Lufthansa Flight 181
D-ABCE, the aircraft involved in the hijacking, pictured at Manchester Airport in 1975
|Date||13–18 October 1977 (5 days)|
Initially over the Mediterranean
Sea, south of the French coast;
subsequently Mogadishu International Airport, Somalia
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-230C|
|Flight origin||Son Sant Joan Airport|
|Destination||Frankfurt International Airport|
|Passengers||86 plus 4 hijackers|
|Fatalities||4 (1 crew, 3 hijackers)|
|Injuries||5 (1 flight attendant, 3 passengers, 1 hijacker)|
|Survivors||91 (All passengers, 4 crew, 1 hijacker)|
Lufthansa Flight 181 was a Boeing 737-230C jetliner (reg. D-ABCE) named the Landshut that was hijacked on the afternoon of 13 October 1977 by four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who called themselves Commando Martyr Halima. The objective of the hijacking was to secure the release of imprisoned Red Army Faction leaders in German prisons. In the early hours of 18 October, just after midnight, the aircraft was stormed by the West German counter-terrorism group GSG 9 in Mogadishu, Somalia, with 90 passengers rescued. The rescue operation was codenamed Feuerzauber (German term for "Fire Spell"). The hijacking is considered to be part of the German Autumn.
In 2017 the German government purchased the aircraft involved, and a complex logistic operation was set in motion to transport it back to Germany. Lufthansa Technik specialists flew to Brazil to disassemble the aircraft and fit the different parts in an Antonov An-124 cargo airplane and an accompanying Ilyushin Il-76. Since then, it was stored at a hangar near the Dornier museum in Friedrichshafen. It was planned that the aircraft be restored (cleaned, refurbished, repainted) and displayed in its original 1977 Lufthansa livery. The German government lost interest in the project, which was due to be completed by October 2022.
- Jürgen Schumann (37)
- Captain – born at Colditz in 1940, a former Luftwaffe Lockheed F-104 Starfighter pilot. On 16 October at Aden Airport, after being permitted to leave the aircraft to check the plane's airworthiness, he went to talk to the Yemini airport authorities. He subsequently boarded the plane after returning and was then murdered by terrorist leader Akache. Posthumously awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit 1st class, he was survived by his wife and two sons. The building housing the Lufthansa Pilot School in Bremen was named in his honour, as was a street in the Bavarian city of Landshut. He is buried in Babenhausen in Hesse.
- Jürgen Vietor (35)
- Co-Pilot – born at Kassel in 1942, a former German Navy pilot. He piloted the Landshut from Aden to Mogadishu. He returned to work just six weeks after the hijacking, and the first aircraft he was assigned to was the Landshut which was repaired and had already been returned to service. He retired in 1999. He was also awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class. He subsequently returned the medal in December 2008 in protest over the release on probation of former Red Army Faction terrorist Christian Klar, who had been involved in the kidnap and murder of Hanns Martin Schleyer in 1977.
- Hannelore Piegler (33)
- Chief Stewardess.
- Anna-Maria Staringer (28)
- Gabriele Dillmann (23)
- Stewardess. She was dubbed "the angel of Mogadishu" (Engel von Mogadischu) by the German press. Like Schumann and Vietor she was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit. She subsequently married Lufthansa pilot Rüdeger von Lutzau. As Gabriele von Lutzau she has acquired an international reputation as a sculptor (principally of figures in beechwood), and has exhibited in numerous exhibitions in Germany and throughout Europe.
