The recent screening by Where's Everybody? on TVM of the programme on the hijacking of Egyptair Flight MS 648 in November 1985 failed to get to the core of the story. It was the responsibility of the Maltese authorities to deal with the issue with a certain amount of sobriety but this was not done when a stand was taken, with fatal results, not to allow the American officials - who had come to guide the Egyptian commandos in any attempt to free the hostages - to participate in any way. When the Egyptians landed they brushed the Maltese soldiers aside and took up positions near the steel tower on Park 9. One of the three Americans, led by a major-general, was detained at the helicopter flight base for the duration of the hijack and the two others were allowed to go to the American Embassy in Floriana when the ambassador was warned they were not to move from there.
American aircraft were on standby at Sigonella in Sicily with listening devices and other equipment to monitor the hijackers. An expert for the aircraft manufacturers Boeing was also waiting to fly to Malta with diagrams of the aircraft lay-out. But those conducting the negotiations in the control tower were obsessed by their anti-American feelings, a feature of those running Malta at the time.
Although soldiers had been posted close to the aircraft, these were not given ammunition for the guns. Those in the control tower thought, despite the confusion inside, they could do things better than a recently trained incident management team of the Maltese armed forces which was not even considered. The whole of Malta could follow the negotiations over the two days as this could be picked up on any portable radio or at home.
Nobody mentioned that Jackie Pflug, who was the fifth person to be shot and was recovered with a bullet in her head after five hours senseless on the tarmac under the aircraft, still today has the bullet in her head, suffering for many years from epilepsy and emotional disorders.
There were so many stories that needed telling: The Egyptian commandos blowing up the aircraft simply by putting their explosive at the most vulnerable spot, among the oxygen tanks; the efforts of the members of the Special Mobile Unit of the police to control the Egyptians when they went berserk; the nationalities which were killed, including babies and pregnant women and a prominent Mexican actress;, and the indignation of those who came to collect the Moslem victims to find they had been placed in coffins with a cross.
But perhaps a proper indication of the confusion came when, soon after the Egyptian attack, the senior officer of the Maltese Task Force in the control tower excitedly told the reporters of the state radio and television, at that time under the control of Labour party stalwarts, that the passengers had been liberated so that Malta television told a tense island: "Maltese security forces have stormed the plane and the hijackers have given themselves up" when the rest of the local and foreign press corps had already told their offices that there had been a massacre, so that people in Malta knew of the tragedy first from the Rai news bulletin.
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