A Survivor’s Story of Life After A Terrorist Hijacking
Jackie Pflug became a victim of terrorism in 1985 as she flew from Athens, Greece to Cairo, Egypt. The hijacking of Egypt Flight 648 turned into one of the world’s most dramatic and deadly hijackings. Fifty-nine passengers died during the ordeal.
“The hijackers told the authorities they were going to start shooting people one by one if the engines weren’t fueled. That’s exactly what they did. Every 15 minutes, they would bring someone up. We were taken to the front of the plane with our hands tied behind our backs. One by one---first with the Israelis and then with the Americans. They opened the door, put a gun to our heads and then pulled the trigger. I was the fifth one to be singled out. Something inside of me said it would be all right. I stood there and the terrorist pulled the trigger. I instantly felt this heavy feeling in my head. I felt like my brain had just exploded. I was floating and tumbling…my body was hitting the staircase as they threw me down to the tarmac. I actually thought I was in heaven. I opened my eyes and I was still on the ground. That’s when I played dead---holding my breath and letting it out slowly.”
When the workers at the morgue finally picked up Jackie’s body, five hours after she was thrown on the airport runway, they thought she was dead.
“Because everyone else shot in the head didn’t make it. We were on our way to the morgue when a man next to me flipped me over because he didn’t like looking at the gun wound on my head. He put me on my back and that’s when I gasped for air. He started to scream, ‘she’s alive, she’s alive.’ We quickly turned directions and went to the hospital instead of the morgue.”
From that moment on, Jackie did everything she could to recover from the execution style shooting. Despite her efforts, the head wound left a permanent mark on the young teacher.
“I got shot on the right side of my head and l lost a lot of my sight, short term memory and expressive language. Fortunately, my ability to express myself has returned almost a hundred percent. My vision never did improve. I just see pieces of everything.”
While trying to reclaim control of her life, Jackie couldn’t stop thinking about the man who shot her. She wanted to make his life miserable.
“Now, there were 5 hijackers on board. They all died either during the gun battle or the storming of the plane except for one. He’s the one who shot everyone. At first, he was sentenced to 25 years in a Malta prison and released after eight because of good behavior and pressure from Libya. He is now serving time in the United States in a federal prison. For so long, I was connected to him. I wanted to make him as miserable as I could even though I never saw him again. When he was in Malta, I would called the prison everyday to make sure he wasn’t a happy man.”
The anger eventually overwhelmed Jackie. But, guided by a therapist, Jackie realized she had to let go of the bitterness or it would destroy her.
“I was angry and bitter around the people I loved. I’d snap at them. I had these huge headaches and had epilepsy. I knew I had to let go or my physical body would not have made it through. I would probably be dead by the end of the year because of what I was doing to myself…the anger I was holding in. I finally saw a therapist three times a week and with her guidance, I started to let go of some of the anger.”
Although it took her sixteen years to forgive the terrorist who shot her, Jackie says life has taught her an invaluable lesson: forgiveness frees the forgiver more than the forgiven.
“It’s not a road that goes really fast. It sort of goes slow. Sometimes you think you’re backing up, but you’re really moving forward. There were times I thought I was in forgiveness because I felt lighthearted. You could see that genuine smile in my face. Then there were times when I felt out of forgiveness. During the trial, I saw him. At that moment, I realized I had forgiven him. I had finally released the anger that was inside of me and, for the first time in years, moved on with my life.”
Thanks to her therapist, Jackie was able to release the anger and the pain. Thanks to the power of prayer, Jackie found encouragement when times became unbearable. In her book, “Miles To Go Before I Sleep: A Survivor’s Story of Life After a Terrorist Hijacking,” Jackie writes, “In my darkest hour, I did the only thing I could think of. With my body shivering from fear and tears streaming down my face, I prayed. I shut out the noise and clamor of the world and closed my eyes. I remembered how in my loneliest hour on earth, I had found peace, serenity and the courage to face death. If I could that, couldn’t I also face life? The answer was clear. I could. I knew God would listen.”