on our way to Greece

 

My friend, Marydee, says I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and should see a shrink:

"Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also common. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than 1 month."

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She said that when something traumatic happens, things in the brain sort of split in half because you don't deal with the emotional side of the situation but the survival/rational side and eventually, it causes one to feel disconnected, to have trouble telling when they're actually upset about something or acting out. This is common for me. When I've been upset, I've gone so overboard that I try not to laugh at the situation, at my actions, like I could see what I'm doing but unable to stop though someone was getting hurt in the process. Afterwards, I'd realize what happened and would be completely disgusted with myself. Oh well. At least I'm aware of it now and am working on it.

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April 2, 1986

I was 10 years old and with my parents on our way to Greece for a two-week vacation, visiting relatives. 15 minutes off the coastline of Greece, the sightseeing talk provided by airline staff and my gaze out the window at a dormant volcano was broken by a loud pop. Then there were screams.

Broken buzzing wires whipped around, overhead luggage compartments flew open, and stewardesses were using their fingernails to pry open oxygen masks. The plane shook violently. My father and others were telling people to calm down. I looked behind my seat at the couple with their kid; the mother was holding him horizontally and tight, crying.

After things were stabilized, the panic stopped, and then the question, "What happened?"

A bomb exploded underneath the seat of a passenger three seats away in the other aisle. In total, four people were violently sucked out, their bodies torn by jagged metal. Along with this passenger was her baby girl, a grandmother and a man.

When we finally landed, there was a press conference at the airport. The teen boy sitting across from us in the other aisle was now on a couch, drinking orange juice and looking shaken after wetting himself (his mom told him prior to the explosion to wait until they landed to use the restroom). We called home to my brothers; our goldfish kept jumping out of the tank that day and had died just before our call.

Then we had to talk to the Greek police for three hours. During this time, I met the man who sat behind the lady who had the bomb under her seat. He looked like the common image of Jesus and was wearing a black and white horizontally striped shirt with blood on it. His wife and daughter were with him and they were supposed to go to Cairo, Egypt.

Luckily, since there were extra seats available behind the 3 females who died, the man told his wife and daughter to take the seats behind him. After the explosion, he seemed unscathed but recalled the main woman being torn in half and clinging to him, screaming. He passed out. When he woke up, she was gone.

For two weeks, it seemed we were being followed. My bilingual parents discussed in Greek what to do. My father turned around, approached the person following us, asked him what time it was in English, the man told him in untainted English then realized we knew. He turned and we never saw him again.

The Greek papers ran morgue pictures of the grandmother and baby. The grandmother's leg was facing the opposite direction. The baby's eyes were burned red around; she was still clutching her rattle.

During the two weeks, I met various family, had a great time, and to my surprise, was baptized in a big tub of oil while wearing a tank top and underwear (because I was a bit overgrown for it) in front of a bunch of ancient looking priests. We went to places referenced in the Bible and in mythology, saw the "Rocky: Part 13" (a Greek comedy), travelled a bit, ate a lot, drank a lot, and saw ancient religious relics. There is something exhilarating about seeing a saint's skull encased in silver, glass and wood - that hundreds of years after someone has died, people carry on stories of their work and preserve the bones beautifully. In many areas there were fluorescent markings on trees; these marked where Greeks were hung by Turks.

On the way back, I had A LOT of trouble breathing. It was horrible.

When we landed in Detroit, areas inside the airport were tape off, people stared at us and I thought, "Are we on the wrong side of the tape?" Then there were cameras and blinding lights, then interviews at the local news station. Shy at the time, hid behind my parents as much as possible.

Soon afterward, we sued the airline, flew to Kansas City for depositions and it was then I found out that some stuff that was flying around in the plane cabin was insulation, that I inhaled it and that it could give me cancer some day. We got more money (very little actually) out of suing the lawyer. He set us up to fail. He was also working for the airline.

And that's it. Thank you.

- M

 

 

Time Magazine
April 14, 1986
Terrorism Explosion on Flight 840

The shadow war continues as a bomb goes off aboard a TWA jet over Greece

BY WILLIAM E. SMITH

TWA Flight 840, a Boeing 727 flying from Rome to Athens with 115 passengers and seven crew members aboard, had already begun its descent toward the Athens international airport. Twenty minutes before the plane's expected landing, as it flew at 15,000 ft. over Argos, a town near the ancient site of Mycenae, an explosion shook the aircraft. At first the pilot, Captain Richard Peterson, 56, a 30-year veteran, thought the problem was a broken window, though he later likened the thunderous sound to that of "a shotgun going off next to your ear." Said Passenger Jane Klingel, 25, from California: "The plane shook, as it would in turbulence. In front of me, I saw a sort of green lightning. I thought I was dying."

