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Derickson, Uli (Ulrike Patzelt Derickson, 1944.08.08-2005.02.18)  Heroic flight attendant.

One of TWA Flight 847 hijackers holds a gun to Captain John Testrake as he leans out of the cockpit window while the plane is on the tarmac in Beirut.  Public domain photo from Wikipedia.

Lived in Tucson

Died in Tucson

On June 14, 1985, Uli Derickson was a cabin attendant for TWA preparing for the 10:00 AM departure of Flight 847 from Athens, Greece.  Two Lebanese passengers managed to board the flight with pistols and grenades they had smuggled through airport security.  The men would soon use the weapons to hijack the flight as it headed toward Rome, Italy.  A third hijacker had been bumped from the flight and was arrested by the Greek government.

Shortly after takeoff, the hijackers violently commandeered the plane.  One of the hijackers gave Uli a karate kick in her chest, and kicked her again as she lay on the floor.  A hijacker took her with him into the cockpit, as the other kicked open the door while holding an armed grenade.  Inside the cockpit, they pistol-whipped the pilot and flight engineer.

The hijackers spoke almost no English.  Uli, who was born in Czechoslovakia near the German border and raised in Bavaria, was able to speak with one of the hijackers in German.  Through communication with the German speaking hijacker, she was able to calm him, even occasionally singing a German ballad that he requested.

The hijackers diverted the plane carrying 153 passengers and crew to Beirut, Lebanon.  There it stayed for several hours.  At risk to herself Uli intervened to stop beatings of passengers.  Passengers interviewed by The New York Times would quote her as shouting, "Don't you hit that person!"  She would continue, "Why do you have to hit those people?"

Before the plane left Beirut, Uli pleaded with the hijackers to release the passengers.  They allowed 19 passengers to leave.  After taking on fuel, the plane was flown to Algiers, Algeria.

In route to Algiers, the hijackers forced Uli to collect all of the passengers' passports and identify the Jews.  She told the hijackers that passports do not indicate religious preferences, and was able to hide passports with Jewish-sounding names from the hijackers.

In Algiers, the ground crew refused to refuel the plan without payment.  When the hijackers threatened kill a passenger, Uli intervened, offering the ground crew her Shell credit card.  Her account was charged approximately $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of jet fuel.  After releasing another 20 passengers during the 5 hour stop, the plane then flew back to Beirut.

On the way back to Beirut, the hijackers identified three American military personnel--two Navy divers, and an Army officer.  The three were bound and beaten, but one of the Navy divers, Dean Stethem, was singled out.

Back in Beirut, the hijacking turned more violent.  The hijackers shot Stethem in the head, and dumped his body on the runway.  They then turned to the other diver, Clinton Suggs, and started beating him again.  Suggs later told reporters that Uli put herself between him and the hijackers and screamed, "Enough!  Enough!"  After that, they then left him alone.

Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war.  The airport lacked perimeter security, and people from the surrounding Shiite neighborhood could drive onto the tarmac.  The hijackers were joined by nearly a dozen armed men, and the plane was again headed for Algiers.

In Algiers for a second time, Uli, the other flight attendants and many of the passengers, were released.  The plane then headed back to Beirut with the final 40 hostages.

The first demands of the hijackers included the release of all Shiites captured by Israel in Lebanon and international condemnation of Israeli military activity in southern Lebanon and of the US for its actions in the Middle East.  Eventually, Israel would release 31 of the 766 Lebanese prisoners whose release had been demanded.  The hijackers turned over the 40 remaining hostages to a moderate Shiite leader who would eventually release them.  Finally, on June 30, the ordeal was over, 16 days after it had started.

Uli was widely credited with saving many lives of the passengers.  The Legion of Valor, a veterans' organization, awarded her the Silver Cross for Valor, making her the first woman to receive it.  Lindsay Wagner played Uli in the 1988 made-for-television movie, The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story.

After the hijacking, Uli returned to New Jersey where she lived with her, Russell, a retired TWA pilot, and their son, Matthew.  Unfounded reports suggested that she had given hijackers the names of Jewish passengers, which resulted in threats from extremist groups.  When the truth that she had shielded Jewish passengers came out, she received threats from different extremist groups.

The Dericksons moved to Tucson in 1987.  Matthew reports that there they managed to avoid the intense publicity following the hijacking, and to lead a normal life except for brief instructions by the FBI on how to use handguns.

Mr. Derickson died in 2003.  Uli returned to work as a flight attendant with Delta in the 1990's, until she was diagnosed with cancer in 2003.  Matthew lives in San Diego.

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