WASHINGTON — Just 10 minutes after TWA Flight 847 took off from Athens on June 14, 1985, two men with guns stormed the cockpit. The pilot radioed that one had explosives, saying, “He has pulled a hand grenade pin, and he is ready to blow up the aircraft if he has to. We must, I repeat, we must land at Beirut.”
After brutally attacking several of those on board, the hijackers — Hezbollah terrorists — discovered that one passenger was enlisted in the U.S. Navy: Robert Dean Stethem, 23, a steelworker and diver.
Stethem, too, was severely beaten, then shot and killed — his body shoved out of the plane to the tarmac below. He was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery as his parents, Richard and Patricia, grieved.
Tuesday, two decades later, they were in Washington, pushing to keep the hunt alive for the terrorists who killed their son.
“It's been 20 years, but to us, it seems like it was yesterday,” says Robert Stethem.
One of the hijackers, Mohammed Hamadei, was caught in Germany, convicted, and sentened to life. But he could be out on parole in six months. The U.S. wants him brought to this country for trial.
The other hijacker, Hasan Izz-al-din, remains at large, and so do two others accused of helping to plan the attack.
FBI investigators believe the three men have moved back and forth between Iran and Lebanon.
“We track the intelligence, both from the U.S. community and from our counterparts overseas, all in an effort to find that window when we can actually apprehend these individuals and bring them to the Unites States so that justice will be served in this case,” says FBI Agent Michael Rolince.
FBI agents have been overseas repeatedly on their trail — once, they say, coming very close to making arrests.
The Stethems believe the U.S. must push Lebanon harder to cooperate; especially now with political changes there.
“Unless Lebanon will come forth and help us apprehend these criminals, I believe they should be considered a terrorist nation,” says Patricia Stethem.
Tuesday, Richard and Patricia Stethem visited their son's gravesite, resolving to keep pushing until his killers are behind bars.
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