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.What a story! If only we could all keep our wits about us in times of crisis as she did.
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.
February 24, 2005
Goodbye to Uli Derickson, whose story appears on the obituary page today: