Egypt Air Flight 648 Hijack in Malta

Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna
SU-AYH Boeing 737-266 Egypt Air at Park 4. Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna

On the evening of 23rd November, 1985 at 19:35PM the Egypt Air Boeing 737-266 Flight 648 carrying 98 passengers and crew was hijacked by three men after leaving Athens in Greece, bound for Cairo in Egypt.

After reaching cruising altitude at 35,000FT, three well-dressed men stand up calling themselves "The Egypt Revolution", get their guns out & handgrenades, and order the passengers to freeze. One of them reaches the cockpit and orders Captain Hani Galal to head for Malta. The hijackers under the orders of Abu Nidal said that they were working for the Libyan Leader. At those times the relations between Libja and Egypt were not good. Egypt accused Libya that they were killing egyptian citizens. Persons that worked for Abu Nidal's organisation said, that they had some members that worked in the Libyan Embassy in Greece, these went at the airport and no checks were done as they had diplomatic passports. These unidentified persons brought the weapons inside the airport and gave them to Nidal's terrorists in the transit area.

This photo here is ® and © by the respected Photographer.The damaged cockpit of the B737-266, SU-AYH
From this photo one can note that the left throttle lever is damaged and somehow the transponder * was set to squawk '7700' instead of being set to '7500'.

- Squawk 7700 : is the Emergency Squawk (Mayday)
- Squawk 7500 : is for Hi-Jack * A transponder is a device that responds to a secondary radar that interogates it, and returns a 4 octal digit code that Air Traffic Control will use to identify any aircraft.

Photo © Johan Ljungdahl Photo © Ivan Azzopardi
Seen landing at Athens, Greece (Hellinikon) (ATH / LGAT). Photo Copyright © Johan Ljungdahl, taken on April 13, 1982. SU-AYH Boeing 737-266 Egypt Air at Park 4. Photo Copyright © Ivan Azzopardi.

Click here to Download/Watch the VIDEO which was taken during the Hijack at Park 4
When the terrorist demands were not met they began killing passengers one at a time! Jackie Pflug was shot on the head at point blank range and thrown down to the 24 foot metal staircase to the tarmac below.

''He's killing her now... so say again... do something he's killing her now. He's outside shooting her now... I am the Captain... you are wasting lives... you are wasting lives... He's killing her... He has killed her already... And in 15 minutes he will kill another one''.

A flight attendant's quivering voice informed the passengers that they would not get hurt if they do what they were told. The terrorists collect all passports and sort passengers by nationality. Unknown to passengers, there were three sky marshals on the 737. When one of them was asked for his passport, the security guard from the Egyptian Air Force pulled out a gun and began shooting and killed one of the hijackers before being shot and wounded himself, along with two flight attendants. There was a mid-air gun battle up there that ended shortly. Although the hijackers demanded to be flown to Tunesia or Libya, they agreed to land at Malta for refuelling were it landed at 21:15PM.

The Egypt Air was directed to Luqa Airport. The aircraft made a fly pass on runway 24 - 06 at 2000FT and created a great noise in the atmosphere, then it turned right hand downwind to try to land on runway 24. When it was right base for runway 24, there was another aircraft type B747-200 Singapore Airlines which was on finals runway 32. The Maltese authorities refused to grand landing clearance to the Egypt Air which was approaching runway 24 and turned off the runway lights after that the other aircraft landed and vacated runway 32. The aircraft is very low on fuel and Captain * Hani Galal makes a careful emergency landing, guided only by the position lights of an aircraft situated at Park 1. The Air Traffic Control management decided to switch on the runway lights again when the aircraft was established approximately 5 miles from touch down, because the situation was getting dangerous as the pilot reported that everywhere was dark. As the aircraft landed the reverse trust was applied immediately and it made a great noise, it vacated runway 24 by turning to the right, onto taxiway ‘mike’, stopped and proceeded straight to Park 4. Soon after the emergency services arrived alongside at Park 4. It is said that the hijackers decided not to land in Libya to prevent negative publicity. At Malta, the two wounded cabin crew members were released, one of them Ms. Anaa who was badly injured, along with 11 women. * HANI = Muslim "happy" (Arabic)

Negotiations continued the following day. The Maltese Prime Minister Dr. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, was in charge. Maltese authorities refused to refuel the plane unless all passengers were released. 13 are (11 female passengers and 2 flight attendants), but the aircraft isn't refueled. After 3 refueling calls without any answer, the terrorist Omar Rezaq (Photo) threatened to kill one passenger every 10 minutes until the plane is refueled. Again the hijackers demanded fuel and passage to Libya and threatened to shoot one passenger every fifteen minutes until their demands were met. This was not an idle threat. The Maltese officials refused and the hijackers began executing passengers. They did this by shooting them in the head. The bullet smeared their heads.