Neither the crew nor most of the passengers knew at the time that four of the passengers had been sucked out of the 9-ft. by 4-ft. hole blown in the fuselage near the right wing in the moments after the explosion. On the ground, a shepherd near Argos found the bodies of three Greek Americans, all from Annapolis, Md.: Demetra Stylianopoulou, 58, her daughter Maria Klug, 25, and her eight-month-old granddaughter Demetra. A fourth body, that of Colombian-born Alberto Ospino, 39, of Stratford, Conn., was later found in a nearby field, along with the window seat in which he had been sitting, 10-F.

Aboard the plane, Saudi Arabian Passenger Ibrahim al Nami, 29, thought he saw Ospino go through the hole. Said al Nami: "I was talking with my wife when we heard the explosion. Suddenly my chair sank. The man sitting next to me at the window, I don't know what happened to him. He disappeared. My foot went through the cabin floor. I caught hold of my wife's seat and held on hard."

As debris and fiberglass particles filled the cabin, blown about by the intrusive wind, terror gripped the passengers. Pushing away from the gaping hole, a few grabbed their hand baggage and irrationally told flight attendants they wanted to leave the plane. Stewardess Catherine Erickson, 30, scooped up some linen napkins and handed them out to passengers whose legs and feet were bleeding.

When some oxygen masks remained jammed in the overhead compartments, a passenger used a pocket knife to pry them loose. Tom Kojis, 44, a Methodist pastor from Algoma, Wis., comforted his twelve-year-old son Jonathan, telling him, "We're not going to die. We still have things to do." Nancy Hauser, 37, of Los Angeles said later, "My feeling was we weren't going to make it. I saw this huge hole, and we were losing elevation fast."

In the cockpit, Peterson immediately turned his plane 20 degrees to the left and started a direct descent toward the Athens airport. He told the tower, "I have a problem with one of the windows. I think it is going to break, and I request immediate priority for landing." Then he tried to calm the passengers. "Please don't panic. Our engines are O.K. We'll be landing in about ten minutes if nothing else goes wrong."

Thirteen minutes after the explosion, Peterson landed his plane safely, to the cheers and applause of his passengers and crew. Though he later described the operation as a "normal emergency landing," Peterson admitted that he had been concerned in the last minutes of flight because "you wonder if you have your brakes and your hydraulic system." He continued, "Even though it shows on the instruments, you never know. That's why people clapped when we touched down. They were glad, as we were, to be on the ground." Among the 118 survivors, none needed to be told how lucky they were that the explosion had not damaged any of the plane's vital systems. If the bomb had gone off ten minutes earlier, while the craft was still flying at its cruising altitude of 29,000 ft., the loss of pressure would have caused a far more serious explosion.

The bomb aboard Flight 840 took only four lives, far fewer than the 166 people who died two days earlier when a Mexican jetliner crashed into a mountainside in central Mexico, but it was one of the most chilling episodes in the generation-old saga of airborne terrorism. The bombing demonstrated that neither governments nor airlines have yet found the means to make air travelers safe from terrorist attacks (see box).

Nor was there any sense that the war against terrorism was being won on the ground. At week's end a bomb went off in a West Berlin nightclub, killing an American soldier and a West German woman and injuring more than 150 people. Responsibility was claimed by the Holger Meins Commando, which is linked to the Red Army Faction and had previously asserted that it was responsible for the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in Stockholm in February.

Over the Mediterranean, TWA flies daily between Rome, Athens and Cairo. The 727 on which the bombing occurred last Wednesday had started the day in Cairo, stopped at Athens and proceeded to Rome. There it picked up its passengers, most of whom had arrived on a connecting TWA 747 flight from Los Angeles and New York, and took off for a return trip to Athens. Aviation authorities in Athens quickly established that the bomb had not been placed in the luggage compartment but had been carried aboard and put beneath seat 10-F, possibly in the life preserver. This was the seat in which Passenger Ospino had been sitting at the time of the explosion.

After months of complaints about their security arrangements, officials in Rome, Athens and Cairo were adamant in insisting they had followed existing procedures scrupulously. The U.S. agrees that security at all three airports is much improved. Before Flight 840 left Rome last week, it was inspected by a private security firm, Flashpol, and crew members said they had checked beneath the seats and had done a "spot check" of some, but not all, of the 146 life preservers aboard.