Key West German rescue personnel
- Colonel Ulrich Wegener (48)
- Federal Border Protection (Bundesgrenzschutz) officer who was the liaison officer with the West German Interior Ministry at the time of the Munich massacre by the PLO during the 1972 Olympic Games. He was subsequently appointed by the West German government to establish and lead an elite anti-terrorist squad. The unit was officially established on 17 April 1973 as a part of West Germany's federal border guard service and the name GSG 9 stood for Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (border guard group 9) and was chosen simply because the Bundesgrenzschutz already had eight regular border guard groups. Wegener was trained by both the British SAS and the Israeli Sayeret Mat'kal who were the only known established anti-terrorist units in the world at that time. He also participated in the rescue of Israeli hostages in Operation Entebbe in 1976. Wegener planned and commanded the GSG 9 Operation Fire Magic to successfully rescue the Landshut hostages at Mogadishu. After his retirement from GSG 9, Wegener worked as a consultant to help establish counter-terrorism units for various foreign countries. Wegener was a member of the KÖTTER GmbH & Co. KG Verwaltungsdienstleistungen Security Committee. He died on 28 December 2017.
- Major Klaus Blatte (38)
- Deputy Commander of GSG 9 in 1977 and one of the four assault squad leaders that stormed the Landshut at Mogadishu. When Wegener retired, he succeeded him as the next Commander of GSG 9.
- Minister Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski (55)
- Minister of State at the Federal Chancellery who was designated by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as his special envoy to coordinate the political negotiations with the various foreign governments to facilitate the release or rescue of the Landshut hostages. Due to his excellent contacts and personal relationships with Arab leaders he was nicknamed "Ben Wisch" by the German press. He lost office after the CDU regained power in 1982 and became a travelling consultant to Arab, African, and South American countries advising them on negotiating techniques and pacification policies to deal with terrorist and insurgent groups. He died in 2005.
- Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (59)
- German Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) between 1974 and 1982 who adopted a tough, uncompromising stance over the kidnapping of Hanns-Martin Schleyer and the Lufthansa 181 hijacking in 1977. He authorised the GSG 9 mission to rescue the Landshut hostages and his anti-terrorist policies were successful in overcoming the long-standing threat that had been posed by the Red Army Faction. After retiring from the Bundestag in 1986 he was one of the founders of the committee supporting the EMU and the creation of the European Central Bank. He died in 2015.
At 11:00 am on Thursday 13 October 1977, Lufthansa flight LH 181, a Boeing 737 named Landshut, took off from Palma de Mallorca en route to Frankfurt with 86 passengers and five crew, piloted by Captain Jürgen Schumann, with co-pilot Jürgen Vietor at the controls. About 30 minutes later, as it was overflying Marseilles, the aircraft was skyjacked by four militants calling themselves "Commando Martyr Halima" – in honour of fellow militant Brigitte Kuhlmann, who had been killed in Operation Entebbe the previous year. Their leader in charge of the group was a Palestinian terrorist named Zohair Youssif Akache (23, male), who adopted the alias "Captain Martyr Mahmud". The other three were Suhaila Sayeh (24, female), a Palestinian, and two Lebanese people, Wabil Harb (23, male) and Hind Alameh (22, female). Akache ("Mahmud") angrily burst into the cockpit, brandishing a fully loaded pistol in his hand. He forcibly removed and kicked Vietor out of the cockpit, sending him to the economy class area to join the passengers and flight attendants, leaving Schumann to take over the flight controls. As the other three hijackers knocked over food trays, demanding the hostages to raise their hands up in the air, Mahmud coerced Captain Schumann to fly east to Larnaca in Cyprus but was told that they had insufficient fuel and would have to land in Rome first.
The hijacked aircraft changed course at around 2:30 p.m. (as noticed by air traffic controllers at Aix-en-Provence) and landed at Fiumicino Airport in Fiumicino, Rome at 3:45 p.m. for refuelling. The hijackers made their first demands, acting in concert with the Red Army Faction group, the Siegfried Hausner Commando, who had kidnapped West German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer five weeks earlier, demanded the release of 10 Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists detained at the JVA Stuttgart-Stammheim prison plus two Palestinian compatriots held in Turkey and US$15 million. West German Interior Minister Werner Maihofer contacted his Italian counterpart Francesco Cossiga and suggested that the plane's tyres should be shot out to prevent the aircraft from leaving. After consulting his colleagues Cossiga decided that the most desirable solution for the Italian government was to expunge the problem altogether. The aircraft was refuelled with a full 11 tons of fuel, which enabled Mahmud to instruct Vietor (who had been allowed back into the cockpit on the ground at Rome after Schumann requested Akache to bring Vietor back into the flight deck) to take off and fly the plane to Larnaca at 17:45 (5:45 p.m.) without even obtaining clearance from Rome air traffic control.
