48 Years Ago A KLM Boeing 747 Was Hijacked Over Iraq

Today marks 48 years since the hijacking of KLM flight 861 from Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) to Tokyo Haneda (HND). Flown by a Boeing 747-200, the flight had more than 250 people onboard at the time of the incident. Led by three passengers said to have been from the Arab Youth Organization for the Liberation of Palestine, the hijack happened over Iraq.

KLM Boeing 747-200
The plane involved was a three-year-old Boeing 747-200. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons

The flight in question

KLM flight 861 was a scheduled service that connected Amsterdam with Tokyo. In the early 1970s, the flight made several stops along the way, as was customary for long-haul routes of the time. The first of these took place at Athens International Airport (ATH) in Greece.

After touching down in the Greek capital, flight 861 had two more intermediate stops before it reached Tokyo. The first of these was at Beirut International Airport (BEY) in Lebanon. This was then followed by India’s Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL).

48 years ago today, a three-year-old Boeing 747-200 registered as PH-BUA operated KLM flight 861. The aircraft was named Mississippi, and KLM flew it until October 1989. On November 25th, 1973, it took to the skies bound for Tokyo with 247 passengers and 17 crew members onboard. While the first two legs passed without incident, the third was different.

KLM Boeing 747
KLM named several Boeing 747s after rivers, such as PH-BUB Donau/The Danube. Photo: Jonathan Payne via Wikimedia Commons

The hijack

While cruising over Iraq on the third leg of the route, between Beirut and Delhi, KLM flight 861 took an alarming turn. It was at this point that three passengers hijacked the aircraft. ASN notes that the hijackers, who claimed to belong to the Arab Youth Organization for the Liberation of Palestine, first demanded that the plane would divert to Damascus, Syria.

They then asked that the flight could head back towards Europe, aiming to land in Nicosia, Cyprus. It was here that their intentions became clear, with the hijack being used as a vehicle to demand that seven Palestine prisoners could be released. However, with their demands unfulfilled at this point, the hijackers directed the plane to Tripoli, Libya.

With Libyan authorities unwilling to let the hijackers surrender on the condition of being let free, the plane then flew to Malta for another failed set of negotiations. This prompted them to alter the course back towards Iraq, where they demanded to be allowed to land in Baghdad. However, this was refused, and they faced similar rejection in Qatar and Kuwait.

KLM Tokyo Map
KLM still uses the flight number KL861 on its Amsterdam-Tokyo route today. Image: RadarBox.com

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Flight number remains in use today

Following these rejected landings, the aircraft was eventually permitted to land in Dubai, UAE as it was running low on fuel. Negotiations failed here too, and the 747 took off again for Aden, Yemen, only for its landing there also to be rejected. This prompted it to return to Dubai, where the hijackers surrendered on the condition of being free to leave the country.

While hijackings can sometimes be violent occurrences, there were no fatalities among the flight’s 264 occupants. With the situation having been resolved largely peacefully, KLM continues to use the flight number KL861 today. It still applies to an Amsterdam-Tokyo service, although this non-stop Boeing 777/787-operated flight serves Tokyo Narita.

What do you make of this incident? Did you ever fly on one of KLM’s Boeing 747s? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.