As with any other airport, Luqa has seen its share of tragedies. Apart from the Second World War, accidents have also occurred in peacetime. Tragedy was averted many claim, thanks to the intervention of the Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, during the hijack at Luqa airport as passengers were released after negotiations.
The chilling drama could have had disastrous repercussions after three young Arab hijackers threatened to crashland a KLM jumbo jet with 247 passengers on board straight into the heart of Amsterdam.
The KLM Boeing 747-206B, the "Mississippi", was on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo when it was hijacked over the airspace covered by Baghdad (Iraq) on Sunday 25th November 1973, during the oil crisis.
It was the beginning of a nightmare criss-cross flight above the Middle East because no country would grant landing permission. The hijackers had chosen a KLM aircraft mainly because of the Netherlands' tolerant attitude towards Israel. Because no country would grant them landing permission, the hijackers threatened to blow up the plane.
That the country of Netherlands escaped from this disaster was only thanks to the fact that the Arabs finally gained landing permission on the island of Malta. At the time, the authorities had heaped praise on the plane's captain as the Luqa airport runway 24-06 was considered too short to take the huge B747 jet.
The passengers, mostly Japanese, were eventually allowed to leave the aircraft after negotiations with Prime Minister Dom Mintoff - the hijackers had been convinced that the plane could not possibly take off with both the passengers and the 27,000 gallons of fuel they had demanded.
Prime Minister Dom Mintoff repeatedly asked for the release of the eight stewardesses but the request was as steadfastly turned down by the hijackers. Finally, they agreed to release the girls as a sign of gratitude for the help given to them by the Prime Minister.
The drama eventually came to a close when the jet flew to Dubai as it departed rwy 24 performing a long take-off run damaging the runway lighting, with just 11 passengers on board. The hijackers handed over the plane and the remaining few passengers in return for their safe conduct out of the country. Fortunately there were no casualties in the drama.
As for civilian aircraft, the hijacking of a KLM B747 in November 1973 caused a sensation. Not only was it the first such incident, but runway 24/06 wasn’t deemed safe for operations by such wide-bodied aircraft. It is to the crew’s credit that they did so without any damage to the aircraft.