March 5, 2005 by

Uli Derickson


Categories: Heroes

Uli Derickson, the heroic Trans World Airlines flight attendant who negotiated with terrorist hijackers to save the lives of her passengers, died on Feb. 18 from cancer. She was 60.
Derickson was born Ulrike Patzelt in Aussig an der Elbe, Czechoslovakia, and raised in Bavaria. She worked as an au pair in Britain and Switzerland then immigrated to the United States in 1967 and became a flight attendant for TWA.
Derickson had been on the job for nearly 20 years when TWA Flight 847 was hijacked on June 14, 1985. While en route from Athens to Rome, two Lebanese terrorists took over the airplane and beat the pilot and the flight engineer. She was physically abused as well until one of them realized she could speak in German. At that point, she served as their translator and the passengers’ guardian.
Although she was terrified, Derickson maintained her composure. During the 36-hour ordeal, which involved several stops in the Middle East, she managed to persuade the hijackers to release 17 elderly women and two children. Knowing the terrorists would hurt or kill any Jews, she hid the passports of people with Jewish-sounding names. And when the ground crew in Algiers refused to refuel the plane without compensation, Derickson charged $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of jet fuel to her Shell credit card.
Most of the passengers, including Derickson, were released from captivity in Algiers on June 17. However, 39 American remained on the plane for 17 more days until Israel agreed to release 31 Lebanese prisoners. Thanks to her quick thinking and ability to remain calm under extreme pressure, all but one of the 152 passengers and crew survived the hijacking. Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver, was beaten and shot to death by the terrorists. His body was dumped on the tarmac in Beirut. Two other U.S. servicemen — Navy diver Clinton Suggs and reserve Army officer Kurt Carlson — were also beaten.
In the years following the hijacking, Derickson received numerous death threats from extremist groups. Some threatened her for not doing enough to shield the Jewish passengers; others wished her harm because they felt she did too much to help them. She also testified in West Germany against Mohammed Ali Hamadi, one of the hijackers who murdered Stethem. He was convicted and received a life sentence.
Derickson continued to fly until her retirement in 2003, and was the first woman to receive the Silver Cross for Valor. Her harrowing experience was also recounted in the 1988 TV movie “The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story.” Lindsay Wagner played Derickson in the film, which received five Emmy nominations.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

15 Responses to Uli Derickson

  1. Ulie Grant

    Being that we both had similar names as flight attendants with TWA, I was frequently asked “Are you …?” No. that was not me, but Uli was a very gracious and consciencious person and a symbol of a great flight attendant. She was well respected by many at TWA — she did a lot, not only for her passengers but the company. She will be missed — any greatly respected for all the efforts she took to do a great job.

  2. Kapye Fargason

    I flew with Uli when I flew out of New York. She often flew with her husband and he would do anouncments in German.She also taught the flight attends the value of using a loofa to keep your skin wrinkle free. I have no problem seeing her as
    a hero and I know those of us that were glued to our t.v. sets in June of 1985 were proud of her and T.W.A. I did not know she had died, we have lost a valuable member of society, a gental being and a true hero

  3. Claudia Heinowski

    More then just a tribute as Uli was indeed a wonderful person, I am also interested in finding her husband Russell, and/or their son Matthew. My father William Harold Derickson, is a distant relative of Russel Derickson. My faather William, and wife Evelyn met Uli, and Russell, and had their picture taken with her. She also met many of my father’s brothers, and sisters. One of whom is Samuel E. Derickson. Sam Derickson’s oldest son is Russell Derickson, and my one and only child is a son Russel E. Heinowski. He will soon be 30. I believe Russel, and Uli’s son Matthew is about same age. Maybe. 5-10 years. older. I’d like some personal information On Uli’s Husband Russel, and their son Matthew. My father William H. Derickson passed away in 1996, but my mother Evelyn is still alive, and living in O’Neill, Ne.
    She as well, as I would love to know the where abouts Of Russel, and Matthew Derickson. My son is Russel E. Heinowski, and is intrested in some personal data as well. Anyone with any information can contact me at : Thank You Claudia Claire Derickson Heinowski

  4. Michael Penton

    I did not know Uli, but I wish I had. I’ve seen “The Taking Of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story”, or “The Flight” as it was released on VHS, and I too find her a true hero. As a fellow Flight Attendant for Southwest, I cannot imagine what a horrific situation she was in. I think all of us in the airline industry, especially Flight Attendants, should know about her incredible acts of bravery on that aircraft. TWA was indeed very fortunate to have her as a Flight Attendant.

