Episode 108: Tegel’s 707

Location:

Kol.Vor den Toren IV 272, 13629 Berlin (on Tegel’s tip)

Facts:

  • Hijacked in 1970
  • Given to West Berlin as a gift in 1986

On the edge of Tegel’s airport, near the Jungfernheide Forst, lies a massive and abandoned Boeing 707. Of course there is a story behind it. You’re in Berlin!

This story starts in Amsterdam on September 6th, 1970. The El Al flight 219 was in the air when it got hijacked as a part of a series of 4 hijacked planes by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) now called Dawson’s Field hijackings. Two of the four planes landed on Dawson’s Field in Jordan, one in Cairo and the fourth one, our Boeing 707, landed in London. It was the only of the Dawson’s Field hijackings that wasn’t successful.

Armed with guns and grenades, the two hijackers were ready to take over the plane, but they didn’t count on the pilot going for a nosedive. This move brought the plane into micro gravity, meaning that everyone without a seat belt lost their ground. This was perfect for an Israeli security guard on board to restrain one of the hijackers (who was later killed during the flight). The other hijacker, Leila Khaled, was ready to throw her grenade when passengers grabbed her and managed to place the safety pin back on. Three days later, a fifth plane was hijacked by the same group in order to exchange passengers for Khaled.

But what does this have to do with Berlin? This is a good and fair question. Not much, really, but what comes next does.

In the 1980s, Boeing bought the 707 back and gave it to Lufthansa as a present in November 1986 for buying its 200th Boeing plane. With that purpose, they painted the plane with the colors of the company. Problem was that Lufthansa could not land in West Berlin. At that time, German companies were not allowed to fly to Tegel since the airspace reaching this Western island in the GDR was only granted to the Allies. How to the deliver this massive package then? Well, under American registration the plane flew at night with the Lufthansa design camouflaged in white until the landing.

Although today inaccessible and seeming abandoned, Tegel’s 707 successful landing marked a very symbolic moment for the people of West Berlin.

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