Operation Magic Fire
Crouching in the dark, faces camouflaged with black
paint, gripping MP5s and .38 revolvers, the commandos
of the elite German counter-terrorist unit, Grenzshutzgruppe
9 (Border Protection Group 9), or GSG9 in short form.
The men carefully positioned themselves around exits
of the Lufthansa Boeing 737. They placed rubber-tipped
ladders against the fuselage, and set magnetic charges
on the exit doors of the airplane. In a few moments
they would storm the aircraft, and if all went well,
free all of the hostages unharmed.
Five days earlier, on October 13, 1977, around 1300
hrs., Lufthansa Flight LH181, Boeing 737 Charlie Echo
lifted off the tarmac at the Palma, Majorca airport.
Captain Jurgen Schumann, the pilot, set his autopilot
on course for southern France, but little did he know
that he and the passengers would never reach its destination.
An hour into the flight, the airplane was hijacked
by four Arab terrorists - two men and two women. Schumann
informed air traffic control that his airplane had
been hijacked and that he had been ordered to fly
to Rome. Right after that, the voice of the lead terrorist,
known as "Captain Mahmoud," broke in, and
in broken English, demanded the release of Baader-Meinhof
terrorists jailed in Germany, and also a 9 million
pound ransom for the aircraft and the hostages. While
in Rome, Schumann managed to drop through his cabin
window four cigarette boxes, signaling the authorities
that there were four terrorists on board. After several
days of criss-crossing the Mediterranean, Mahmoud
ordered the pilot to land at Mogadishu airport in
Somalia, except now, flying the aircraft was the co-pilot,
Vietor, as Mahmoud killed Schumann, accusing him of
communicating with the authorities.
Almost from the start of the hijacking, a GSG9 team
was placed on alert. The unit's commander, Ulrich
Wegener, a counter-terrorist expert, loaded his men
up on a specially outfitted 707, codenamed "Stuttgart,"
and had the pilot follow the hijacked airplane. The
"Stuttgart," landed at Mogadishu on October
17, at 1730 hours. Wegener's first course of action
was isolating the aircraft, and sending a GSG9 scout
team to observe the airplane. He then set up snipers
around the hijacked 737. One hour after landing, Wegener
was running through the assault plan with his twenty-man
GSG9 force, as well as two SAS advisers that were
asked by Wegener to join the rescue.
On the airplane, time was running out for the hostages.
Mahmoud was threatening to blow up the airplane if
his demands weren't met. Emphasizing his point, he
threw Schumann's body onto the tarmac. This was a
fatal mistake. To buy precious time, negotiators had
told him that 11 terrorists were being released from
prison. Their bluff successfully extended Mahmoud's
deadline until 0230, but it was now clear that the
plane had to be stormed.
Towards midnight, a small force of GSG9 scouts crawled
into the desert, some 30m from the airplane. Studying
it through IR goggles they confirmed the locations
of two terrorists. The assault was set in motion.
The final briefing was given, weapons loaded, flashbang
grenades secured. "Magic Fire" had begun.
Once inside the airplane, Wegener would give the command
"heads down," and anyone left standing was
to be shot.
At 0100 hours, the GSG9 team, and SAS officers Major
Alistair Morrison, and Sgt., Barry Davies, carrying
their new flashbang grenades, slowly moved towards
the aircraft. Approaching from the rear, the operators
took up their positions by emergency exits. At 0207,
Somali militiamen and Special Forces set a huge bonfire
a hundred yards in front of the cockpit. It was meant
as a diversion to bring all the terrorists into the
cockpit. At 0208, the main attack went in. Wegener
uttered the codeword "Zauber Feurer, (Magic Fire),"
and the doors were forced open. Flashbangs were tossed
in, exploding with 50,000 watt brilliance, blinding
the terrorists, and giving the twenty-man assault
force to enter the aircraft without problems.
One female terrorist was encountered and was immediately
taken out by a .38 shot to the head. Another female
terrorist ran to the back of the plane, hiding in
a toilet. She was wounded by a MP5 9mm blast. She
would be the only terrorist survivor. With the rear
of the airplane secure, operators commenced evacuating
the hostages. The battle for the cockpit still raged
on. Mahmoud, wounded by several .38 shots, managed
to throw two grenades into the cabin, which luckily
exploded under the seats, slightly injuring several
hostages and an operator. Mahmoud was killed by an
MP5 burst. Wegener shot the last terrorist four times
in the head, ending the operation. Five minutes after
the commencement of the assault, Wegener signaled
the ending of the mission with the codeword "Springtime."
By 0500, the hostages and GSG9 troopers were on their
way back to Germany, to receive a hero's welcome.