The World: Terror and Triumph at Mogadishu

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After a 110-hour ordeal, a dramatic eleven-minute rescue

In the early afternoon of Oct. 13, Lufthansa air control in Frankfurt sent a terse message to all planes in the Mediterranean area: "Keep us posted with every piece of information you get." Listening to his short-wave set in his Tel Aviv apartment, Israeli Radio-TV Reporter Michael Gurdus immediately guessed that a Lufthansa jet had been hijacked. For the next five days, Gurdus recorded the remarkable radio traffic between Germany, the Middle East and Africa as Flight 181—designated Charlie Echo —flew precariously on to Rome, Cyprus, Bahrain, Dubai, Aden, and finally to Mogadishu, pursued by two other German aircraft. One carried Bonn's chief negotiator; both planes carried commandos. Gurdus' transcripts, made available exclusively to TIME, offer revealing details of the year's most dramatic rescue.

At 2 p.m., one hour out of Palma, Majorca, Flight 181's captain, Jurgen Schumann, first reported that his plane had been commandeered by terrorists over the French Riviera. The leader of the group screamed into the open radio that he was "Captain Walter Mahmud" and that the craft was now under his "supervision and control." Lufthansa's immediate problem was keeping track of the plane, a Boeing 737 twin jet bound for Frankfurt. It had only a short-range VHP transmitter for intra-European communication and was unable to keep contact with Frankfurt.

During the first refueling stop, at Rome, Schumann casually dropped four unlit cigars out the cockpit window. Authorities correctly interpreted this signal to mean that four terrorists were aboard. Other Lufthansa flights were able to contact Charlie Echo and pass along messages from Frankfurt control. Near Greece, a Lufthansa pilot reported that Charlie Echo was preparing to land at Nicosia in Cyprus. Back came an urgent message, "Here is Frankfurt. Establish contact with 181 and let him know that Nicosia—out of order, repeat out of order. He should try for Larnaca or Akrotiri." When the plane touched down at Larnaca a heavily accented voice took over and declared in English, "Here is Captain Mahmud. Refuel the plane. If you will not refuel, I will blow the plane."

"Captain Mahmud," replied the control tower, "here is the Foreign Minister of Cyprus. I beg you in the name of the Cypriot government and people, and in the name of humanity, release all children, women and sick people on board. Please." Then came another voice from the tower: "I am the representative of the Palestinian Liberation Movement in Cyprus. Do you hear me, Captain Mahmud?" Mahmud shouted back: "I do not care who you are! Whoever you are, I do not want to talk to you!"

In Bonn, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, backed by his Cabinet and by opposition leaders, alerted Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (G.S.G. 9), the elite commando unit of West Germany's Border Protection Force. Thirty members of the unit left immediately for Cyprus aboard a Lufthansa 707, Flight 1231. But Flight 1231, in a near miss, arrived at Larnaca just as Flight 181 was taking off. Flight 1231 flew to Ankara to await further instructions, while the hijacked plane flew on to Bahrain and Dubai.

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