Notes While Being Hijacked

On September 10, 1976, five Croatian terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 355, carrying 86 passengers from New York to Chicago. Brockman was one of the passengers; he wrote this account in the course of the ordeal

New York. LaGuardia. September 10, 1976.

Six-forty-five P.M. Flight 355 bound for Chicago, then to Tucson. I am going to Tucson. I have never been there before.

Long lines at the airport. Finally my ticket. Through security quickly. Onto the plane. Aisle seat. Runway. Forty-minute delay. Takeoff.

Have a drink. Smoke. A blond girl, about twenty-two, twenty-three, keeps going back to the restrooms. Pretty. At first thought she was pregnant. No, my imagination. Good figure, in fact. Walks quickly, eyes straight, matter-of-fact, almost anxious, in a hurry.

I never liked headphones. Robert W. Morgan—a name that sounds familiar, but is he anything but the DJ on the headphone? A red band on the horizon—at first slightly ahead, then in a slow drift to straight across from me—due west. Jefferson Starship in my ears. We are heading north.

The music stops. I check the plugs; change the channel. Doesn't work. What the hell, it's a short flight to Chicago.

"Ah ... ladies and gentlemen ... this is the captain speaking ... I have something to report which is unique. Please don't be alarmed. This plane has been taken over by hijackers. Please don't be alarmed. We are now flying to Montreal as they have demanded. We will do exactly as they ask. Stay calm. I request—no, I insist that you keep in control. I assure you that your safety—the safety of us all is my first and primary concern, and that I will do everything to insure that goal. Just do what they say, and they assure me that no one will be hurt. Again, I insist that you stay calm and follow their orders."

The blond again—a large, bearded man is at the rear of the aisle—she goes to him, talks, and walks back to the front to a slender, oily-skinned man with beard and dark glasses. My first thought—it's all a game. Then, I am part of it. But the man up front—a Palestinian? Damn. I have no religion. Or do I? I am a Jew. I am a Jew. I am part of it.

More walking back and forth—the blond. She speaks English well, too well. Assuring us not to worry as she glances around the first time.

The captain again: "This is not easy for any of us. Please stay calm. These people are fully armed. There is nothing we can do but comply with their demands. Do exactly what they tell you. I must inform you that they have a bomb, and threaten to blow up the plane if we do not obey them. Therefore you must remain calm and do whatever you are told." Do whatever you are told.

I introduce myself to the man beside me. I had admired how fast he read; didn't like his tie. I had sized him up as a lawyer, family man, working out of Chicago. Mostly right, but not a lawyer; president of a small manufacturing plant. Successful, he tells me, married, two sons. Frank Miller. He seems nice enough; quite straight. I tell him I'm a doctor. I realize I have told him a secret; I don't want them to know I am a doctor. I trust Frank. I tell him that I am married and traveling alone, that I am on a vacation to the Southwest—two weeks, but not sure where. I tell him that I am scared. We are at the point where it is interesting and yet a bit of a bore. Seasoned travelers who will be very late for dinner. As yet not much more. Getting scared. Frank asks the blond if he can use the lavatory. "Not yet." Getting scared. Montreal.

Raining on a dark runway. Not much to see. French separatists? Perhaps. I don't know who they are. Blond tells me—no, not me—tells a block of seats not to worry. Strokes the seat like a stewardess, drifts down the aisle smiling, uttering absurdities. "Do you have to use the bathroom? Okay, you are next after this gentleman here, and you third.... Thirsty? Can I get you something?" Blue eyes shining, blond hair turned up at the end. As if she hijacked the plane so she could play hostess. I don't understand. I watch her because she is what they show me. She doesn't matter. She makes no difference to me, to what I see as their leadership. She is the one that makes me feel better. But why?

The oily-skinned one—the one I fear is the leader and Arab—walks the aisle. Two sticks of dynamite taped to his chest, detonator in his hand. He moves easily. Eyes fixed in dark glasses. 1 avoid them. I don't want him to spot me blindly. No hesitation. Our shoulders give way as he moves to the back. Talks and returns.

Montreal. On a plane. TWA—bound for Chicago; I won't get there. I am not safe, and I am not scared. I keep coming back to Montreal as if the earth and the rain will help to define me. Help me to know where I am. Don't know. Montreal doesn't help; she is like the blond girl asking if I am thirsty. I am not trying to understand my thirst. "Can I get you a Coke?" Where am I?

I am in Montreal. Rain. Wet. A yellow light blinking, out the windows on the left. No, to the right. I am confused. Perhaps it is the language—à gauche, à droit, left, right, up, down. Where are they taking me?

It begins to settle in. I begin to understand. I have no choice. No decisions to make. They are taking me. The light outside is mounted on top of a car, beside the runway. No other lights, no buildings can be seen; nothing moves outside but the rain. I count the outside world by the number of lights. One. I am alone. I talk to Frank.

Have you ever been here before?

"No. And no matter how much business the company has back in New York, I, for one, ain't going back to that city." We both laugh at the joke, both laughing alone at the other meaning, but still afraid to share that meaning.

"You don't have any kids, do you?"

No, I don't.

I never wanted kids. I was always scared of that—to give myself to someone who would need me so much. It might be nice to have kids now.

How old are your boys?

"John is seven, and Steve's five and a half. Both good boys. Look like their mother."

We both laugh again. We grow closer. Preparing each other for the need we will have of each other. Frank gets to use the lavatory; the blond says it's okay for him to go now.

The big one with the beard walks by. He's wearing a suit, right hand in the pocket bulging a gun.

I take out a pen. I am ready to write my will. I give my soul to—No, I'll keep my soul. It is easier to live with the decision that I have something they can't take away. Something I can keep forever—till I die. Damn limitation. I am back to death. Write quicker. Fast enough to get it all written before I die. Christ. I may die before I get it down. Keep writing. Don't think. The thought of no more paper is as terrifying as the thought of no more time. No. Keep writing. I can control that. Control something. What if they take the pad from me? Prisoner. Captive. Watching them weave the bars around me. Spider. The katydid in West Virginia at Honey's farm—the one that she saved—pulled it from the gentle noose as the spider raced around it. But, Honey, you're interfering with nature. I remember she smiled—that soft loving smile she has, and a simple, "I just don't like to see things die." We laughed. We all laughed. Frank would have laughed had he been there. Do I have enough paper to ramble like this? The sun was so warm as I sat in the barn, my face to the open south gate. And the cows watching the world from the shade. Chewing, fattening, then sent to Chicago and slaughtered.

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