Pinto Martins Airport in Fortaleza, Brazil: From January 2008 on, an airplane wreck was parked there, on a remote location. It was the former Lufthansa "Landshut". After its
seats and cabin facilities had been removed, it was used as a cargo aircraft for many years by various Brazilian airlines, most recently by TAF Linhas Aeras (Reg.: PT-MTB) before being
Until 2017. In that year, the plane was transported back to Germany on board of Antonov-124, in a complex mission carried out by Volga-Dnepr. It is a plane with a tragic history and high symbolic value. The aim is to exhibit the "Landshut" in a museum and make it accessible to visitors. The overarching theme is the "German Autumn", a time when left-wing terrorists declared war on the state.
The "Landshut", or what was left of it, would have ended up on a Brazilian scrap heap if supporters of the then German Federal Minister of Economics, Sigmar Gabriel, and the former Lufthansa flight attendant, Gabriele von Lutzau, formerly Gabriele Dillmann, had not "brought the B737-200 home" from Fortaleza in northeast Brazil. This happened in 2017, exactly 40 years after its abduction by Palestinian terrorists.
The drama unfolds
Release terrorists and pay a ransom of 5 million Deutsch Marks (2.5 million euros) to the kidnappers or stand firm against them. This was the decision the then German government under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (Social Democrat) was faced with in October 1977. Its antagonists were four members of a Palestinian commando: 2 male / 2 female. The quartet had taken control of the "Landshut" during a scheduled flight from Frankfurt to Palma de Mallorca. With their action, the kidnappers wanted to collect ransom money, but above all, force the release of their comrades being held in German and Israeli prisons for politically motivated murders and attacks.
First Officer Ruedeger von Lutzau, a highly rational but also very emotional man, still has tears in his eyes today when he talks about the dramatic days and hours between 13 and 18 October 1977 - now almost 43 years ago. It was a matter of life or death for the 86 passengers and 5 crew members on board the "Landshut", a Boeing 737-200 belonging to the Lufthansa fleet. Among the kidnapped crew members was his then girlfriend and flight attendand, Gabriele Dillmann. "I was off duty on 13 October and almost by chance heard that the plane had been hijacked. However, when the operations management told me that my then girlfriend was one of the cabin crew members on flight LH 180, my adrenaline level immediately shot up to an unprecedented height," he recalls the state of his nerves at that time.
Dubai – Aden – Mogadishu
Having followed an erratic zigzag course, the "Landshut" had meanwhile landed in Dubai, where local security forces openly practiced storming the plane on the apron, clearly visible to the terrorist command on board the "Landshut". "Stop immediately, otherwise the result will be a bloodbath," was the German government's dispatch to the airport and those responsible in the UAE. However, the UAE authorities ordered them to retreat only after hefty diplomatic interventions by German officials who had arrived in Dubai meanwhile.
After unsuccessful negotiations, the kidnappers forced the cockpit crew to leave Dubai and fly to another destination. Which one was unclear since the surrounding countries had closed their airports. Eventually, they received permission to land at Airport Aden in Yemen, also due to a lack of fuel. It was already the third day of the kidnapping. For passengers and crew members, this meant that they were experiencing an unspeakable martyrdom due to the heat on board the plane, the overflowing toilets, and growing fear. All the more so, as they had to put up with the whims of the incredibly aggressive commander, “Captain Mahmut”, if they did not want to risk their lives.
In the meantime, a B707 with German politicians, secret service personnel, and medical personnel, had arrived. On board the "Diplomatic Flight": First Officer Ruedeger von Lutzau. "I heard all the voice traffic over the radio, and thus learned that the ‘Landshut’ had since left Aden and landed in Mogadishu, Somalia, where we then also immediately flew to.”
Then the signal came via on-board radio: "Code 13" – an encrypted message. In plain language: There has been a death. The victim was Captain Juergen Schumann, who had been shot in the head by "Captain Mahmut" in Aden, in front of the passengers and the crew. He left behind a wife and two children. The kidnappers then threw Schumann's body like a piece of garbage through the back door of the plane, onto the apron. CoPilot, Jürgen Vietor, was now the only one able to navigate the plane safely.
"Code 13" meant the end of any serious negotiations for the German government. Wear down the terrorists and gain time until a favorable opportunity arose to enable the special forces to storm the "Landshut". This was now the only plan left. Almost immediately after the Lufthansa B737-200 had touched down in Mogadishu, followed by the "Diplo Flight", special forces arriving from Germany via Istanbul also landed in Mogadishu. For reasons of stealth, they had darkened their plane and registered it with the local air traffic controllers as the B707 “Diplomatic Flight” that already had landed there. A trick that worked.
Storming the "Landshut"
Then during the night, tough negotiations again took place between the politicians who had arrived and gone to the Mogadishu Airport Tower, and the leader of the kidnappers, "Captain Mahmut." This went on for hours. Suddenly, there was a flash. The cabin door flew through the air, shots fired through the night. Everything happened very quickly. The result: Two dead male terrorists and one female, the other female terrorist survived and imprisoned afterwards. Today, she lives in Norway. No further victim among the 86 passengers and the remaining 4 crew members.
"After the liberation, I proposed to Gabi in the Mogadishu terminal and she said ‘yes’," says Ruedeger von Lutzau, still emotionally moved. Since then, her name has been Gabriele von Lutzau. She never again flew as a flight attendant, just as the other two female cabin crew members also did not. "There was no psychological support offered by Lufthansa to the crew or the passengers for the trauma they had suffered," Ruedeger von Lutzau is still critical today. "Hansa only conceded one special holiday".
Hand grenade flew back in the cockpit
From the remaining crew, only the then first officer, Jürgen Vietor, returned to his workplace, including to the cockpit of the restored "Landshut". The damage to the aircraft had previously been repaired at Lufthansa Technik's Hamburg hangar, so that the D-ABCE registration aircraft could return to Lufthansa's scheduled service.
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