The Landshut landed in Larnaca, Cyprus, at 20:28 (8:28 pm). After about an hour, a local PLO representative arrived at the airport and over the radio tried to persuade Mahmud to release the hostages. This only provoked a furious response from Mahmud who started screaming at him over the intercom in Arabic until the PLO representative gave up and left. The aircraft was then refuelled and Schumann asked flight control for a routing to Beirut. He was told that Beirut Airport was blockaded and closed to them and Mahmud suggested that they would fly to Damascus instead. The Landshut took off at 22:50 (10:50 pm) heading for Beirut but was refused landing permission at 11:01 pm. After also being denied landing permission in Damascus at 11:14 pm, Baghdad at 12:13 am, and Kuwait at 12:58 am, they jetted off to Bahrain.
Schumann was told by a passing Qantas airliner that Bahrain Airport was also closed to them. He radioed flight control and told them that they had insufficient fuel to fly elsewhere and despite being told again that the airport was closed, he was suddenly given an automatic landing frequency by the flight controller. They finally touched down in Bahrain at 01:52 am in the early hours of 14 October. On arrival the aircraft was immediately surrounded by armed troops and Mahmud radioed the tower that unless they were withdrawn he would shoot the co-pilot. After a stand-off with the tower, with Mahmud setting a five‑minute deadline and holding a fully loaded pistol to Vietor's head, the troops were subsequently withdrawn. The aircraft was then refuelled and they took off for Dubai at 3:24 am.
Approaching Dubai, they were again refused and denied landing permission. Overflying the Dubai airport in the early light of dawn they could see that the runway was blocked with trucks and fire engines. Running short of fuel, Schumann radioed the tower they would have to land anyway. As they made a low pass over the airport they saw that the obstacles were being removed. At 05:40 local time,(October 14th) the pilots made a smooth, normal touchdown on the airport's main runway, touching down in the sheikhdom of Dubai at sunrise. The plane was parked at the parking bay around 5:51 am at daybreak.
In Dubai, the terrorists told the control tower to send people to empty the toilet tanks, supply food, water, medicine, newspapers, and to take away the rubbish. Captain Schumann was able to communicate the number of hijackers on board as well as specifying that they were two men and two women. In an interview with journalists, this information was revealed by Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed, then Minister of Defence. The hijackers learned about this, possibly from the radio, causing Mahmud to angrily threaten to kill Schumann for secretly sharing this information out of the hijacked plane. The aircraft remained parked on the tarmac at Dubai airport all throughout 15 October, during which the jetliner experienced technical problems with the electrical generator, air conditioning and the APU breaking down. The hijackers demanded the engineers to fix the plane. On the morning of Sunday 16 October, Mahmud threatened to start shooting hostages if the aircraft was not refuelled and the Dubai authorities eventually agreed to refuel the plane. In the meantime, both Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski, the West German minister responsible for handling the hijacking, and Colonel Ulrich Wegener, commander of the elite German anti-terrorist squad GSG 9, had arrived in Dubai to try to persuade the government to agree to let GSG 9 commandos into Dubai to storm the aircraft. However, after permission was granted for GSG 9 commandos to storm the aircraft, SAS and GSG 9 senior operatives insisted on additional combat exercise and dry-runs on an adjacent airstrip. Reports suggest up to 45 hours of training was conducted whilst based in Dubai (over a period of 80 hours). While Wegener was considering his options, the Arabs fully refuelled the Landshut plane, the pilots started up the engines and the jetliner was on the move again. At 12:19 pm on 16 October it took off, heading for Salalah and Masirah in Oman, where landing permission was once again denied with the airports blockaded. After Riyadh also blockaded and closed their airport to the pilots at 2:50 pm on the afternoon of 16 October (three days after the hijacking began), a course to Aden in South Yemen, at the limit of their fuel range, was established.
