The Pan Am Podcast

Episode 43: Terror at the Rome Airport, December 1973 Attack

December 15, 2023 Pan Am Museum Foundation Season 3 Episode 43
The Pan Am Podcast
Episode 43: Terror at the Rome Airport, December 1973 Attack
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Show Notes

This is a special memorial edition of this program and recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Rome airport attack. We are  joined by two survivors that were on a Pan Am plane that was firebombed at the Rome airport on December 17, 1973: Pan Am Flight Engineer Ken Pfrang and Pan Am passenger B.J. Geisler.

B.J. is the author of the recently published book, Terror on Pan Am Flight 110.

This episode is a follow up to "Episode 6: Hijackings and the Dawn of Global Terrorism." If you haven’t heard this episode, we encourage you to do so after listening to this installment.

In order to understand the gravity of global terrorism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it is important to examine the 1967 six day war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries, the September 1970 hijacking of four airplanes all bound for United States, as a direct result of those hijacking…the subsequent Jordanian civil war also known as Black September(Sep. 1970- Jul. 1971), and the Munich Olympic attacks in 1972. These topics are discussed in Episode 6.

In the early afternoon of Monday, December 17, 1973 at Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, a Pan Am Boeing 707, registration number N407PA, named Clipper Celestial was getting ready for departure with 53 passengers onboard and nine crew members.

At around 12:51 local time, five members of a radical Palestinian terrorist group pulled out weapons from their luggage in the airport terminal lounge and opened fire killing two people. They then ran out of the terminal on the tarmac and then attacked the Pan Am jet by running up the boarding stairs of the front and rear doors and threw three hand grenades inside the plane.

A total of 29 persons, including 4 senior Moroccan officials and 17 ARAMCO employees and family members were killed on the aircraft. Passenger Bonnie Presnell died later at the hospital with severe burns bringing the total killed from the attack on the Pan Am plane to 30.

We remember them…

The Pan Am Employees and Family:
Diana Perez, Purser; Lambert Tununga, Pan Am Catering; Bonnie Erbeck, wife of Captain Andrew Erbeck

Members of the Moroccan government:
Inani Abdelatif, Moroccan state secretary for economic planning; Mounlr Doukkali, Moroccan undersecretary of state for youth and sports; Mohammad Lazrak, general secretary at the Moroccan Ministry of Commerce and Indust

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A very special thanks to Mr. Adam Aron, Chairman and CEO of AMC and president of the Pan Am Historical Foundation and Pan Am Brands for their continued and unwavering support!