Skip to comments.Uli Derickson, 60, Who Helped Airline Hostages, Dies
Posted on 02/24/2005 2:57:28 PM PST by Calpernia
(Feb. 24) - Uli Derickson, the Trans World Airlines flight attendant honored for saving passengers' lives in 1985 by both confronting and mollifying terrorist hijackers, died on Friday at her home in Tucson. She was 60.
Courage in a Terrifying Moment
Ms. Derickson was still working as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines when she received a diagnosis of cancer in 2003, her son, Matthew Derickson, said in announcing her death.
On June 14, 1985, when a pair of Lebanese gunmen commandeered a T.W.A. flight from Athens to Rome, Ms. Derickson took the lead in protecting the 152 passengers and crew members.
Though the two hijackers spoke almost no English, Ms. Derickson was able to speak with one of them in German and occasionally calm him by singing a German ballad he requested. She won the hijackers' pity for one passenger by explaining that his daughter had been delivered by a Lebanese doctor.
She also intervened during beatings, often putting herself in harm's way.
"Don't you hit that person," she would shout, a passenger later told The New York Times. "Why do you have to hit those people?"
When a ground crew in Algiers refused to refuel the plane without payment, even when faced with the terrorists' threat to kill passengers, it occurred to Ms. Derickson to offer her Shell credit card. The ground crew charged about $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of fuel.
The most terrifying moment for her, she later told Glamour Magazine, was when the crueler of the two hijackers asked her to marry him.
At one point they asked Ms. Derickson to sort through the passengers' passports to single out people with Jewish-sounding names. Although various news organizations initially reported that she had followed their orders, she in fact hid the passports, her son said.
"Everybody looked to her for courage and guidance," Tom Cullins, an architect in Burlington, Vt., who was a hostage on the plane, said in an interview yesterday. "She was clearly in control. She even made demands of the hijackers."
Mr. Cullins added, "We have nothing but the utmost respect for her and a debt of gratitude for really heroic acts."
After about 36 hours, the terrorists released a second wave of hostages, including Ms. Derickson and 65 others, in Algiers. They had already killed a Navy diver, Robert D. Stethem, but his was to be the only death. The hijackers released other hostages over the next 15 days, with the ordeal ending for the last 39 on June 30.
It ended after Israel's release of 31 Lebanese prisoners, a fraction of the 766 the hijackers had demanded.
Ms. Derickson became the first woman to receive the Silver Cross for Valor, awarded by the Legion of Valor, a veterans organization. "The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story," a 1988 movie that appeared on NBC and featured Lindsay Wagner as Ms. Derickson, received five Emmy nominations.
Ulrike Patzelt was born on Aug. 8, 1944, in Aussig an der Elbe, Czechoslovakia, near the German border, and was raised in Bavaria. She worked as an au pair in Britain and Switzerland before immigrating to Connecticut in 1967.
She began working for T.W.A. a few years later and joined Delta in the early 1990's.
Her husband, Russell G. Derickson, a former pilot, died in 2003. She is survived by her son, of San Diego, and her mother, Marianne Patzelt of Nuremberg, Germany.
That is a great story!
An amazing woman who kept her wits through that horrific experience.