza said, adding that authorities are investigating whether one critically wounded man was part of the gang.

"The two guys who are alive and kicking are being questioned," Mirza said.

The hijackers, who were armed with hand grenades and automatic weapons, apparently started shooting in panic after the plane's auxiliary power unit failed as it ran out of fuel and the lights dimmed on the Boeing 747. Officials and passengers here speculated that the gunmen assumed the lights had been purposely turned off to prepare for an attack by the commandos.

Earlier, a businessman from California was shot by the hijackers and his body was dropped onto the tarmac. The shooting came after the leader of the hijackers, who called himself Mustafa, had warned that he would kill one American passenger every 10 minutes until an Arabic-speaking crew was provided to fly the plane to Larnaca, Cyprus.

Rajesh Kumar, 29, of Huntington Beach, a Kenyan-born real estate investor who had recently become a naturalized American citizen, was apparently singled out by the hijackers because of his nationality and shot in the head. He died several hours later in surgery at Jinnah Hospital here.

In New York, Martin R. Shugrue, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Pan Am, said the dead included both passengers and airline staff, among them a mechanic who had maintained radio communication between the hijackers and the authorities through the ordeal. He declined to identify any of the victims, pending notification of next of kin.

Figures on Americans Vary

Pan Am officials in New York said 44 Americans were on board the plane, Pan Am Flight 73, which originated in Bombay, India, and was loading more passengers in Karachi, Pakistan's main commercial city, when the hijacking began. The plane had been bound for New York via Frankfurt, West Germany. (A passenger list released in Bombay, however, reported 42 Americans aboard, and United Press International said 67 Americans were listed.)

Shugrue said the terrorists had held 384 people hostage--364 passengers, 13 flight attendants and 7 Pan Am ground employees--but airline officials here counted 389. The confusion may have resulted because most passengers boarded in Bombay and got off in Karachi, while others who were booked in Karachi had not entered the aircraft when it was seized.

When the power unit failed and the lights dimmed, the well-armed hijackers ordered the passengers to congregate in the central pantry area of the jumbo jet, eyewitnesses said.

"They were shouting," said Dick Melhart, 44, of Pullman, Wash., "and after 10 minutes they just opened fire. They started with two hand grenades. Then in the back of the plane two guys with machine guns opened up. All of a sudden, two side doors were opened and passengers began jumping out."

Pakistani survivor Mohammed Amin said that, after the lights went out, he heard one of the hijackers say to another in Arabic: "The moment for the last jihad (Arabic for holy war) has arrived. If we are killed, we will all be martyrs."

"They just opened fire blindly," said one passenger, Hussain Shaffi, a resident of Washington, D.C., whose shirt and pants were stained with blood. "Children were crying. It was like a holocaust in there."

The hand grenades caused "a huge blast," said another American survivor, David Jodice of Vienna, Va. "I have seen a lot of blood," Jodice said. "I cannot guess how many people were killed or wounded. It was confusion all over, filled with panic and a state of terror."

Passengers in a Daze

As the hijacking drama came to a sudden end, stunned passengers who managed to escape the craft after the shooting began wandering in a daze on the tarmac as fleets of ambulances, sirens screaming, removed the wounded and dead.

Hundreds of the passengers were able to exit the aircraft on emergency chutes released by cabin attendants. "I literally threw my wife out the door and a few other people before I jumped myself," said Dr. Michael Goldstein, 46, a general practitioner from Los Angeles whose white shirt was splattered with blood.

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