They killed Israelis first - there were two of them; the first hostage killed was a young Israeli woman, she was able to crawl to the tarmac using the stairway, 10 minutes later another Israeli woman is shot, along with an American. They killed one American woman, and it was a matter of time before they would come for Jackie Pflug. But when her turn came, three hours went by instead of fifteen minutes. On Sunday, 24th November around 10:00AM, one of the hijackers pulled Jackie Pflug (Photo) to the door of the plane, shot her in the head with 38 caliber bullet from two feet... from point-blank range and threw her out of the plane. For five hours she drifted in and out of consciousness as she lie there on the tarmac near the plane. The ground crew realized that she was still alive and they rushed her to the hospital for surgery where the bullet in her brain was removed. When she woke up in the hospital, she knew that her life had taken a sharp turn into the unknown.

A total of 5 people were shot and thrown off the aircraft, two of them were killed.

Photo Copyright © Joseph Tonna -- 21-06-1987This interesting photo was taken by Joseph Tonna on Sunday 21st June 1987.

According to my information this aircraft was cut in cyclinderical pieces and left Malta in a container a couple of months later were it was sold to a rich man as he wanted it for his collection.

From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist)

Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna
The Hercules that brought the Egypt commandos

Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna
Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna
The Hercules that brought the Egypt commandos

When seeing this, the Egyptian Leader Muhammad Hosni Said Mubarak sent his troops near the frontiers of Libya and the commandos team from Force 777 in Malta to save the passengers involved in the hijack. In the meantime, a special Egyptian unity has arrived at Malta and is ready to attack.

The original plan was never utilised, which was to wait for supper time. The soldiers will be dressed in white. When the doors are open, they must be assured that they will remain open by putting something at the ends so that they will be apparently closed. The attack will be made during supper as everyone will be absorbed.

From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist) From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist) -- Reserved Document of the Italian Secret Service (SISMI) From the Archives of Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist)
The attack by the Egypt commandos in the Egypt Air at Park 4

After 22 hours of negotiation the plane was stormed in darkness by Egyptian forces. The Egypt commandos attacked the aircraft without the authorisation of the Maltese Government and 56 other passengers were killed. Among them were the wife and 18-month old son of Canadian Ed Leonard; he angrily told Rezaq at the time, "The next time I want to see your name is on your obituary."

From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist)
Although this was the plan, the Egyptians and Amercans officials decided to attack 1 hr and 30 mins before. The attack consisted in putting explosives were the luggage was held and after the commandos will fire directly on them so that the doors will blow up. At 20:30PM, the aircraft is shaken by explosions from the Egyptians, who made holes on the floor and forced the overwing emergency exits. When this was done the internal plastic of the airplane began to burn, a huge smoke was created and everyone was suffocated.

From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist) From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist)
In the fight, the commando members got inside and throw smoke handgrenades into the passenger cabin, causing a fire. One of the passengers says the Egyptians were shooting blindlessly, and killed more passengers than terrorists. That's the truth. The hijackers weren't very organized, and the commando team from Force 777 was even less organized.

From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist)

From the Archives/Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist)
The total death toll is 60, mostly passengers. The investigation that followed has cleverly avoided from telling who was killed by the "rescuers". The so-called 'special force' had difficulties in opening the main passengers doors and the panicked hijackers threw two handgrenades in the cabin while a wild shooting broke out that cost the lives of 60 people, 38 more received injuries.

Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna

The main reason for the high number of fatalities was the aimless and impetuous technique by the egyptian forces to free the remaining hostages. However it was a deadly riot at Malta. We couldn't say the following operation was a success. It was a total failure

* The hijacking of Egypt Air Flight 648 turned into world's dramatic, bloodiest & deadliest airline attack.