Approaching and overflying Aden, they were yet again denied landing permission with the airport closed, this time at Aden International Airport, and the two main runways were blocked by military vehicles. The plane was running dangerously low on fuel, but the Aden airport authorities adamantly refused to clear the runways to let the plane land, so the co-pilot Vietor had no choice but to make an emergency landing on a sand strip almost parallel to both runways. The plane remained largely intact but the Aden authorities told the hijackers and pilots that they would have to leave but the two pilots were skeptical of the condition of the aircraft after a rough landing on rugged, rocky and sandy terrain, feeling that it was unsafe to take off and fly the jetliner again after a thorough engineering inspection. After the engineers claimed that everything was alright, Mahmud consequently gave Schumann permission to leave the aircraft in order to check the condition of the landing gear and the engines. Both engines had ingested a copiously excessive amount of sand and dirt at maximum reverse thrust, thus were clogged up. The landing gear did not collapse but its structure was weakened and its mechanism was damaged. However Schumann did not immediately return to the plane after the inspection, even after numerous attempts to recall him from the hijackers by threatening to blow up the aircraft on the ground. The reasons for his prolonged absence remain unclear to this day, however, some reports including interviews with the Yemeni airport authorities imply that Schumann asked them to prevent the continuation of the flight and to accede to the terrorists' demands.
After this Schumann returned to the aircraft and boarded the plane to face the wrath of Mahmud, who forced him to kneel on the floor in the passenger cabin and then fatally shot him dead in the head with a targeted headshot in cold blood without giving him a chance to explain himself. The hijacked plane was refuelled at 01:00 on 17 October and at 2:02 am, coaxed by co-pilot Jürgen Vietor, it dangerously and sluggishly took off from Aden on course for the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
On the morning of 17 October at daybreak, around 06:34 local time, the Landshut made an unannounced and textbook landing at Aden Adde airport in Mogadishu. The Somali government had initially refused the plane landing permission, but relented when the jet appeared in Somali air space, for fear of endangering the passengers’ lives by turning the aircraft away. The leader Mahmud (Akache) told co-pilot Vietor that he was very impressed by Vietor's super-human accomplishment and that consequently he was free to leave the aircraft and flee, since the crippled plane was in no state to fly elsewhere. However Vietor opted to remain with the 82 passengers and three other crew members onboard. After parking the twin‐engine aircraft, which was parked in front of the main airport terminal and ringed at a distance by armed Somali troops, Schumann's corpse was dumped off the jetliner via the right rear emergency evacuation slide, onto the tarmac and was taken away in an ambulance. During the day, the hijackers asked for food and drugs, which were sent to the hijacked plane by the Somali government. But a Somali request that the hijackers release women and children on board in exchange for the supplies was rejected. An ultimatum was set for the RAF prisoners to be released by 16:00 local time or the aircraft would be blown up. After they had poured the duty-free spirits over the hostages in preparation for the destruction of the aircraft, the hijackers were told that the West German government had agreed to release the RAF prisoners but that their transfer to Mogadishu would take several more hours, so they agreed to extend the deadline to 02:30 the next morning (18 October).
|Operation Feuerzauber (Fire Magic)|
|Somali Army (support)||PFLP|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Zohair Akache †|
30 GSG 9 operators
2 SAS operators
|Casualties and losses|
|4 civilians wounded|
Meanwhile, while the West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt attempted to negotiate an agreement with Somali President Siad Barre, special envoy Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski and GSG 9 commander Ulrich Wegener arrived at Mogadishu airport from Jeddah in a Lufthansa 707 aircraft co-piloted by Rüdiger von Lutzau (Gabriele Dillmann's fiancé). In West Germany, a team of 30 GSG 9 commandos under their deputy commander Major Klaus Blatte had assembled at Hangelar airfield near Bonn awaiting instructions. The commandos took off from Cologne-Bonn Airport on a Boeing 707 on Monday morning (17 October) planning to fly to Djibouti, within a short flying time of Somalia, while Schmidt negotiated with the Somalis. When they were flying over Ethiopia, agreement was reached and permission was given to land at Mogadishu. The aircraft landed at 20:00 local time with all lights out to avoid detection by the hijackers.
