Last night I heard a talk by a woman named Tricia Martel.
Martel was living in Petach Tikva when her mother died suddenly in Manchester on a Thursday afternoon in 1976. She couldn’t get a seat to London during the vacation season. Finally a travel agent suggested she fly to Paris on Air France, that had seats available for on Sunday’s flight.
Two Air France flights left that Sunday morning from Tel Aviv to Paris. One was a direct flight. The second stopped in Athens. Martell got on the plane to Athens.
Just after the plane took off two men, one fair and one dark, came running down the aisles. A woman came out of the galley. She was especially cruel. The three spoke to each other with numbers: The woman was called 10, the fair man 53 and the dark man 39. They carried guns and boxes of hand grenades and told the passengers that if they were quiet, no one would be hurt. When one man stood up and started yelling, #10 hit him with the side of her gun.
Next a man introduced himself over the loudspeaker as the new captain. He spoke cultured English with a slight German accent and sounded calm, even pleasant. He said that Algeria would not let the plane land, so they were continuing until they found a country to accept them.
At that point Martel decided that she was getting off that plane no matter what. All fear left her. She needed to get to Manchaster. Even after the captain announced that they would land in Benghazi, Libya, for refueling, she didn’t waver.
As a nurse, Martel thought she could fake a medical condition. She considered a heart attack, but she looked too young, and faking an asthma attack is difficult for more than a few minutes.
Martel decided that, as a woman, #10 would be afraid of a bloody mess. So she told her that she was 16 weeks pregnant and in pain with a threatened miscarriage. #10 called for a doctor and an Israeli gastroenterologist came over. Tricia whispered to him that she was fine, and just wanted to get off the plane. He said to her, “Don’t worry, we’re in this together.” He turned around and told #10 that Martel was just panicking and she seemed to be fine. Martel was furious with him.
She continued to moan so much that the Air France steward sitting in the next row told #10 that Martel needed more medical attention. When the doctor returned Martel told him firmly that she was getting off the plane, with or without him. This time the doctor reported that Martel needed to go to a hospital.
Tricia went to the cockpit to ask for her British passport, which had been confiscated by the terrorists. In the cockpit, the pilot sat while a man held a gun to his head. Martel convinced one of the male terrorists to return her passport, overriding #10.
She returned to her seat to retrieve her handbag. As she walked down the aisle toward the exit, each passenger in turn took her hand and squeezed it.
At the airport, a doctor brought her to a clinic. No one mentioned the miscarriage after that, as everyone knew it had been made up.
In Libya, she was treated well. At first they resisted letting her see the British consul but eventually he showed up, nattily dressed in a suit, tie and cuff-links despite the scorching desert heat. He told the Libyans to treat her well because she was a subject of Her Royal Majesty the Queen. The Libyans put her up in an ornate hotel and served her vegetarian food, as she kept kosher. They provided a bodyguard and chauffeur named Achmed, who showed her the sights and was curious about the price of bread in Israel and whether wives there listen to their husbands. The Libyans gave her a first-class ticket to London for Monday evening, one of only two weekly flights.
Martel and Idi Amin Go Way Back
The Air France plane sat at the Benghazi airport for seven hours before flying to Entebbe. When Martel heard, she was disappointed she hadn’t gone with them. You see, she knew Ugandan dictator Idi Amin personally. He had trained in Israel and had been her patient twice in Tel Hashomer hospital. As the resident English-speaking nurse, she had cared for him. He had his own room and because he dressed all in black, when she came into the room at night she couldn’t tell where he was. She had an idea that he might remember her and treat the hostages more kindly. Of course later she realized how foolish this was.
Return to Civilization
When Martel got to the plane, the pilot was introduced as the youngest commercial pilot in the world. She sat with him in the cockpit during the flight and listened to the BBC. When the plane stopped in Tripoli, the British ambassador came to see her at the airport. The stewardess, a Christian Lebanese, was the only woman Martel saw in Libya. Instead she saw a lot of pictures of Qaddafi.
When Martel debarked, reporters were everywhere. She was allowed to call her father and sister, then brought via the underground network of roads beneath Heathrow airport to the police station. There she was debriefed by the British for several hours, and shown 3000 pictures of terrorists. None matched. Then she flew to Manchester to the shiva (mourning) house. Reporters swarmed there too. The Israelis arrived the next day and showed her more photographs. The reporters lost interest in the story after the non-Jewish passengers were released in Entebbe.
When Martel arrived back in Israel on Friday, it took several hours to get through security because her passports weren’t in order.
Ten years after the hijacking, Martel appeared on the Mabat news program with Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, who had both participated in the Entebbe rescue. Rabin told her that she had been metumtemet (stupid).
Martel always felt bad for abandoning the other passengers, but has been warmly received at every reunion. No one blamed her for escaping, and her debriefings provided valuable details for the rescue mission. Until the first passengers were released in Entebbe, Martel was the only source of information about the situation on the plane.
More information can be found here: Entebbe Rescue Mission on Wikipedia