  5. Ed Burleson

    My wife (Sybil Melton) and myself were privileged to know Russ and Uli when we lived in Tucson, AZ in 1987. Russ and I belonged to the same gun club and quickly became friends. While dining in their home one evening Uli recounted some of the events of her story and was still having nightmares about the experience. Russ also arranged for me to meet the jeweler Jose Grant of Stamford CT as I purchased a business in Stamford and would be marrying Sybil in the near future. I would like to know how Russ and Matthew are doing and if they cannot respond I want them to know that Sybil and I are truly shocked to find Uli has passed away at such an early age. For those who new them as friends understand our sadness. We are currently living in Lake Norman, NC and would appreciate hearing from someone about the health of Russ and Matthew.
    Ed Burleson

  6. R.H

    What a brave lady. IIRC, her husband had passed away from cancer before she died. The Captain, John Testrake also passed a few years ago as well…. True heroes.

  7. Melinda Dopper Lissauer

    I was raised within TWA as both my parents were TWAers; I traveled extensively thanks to The Company; and always avoided seeing the TV film about TW847 because I knew it would be painful to watch. I did not know Uli or any of the crew of TW847 but that didn’t matter; they were family. I finally saw the film on cable today and am even more proud of all concerned. With TWA only a memory now, Uli and her story provide a glorious chapter to the Company legacy. I am sorry I never had the chance to meet Uli but she was a great American heroine.

  8. Claudia Heinowski

    To Ed. Burlson:
    Uli’s Husband Russel Derickson has passed away also.
    Uli, and Russel were both very special people, and both greatly missed.
    For more contact:
    Included something to prove you knew Russell, and Uli. I believe you, but want to avoid fraud.

  9. Sailesh J. Nath

    I am soon to receive my wings and start a new career as a Flight Attendant with Skyservice Airlines here in Canada. Today in class my instructor spoke of Mrs. Derickson and that he had the honour of meeting her. Reading her story makes me feel so proud that I am going into this profession because a woman like Mrs. Derickson has paved the way for me.
    May her legacy live on forever.

  10. genesis

    Uli was a great lady. I can’t believe she could handle more than three days on that plane. I would never forget her or her brave. Sleep in peace Uli and may God be with you forever and ever.

  11. Twin Jalanugraha

    I’m a flight attendant for Delta airlines and had a pleasure to work with Uli on many of our flights from Los Angeles to Frankfurt. She was a great lady to work with and great fun to be with during our layovers. One day, when we were leaving Frankfurt airport, I heard someone yelled my name “Twin!” and right in the middle of the busy airport, she gave me a bear hug. Some of my crew who knew of her (but didn’t know her personally) was amazed that little young (and junior) flight attendant would get a nice hello from someone who was so special. It brakes my heart to hear that she had passed away but I know that what she did had saved so many lives and she will never be forgotton.

  12. Allison

    Hello – I am hoping to correspond ( with anyone who knew Uli personally and/or professionally and would appreciate your writing and sharing your experiences with me.
    Thank you,

  13. joseph kruger

    4/11/08 pm
    Uli Derickson Will be visited again by the undeserver kindness and the gauranteed
    resurrection by the grace of Christ Jesus, the
    only begotten son of the sovereign of the universe.
    “It is impossible for God to lie!”
    Hebrews 6:18 NWT
    John 5: 28-29 NWT
    Psalm 83:18 NWT
    May the Great Jehovah remember Uli Derickson!

  14. Doug Chapman

    Beleive it or not the same TWA Boeing 727 N64339 made TWAs last Boeing 727 flight from New Orleans to St.Louis on September 2000.There is a youtube video on it.At the end of the video it shows the
    registration and then a photo of the navy diver
    who was murdered during the 1985 hi-jacking.

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