The B707 which carried back the coffins of the Egyptian passengers. Photo Copyright © Peter Tonna.






Jackie Pflug (Photo) - Flight 648 Survival
Airline hijacking survivor, nationally acclaimed speaker, and author of 'Miles To Go Before I Sleep'. While on a weekend holiday trip, she became a victim of terrorism in 1985 on Egypt Air #648 as she flew from Athens, Greece to Cairo, Egypt. She was shot execution style in the head with a .38 caliber revolver and left for dead on the runway of the airport in Malta in one of the world's bloodiest hijackings. Fifty-nine passengers were killed during the ordeal before the incident ended. Jackie survived. Jackie Pflug's incredible story of the hijacking, her survival, and her methods of beating the odds have inspired thousands of people to set a new direction as they focus on their own professional and personal challenges.

In court, Rezaq, speaking in broken English, asked for forgiveness. He said he was a changed man. Jackie Pflug, who survived being shot by Rezaq, said she already has. "I've forgiven him for what he did to me," she said, although the sadness of the hijacking haunts her. (9 sec./106K AIFF or WAV sound)

Omar Rezaq (Photo) - Flight 648 Hijacker
After nearly 11 years, Egypt Air hijacker Palestinian terrorist Omar Rezaq was sentenced to life in prison for his role in one of the deadliest hijackings in history. After he forced the plane to land in Malta, federal prosecutors say Rezaq picked out Israeli and American passengers and began shooting them, trying to force authorities to refuel the plane.

"What he did, personally, was to shoot five people in the back of the head from two feet... from point-blank range," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Valder. "You can't get much more heinous than that." Of the five people shot, three survived. (7 sec./76K AIFF or WAV sound)

Rezaq's (Photo) route to the United States for his meeting with justice was slow and circuitous. He was in a Malta prison until about three years ago, after serving seven years of a 25-year sentence. From there he went to Accra, Ghana, under an assumed name. He remained there until July 1993, when he flew to Lagos, Nigeria. Nigerian authorities turned him over to waiting FBI agents, who flew him to the United States. "Probably when he came on that plane, the last thing he ever thought was that he'd be coming to the United States of America to face justice," said FBI agent Kevin Foust.

His month-long trial ended July 19 with his conviction on a single count of air piracy. His fellow hijackers were killed in the hijacking. Rezaq's lawyer says the FBI violated a U.S. law that says suspected hijackers can be charged only if "found in the United States." Because of diplomatic sensitivities, the Justice Department did not ask for the death penalty. and because Rezaq was sentenced under rules in effect at the time of the crime, he could be eligible for parole in 10 years. However, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, who sentenced him to life in prison and ordered him to pay $264,000 in restitution to some of the victims, recommended that any request for parole made after the 10-year period should be rejected.

Aircraft Accident Brief Description
Date: 23-11-1985
Time: 20:15PM
Type: Boeing 737-266
Operator: Egypt Air
Registration: SU-AYH
C/n: 21191/450
Year built: 1976
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney JT8D-
Crew: fatalities / 6 on board
Passengers: fatalities / 92 on board
Total: 60 fatalities / 98 on board
Location: Luqa Airport (Malta)
Phase: Ground Nature
Nature: Scheduled Passenger
Flight: Athens - Cairo IAP (Flight No. 648)

Remarks: Written-off. EgyptAir Boeing 737 was hijacked by 3 men. While on the ground at Malta the aircraft was stormed by Egyptian forces. During the fight, several hand grenades were thrown into the cabin causing a fire.

According to my information this aircraft was written off due to damage. It was cut in cyclinderical pieces and left Malta in a container a couple of months later were it was sold to a rich man as he wanted it for his collection.

Several sources have been used to compile this accident coverage:-
- Aviation Safety Network
- DOI - Department Of Informaton - Malta
- Newspaper 'Times of Malta' - November, 1985
- Book reference: "Minn Taht l-Incira" © Joe Mifsud (Journalist)
- Also with the help of Peter Tonna / Joseph Tonna / Mark Stephenson

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Last Updated: Tuesday, March 07, 2006 - 23:30 PM
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