After four hours to unload all of their equipment and to undertake the necessary reconnaissance, Wegener and Blatte finalised the assault plan, scheduled to start at 02:00 local time. They decided to approach from the rear of the aircraft in its blind spot in six teams using black-painted aluminium ladders to gain access to the aircraft through the escape hatches under the fuselage and via the doors over the wings. In the meantime a fictitious progress report on the journey being taken by the released prisoners was being fed to Mahmud by the German representatives in the airport tower. Just after 02:00, Mahmud was told that the plane carrying the prisoners had just departed from Cairo after refuelling and he was asked to provide the conditions of the prisoner/hostage exchange over the radio.
Several minutes before the rescue, Somali soldiers lit a fire 60 metres (200 ft) in front of the jet, as a diversionary tactic, prompting Akache and two of the other three hijackers to rush to the cockpit to observe what was going on, and isolating them from the hostages in the cabin. At 02:07 local time, the GSG 9 commandos silently climbed up the blackened aluminium ladders and opened the emergency doors, Wegener, at the head of one group, opened the forward door, and two other groups, led by Sergeant-Major Dieter Fox and Sergeant Joachim Huemmer stormed the aircraft by using the ladders to climb up onto the wings and opened both emergency doors at the same time. Shouting in German for the passengers and crew to get down to the floor, the commandos shot and killed two of the terrorists (Wabil Harb and Hind Alameh), and wounded Zohair Akache and Suhaila Sayeh. Akache died of his injuries hours later. One GSG 9 commando was wounded by return fire from the terrorists. Three passengers and a flight attendant were slightly wounded in the crossfire. An American passenger aboard the plane described the rescue: "I saw the door open and a man appears. His face was painted black and he starts shouting in German 'We're here to rescue you, get down!' [Wir sind hier, um dich zu retten, runter!] and they started shooting."
The emergency escape chutes were deployed and passengers and crew were ordered to quickly evacuate the aircraft. At 02:12 local time, just five minutes after the assault had commenced, the commandos radioed: "Frühlingszeit! Frühlingszeit!" ("Springtime! Springtime!"), which was the code word for the successful completion of the operation. A few moments later a radio signal was sent to Chancellor Schmidt in Bonn: "Four opponents down – hostages free – four hostages slightly wounded – one commando slightly wounded".
The rescuers escorted all 86 passengers to safety, and a few hours later they were all flown to Cologne-Bonn Airport, where they landed in the early afternoon of Tuesday 18 October, and were given a hero's welcome.
News of the rescue of the hostages was followed by the deaths of RAF members Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe at JVA Stuttgart-Stammheim. RAF member Irmgard Möller also attempted suicide but survived her injuries. On Wednesday 19 October the body of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, who had been kidnapped by the RAF some five weeks prior to the hijacking, was found in the trunk of a car on a side street in Mulhouse after the RAF heard of the deaths of their comrades. They contacted the Paris newspaper Libération to announce his 'execution'; a subsequent post-mortem examination indicated that he had been killed the previous day.
After the Landshut crisis the German government stated that it would never again negotiate with terrorists (as it previously had with the Lufthansa Flight 649 and 615 hijackers). Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was widely praised among western countries for his decision to storm the aircraft to rescue the hostages, although some criticized the risk-taking act.
