Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ulrike Patzelt (August 8, 1944 – February 18, 2005), better known as Uli Derickson, was a flight attendant during the June 14, 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by Hezbollah terrorists. Derickson is credited with helping to protect 152 passengers and crew members.
Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Derickson and her parents were expelled to East Germany in 1945. The family later escaped to West Germany, and Derickson made it to the United States in 1967, where she became a flight attendant for TWA.
In 1985, on Flight 847 between Athens and Rome, her plane was hijacked. Derickson took a karate kick to the chest from one of the hijackers as he forced her to go with him into the cockpit. The other hijacker—who was holding a grenade with the pin removed—started kicking open the door. Once inside, they pistol-whipped the pilot and flight engineer.
The two hijackers spoke almost no English but Derickson was able to speak with one of them in German, eventually gaining their trust. This put her at the center of the drama for the next 55 hours as she translated the tense communication between the plane's crew and the hijackers. At one point the crueler of the two hijackers asked her to marry him.
The plane was diverted first to Beirut, where Derickson successfully pleaded with the hijackers to release 17 elderly women and two children.
Later in the ordeal, a ground crew in Algiers refused to refuel the plane without payment despite the terrorists' threat to kill passengers. It occurred to Derickson to offer her Shell credit card. The ground crew charged about $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of fuel.
Derickson was asked to sort through passenger passports to single out people with Jewish-sounding names. Initial reports suggested that she had followed the orders, but had in fact hidden the passports.
The plane flew back toward Beirut. The hijackers had earlier identified some American military personnel on the flight. They singled out U.S. Navy diver Robert D. Stethem. After beating him severely with the arm of a chair, Stethem was shot and his body was dumped on the airport tarmac. Islamic militiamen boarded the plane to assist the hijackers. The plane then headed back toward Algiers.
After about 36 hours, the terrorists released a second wave of hostages including Derickson and 65 others. The plane, now with only 39 American men onboard as hostages, flew back to Beirut where they were held for 17 days. The ordeal ended on June 30th after Israel released 31 Lebanese prisoners, a fraction of the 766 the hijackers had demanded.
Life was less than peaceful for Derickson after the hijacking ordeal ended. Unfounded reports, including some in the mainstream news media, that she had given the hijackers names of Jewish passengers on the flight, brought threats from extremist groups. When the truth about her efforts to shield Jewish passengers was verified, she received threats from others. Derickson’s family relocated from New Jersey to Arizona.
A 1988 TV movie, The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story, appeared on NBC featuring Lindsay Wagner as Derickson. It received five Emmy nominations. Derickson acted as a consultant on the film.
Derickson testified at the trial of Mohammed Ali Hamadi , one of the hijackers convicted of murdering Stethem. He received a life sentence. She later advised TWA, Delta Air Lines and the FBI on crisis management.
Derickson was still working as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines when she received a diagnosis of cancer in 2003.
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