YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

18 Victims of Karachi Hijacking to Get Treatment : U.S. Wounded Arrive in West Germany

September 08, 1986|TYLER MARSHALL | Times Staff Writer

FRANKFURT, West Germany — Eighteen Americans who had been aboard a Pan American World Airways jumbo jet hijacked in Karachi arrived here Sunday for medical treatment at U.S. military hospitals as scores of other passengers who escaped uninjured were reunited with relatives.

Twelve of the Americans requiring medical treatment traveled aboard a special Pan Am flight sent to pick up about 200 of the hijacking victims from Karachi. An Air Force spokesman said nine of the injured, including four children, were suffering from psychological trauma. The others had head, jaw and ankle injuries.

Earlier in the day, 11 other injured passengers, including six Americans, arrived aboard a U.S. Air Force C-141 hospital plane. They were in serious but stable condition.

U.S. officials declined to identify the evacuated Americans pending notification of families, but they indicated that at least two teen-agers were in the group.

Sixteen people died and more than 100 were injured in the attack Friday when the pro-Palestinian hijackers opened fire on the passengers. The gunmen apparently panicked when a generator failed and the plane's cabin lights went out.

Looking tired but relieved, the 67 passengers leaving the flight in Frankfurt were met by U.S. government officials, many members of Pan Am's ground staff and hundreds of reporters as they filed down a long corridor to a reception area and reunions with friends and relatives.

More than 100 others continued their journey to New York, the plane's final scheduled stop. Nineteen transferred to a connecting flight to London.

In comments to reporters, passengers praised the action of Pan Am cabin crew members. They cited a stewardess who, after being ordered by hijackers to collect passports, separated out the American ones and stuffed them into a seat pouch out of the attackers' view.

Some British passengers reportedly complained about the action, contending that it had placed them in jeopardy.

Britain's assistance in the U.S. air raid on Libya in April has heightened tensions in Britain's relations with the Muslim world.

Several passengers cast further doubt about the role of Pakistani security forces in ending the 17-hour-long hijacking.

Senior Reagan Administration officials praised the Pakistani government for "bold, decisive action" in ending the hijacking.

However, passengers who escaped from the plane said Pakistani security teams were nowhere in sight on the ground.

Richard Melhart, 44, a sports physician from Pullman, Wash., said he scrambled out of the plane "one or two minutes after the shooting began" but met no one other than passengers on the ground until he was within 50 yards of the terminal building.

Other passengers related similar experiences.

Asked whether the Pakistani security forces had played a positive role, Melhart replied, "I don't think they played any role at all."

The apparently misplaced praise of swift Pakistani action was reminiscent of President Jimmy Carter's congratulations to the Pakistan army for allegedly rescuing Americans trapped inside the burning U.S. Embassy in Islamabad nearly seven years ago.

On that occasion, the Pakistani army rescued no one, and U.S. Marine guards led the employees to safety.

It also became apparent Sunday that many passengers in the rear of the plane were completely unaware until the hijacking was over that the terrorists had killed a passenger--Rajesh Kumar of Huntington Beach, Calif.--shortly after storming the aircraft.

"We didn't know anyone had been killed, so we were fairly relaxed, and children were playing cards," said Thomas Raeuber, a West German architect.

He said that as the hijackers began herding passengers toward the center of the plane after the cabin lights failed, firing suddenly broke out, an emergency door opened and he jumped out.

No Pakistani security forces were visible near the plane at the time, he added.

For those passengers rejoining family members on Sunday, it was an emotional moment.

An unidentified boy about 5 years old who had been aboard the plane was suddenly swooped up by a man in his mid-30s and cradled for nearly 10 minutes by a cluster of jabbering adults, presumably family members.

Others hugged quietly.

Despite the ordeal, the spirit of many passengers appeared still to be high.

Melhart urged the United States to take action if the backers of the terrorists could be traced.

"Go get 'em, whoever they are," he said.

The 11 most seriously wounded victims of the hijacking who arrived in Frankfurt on the U.S. Air Force plane were described as in serious but stable condition.

Air Force Col. Charles K. Maffet, commander of the regional medical center in Wiesbaden, who was aboard the C-141 transport, said three of the Americans were suffering from shrapnel and bullet wounds, including one with serious head injuries.

The other three Americans had broken limbs and other injuries in the scramble to get out of the plane after the hijackers began firing.

The 11-hour trip, flown at low altitude because of the serious head wound, was difficult for the patients.

"They were tired and worn out, and they were suffering from multiple injuries," said Maffet. "They have been through a terrible ordeal."

In addition to the six Americans, the C-141 plane carried a West German, an Austrian, an Italian, an Indian and a Sikh of British nationality who also had six relatives and friends with him aboard.

Air Force Col. Robert W. Gilmore, director of medical services at the Wiesbaden Medical Center, said three of the Americans were scheduled to undergo immediate surgery to remove shrapnel from bones and joints.

Los Angeles Times Articles