Police officials promptly centered their investigation on a Lebanese woman of about 30 who was traveling under the name May Elias Mansur. She had reportedly flown from Beirut to Cairo on March 25 and on the morning of April 2 had flown on the TWA plane from Cairo to Athens, along with only 16 other passengers. She arrived late for the flight, but Egyptian authorities insisted that her luggage had been inspected. The woman had been subjected to the usual body search, but because of the lateness of the hour was driven in an airline car rather than a bus to the plane, where she identified her luggage before boarding. She sat in seat 10-F, and during much of the flight kept the table down over her lap and listened to cassette tapes on earphones. After arriving in Athens, she spent seven hours in the transit lounge, leaving on a Middle East Airlines flight for Beirut shortly after the crippled TWA 727, on its return from Rome, made its emergency landing in Athens. On Friday, in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, a woman who identified herself as Mansur strongly denied that she had had any role in "such a terrorist crime."

Greek investigators speculated that the explosion on the plane may have been caused by a Czechoslovak-made plastic explosive called Semtex, which East bloc countries export in large quantities to Lebanon. Dark orange in color and claylike in consistency, Semtex can be detected by trained dogs but apparently not by existing airport equipment. Authorities believed that the bomb, which may have been no larger than two bars of soap, could have had a plastic timer that would not have set off the metal-detecting machines at the Cairo airport.

On the day of the explosion aboard Flight 840, an anonymous caller telephoned a Western news agency in Beirut and said that the bomb had been planted by a little-known group called the Izzeddin Qassam unit of the Arab Revolutionary Cells, which in turn is linked to Palestinian renegade Abu Nidal, probably the world's most wanted terrorist. The caller said the bombing was in retaliation for U.S. missile attacks on Libyan targets last month during the showdown over the right of foreign ships to use the waters of the Gulf of Sidra. A four-page handwritten statement repeating this claim and promising further attacks against U.S. targets "across the world" was later delivered to Beirut newspapers. Qassam was slain by the British during a revolt in Palestine in 1936. His name has frequently been used by terrorist factions linked to Abu Nidal, whose real name is Sabry Khalil Bana and who officially broke away from Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah organization in 1974.

The boasts of terrorists for the sake of publicity are notoriously unreliable. On Friday, for instance, still another Palestinian splinter group made the improbable claim that it was responsible for the crash of the Mexican airliner early last week. But the link between Abu Nidal and the TWA bombing seemed plausible. His dossier of terrorist acts includes the killing of a number of Palestinian foes and Israeli officials and the bombing of synagogues in Europe. His group may also have been involved in last year's hijacking of an EgyptAir plane, leading to the death of 60 people when the craft was stormed in Malta by Egyptian troops.

The possible role of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi in the latest attack is more difficult to prove. After the TWA bombing, Gaddafi declared, "This is an act of terrorism against a civilian target, and I'm totally against it." President Reagan condemned the bombing as a "barbaric act of wanton international terrorism," and an Administration official described the TWA attack, as well as the Berlin nightclub bombing, as part of an anti-U.S. "master plan" that was "backed by Gaddafi." The official claimed that, under this plan, 30 U.S. diplomatic missions and 50 American diplomats have been targeted for assault since Jan. 1.

The U.S. assumption is that, while Gaddafi knows he cannot compete militarily with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, he can continue to exploit surrogates like Abu Nidal, whom he supports and encourages. As a Western diplomat in Libya said two weeks ago, "The renegade Palestinians are an obvious source of men and know-how. They don't cost very much to finance, and it is very difficult to trace any links back to Libya."

For the terrorists, the direct benefits of such actions as the TWA bombing are the killing of Americans and the attendant notoriety. Among the indirect benefits is the damage caused to moderate Arab governments and to U.S. allies in Europe. Already, tens of thousands of Americans have decided to avoid air travel to the Mediterranean this summer, and some are determined to stay away from Europe altogether. The result is a serious drop in tourism for Italy and Greece, among other countries, and a deepening of the economic crisis in Egypt. Abu Nidal and his allies would like nothing better than to see President Hosni Mubarak replaced by a radical government that would abrogate the Camp David accords and renew the state of war between Egypt and Israel. "Let us not forget that their ultimate goal is a Palestinian state in what is now Israel," a Western diplomat in Cairo remarked last week. "But to get there, they are prepared to blow up the Middle East."