On this day September 6, 1970
Members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked four jet aircraft en route from Europe to New York City, landing two of them at Dawson’s Field in Zerqa, Jordan, and one plane in Beirut, Lebanon. The fourth hijacking was successfully foiled.
In the hijackings four jet aircraft bound for New York City were hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
TWA Flight 741 from Frankfurt am Main (a Boeing 707) and Swissair Flight 100 from Zürich-Kloten Airport (a Douglas DC-8) landed at Al Azraq – also known as Dawson’s Field – a remote desert airstrip in Jordan formerly used as a British Royal Air Force base.
The hijacking of El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam (another 707) was foiled: hijacker Patrick Arguello was shot and killed, and his partner Leila Khaled was subdued and turned over to British authorities in London.
Two PFLP hijackers who were prevented from boarding the El Al flight instead hijacked Pan Am Flight 93, a Boeing 747, diverting the large plane first to Beirut and then to Cairo rather than the small Jordanian airstrip.
A fifth plane, BOAC Flight 775, a Vickers VC10 coming from Bahrain, was hijacked on September 9 by a PFLP sympathizer and brought to Dawson’s Field in order to pressure the British to free Khaled.
While the majority of the 310 hostages were transferred to Amman and freed on September 11, the PFLP segregated the flight crews and Jewish passengers, keeping 56 hostages in custody. On September 12, prior to their announced deadline, the PFLP used explosives to destroy the empty planes, as they anticipated a counterstrike.
Most of the gathered news media missed the destruction but the explosions were caught by a British television crew from ITN who had been informed by locals who had themselves been informed by members of the PFLP.
The PFLP’s exploitation of Jordanian territory in the drama was another instance of the increasingly autonomous Palestinian activity within the Kingdom of Jordan—an existential challenge to the Hashemite monarchy of King Hussein.
Hussein declared martial law on September 16, and from September 17 to 27, his forces deployed into Palestinian-controlled areas in what became known as Black September in Jordan, nearly triggering a regional war involving Syria, Iraq, and Israel with potentially global consequences. Swift Jordanian victory, however, enabled a September 30 deal in which the remaining PFLP hostages were released in exchange for Khaled and three PFLP members in a Swiss jail.