While the hijackers had control of the plane, it had travelled 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi). Originally built in January 1970, the Landshut is a Boeing 737-230C (manufacturers serial number 20254, Boeing line number 230, registration D-ABCE) with two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9A engines, named after the city of Landshut in Bavaria. The damaged aircraft was ferried back to Germany, repaired, and returned to service in late November 1977, and it continued to fly for Lufthansa for 8 more years until September 1985 when the plane was sold to US carrier Presidential Airways in November 1985. It subsequently changed hands several times. In 2017, the German Foreign Ministry, thought about saving and restoring the aircraft and acquired it. The recovered Boeing 737 Landshut aircraft was scheduled to be restored and exhibited in the Dornier Museum Friedrichshafen. The project was originally expected to be completed in October 2019.. Fundraising failed to raise enough money to enable the museum to re-register, re-assemble and repaint the aircraft in its original 1977 Lufthansa livery. In February 2020, it was suggested that the remains of the aircraft be brought to Berlin Tempelhof, but this was rejected by the Ministry. Its subsequent fate still remains unresolved.
Use of the name Landshut in other airplanes
The name was used by Lufthansa on other three planes after 1985:
- Horst-Gregorio Canellas, German football official responsible for breaking the 1971 Bundesliga scandal was one of the hostages on board, together with his daughter.
In popular culture
The song "122 Hours of Fear" by The Screamers, recorded in 1978, was inspired by the hijacking.
The hijacking and rescue was also portrayed in the Black Ops television series, season 2 episode 76, titled "Operation Fire Magic".
The 2015 video game Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege used Lufthansa Flight 181, along with other historical hostage extraction operations, as inspiration for the game and as research for making the game more accurate.
- de B. Tallion, Paul J (2002). Hijacking and hostages: government responses to terrorism. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 109. ISBN 0-275-97468-5.
- "Die Geiseln vom Mogadischu" (in German). SWR. 25 September 2017. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
- Schumann: "Could you get us four cartons with cigarettes?" – Tower: "Ok, any type?" – Schumann: "Mixed. Different ones. Two of these and two of these maybe." – Tower: "Roger, ok. Mixed." original radio communication from documentary "Mogadischu. Die Dokumentation.", Youtube, (2:55–3:09)
- "Neue Dokumente zur Landshut-Entführung". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
- onlineFocus from 08-25-2007. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
- Michael Hanfeld: Der wahre Held der „Landshut“, faz-net, 1. Dezember 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
- Middle Eastern terrorism: from Black September to 11 September, by Mark Ensalaco, pg 116
- http://www.upi.com/Audio/Year_in_Review/Sadat-Visits-Israel/12361881614363-1/#title "1977 Year in Review – Sadat Visits Israel". Archived 9 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
- "Oktober 1977: Mogadischu". Archived from the original on 8 November 2006. Retrieved 10 June 2006.
- Zeller, Frank (23 September 2017). "Last flight home for icon of 'German Autumn' of terror". France 24. AFP. Archived from the original on 24 September 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
- "Die 'Landshut' ist gelandet". Spiegel Online (in German). AFP, AP. 23 September 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 27 September 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Bundesliga: Zentralfigur des Bundesliga-Skandals ist tot" [Bundesliga: Central figure of the Bundesliga scandal has died]. spiegel.de (in German). Der Spiegel. 23 July 1999. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
- Todesspiel on IMDb
- Mogadischu on IMDb
- Operation Fire Magic on IMDb
- Campbell, Colin (21 October 2014). "How Rainbow Six: Siege takes inspiration from real life hostage rescues". Polygon. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
- McNab, Chris. Storming Flight 181 – GSG 9 and the Mogadishu Hijack 1977 Osprey Raid Series No. 19; Osprey Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84908-376-8.
- Davies, Barry. Fire Magic – Hijack at Mogadishu Bloomsbury Publishing, 1994. ISBN 978-0-7475-1921-8.
- Blumenau, Bernhard. The United Nations and Terrorism. Germany, Multilateralism, and Antiterrorism Efforts in the 1970s Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, ch. 2. ISBN 978-1-137-39196-4.
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