Thursday, October 13, 1977, began as just another routine trip for the crew of Lufthansa Flight 181, as the Boeing 737 departed the island of Palma de Mallorca bound for Frankfurt Germany. Onboard, 86 passengers and five crew members went about their business, while the coast of mainland Europe slipped by below them. Little did they know that it would take an ordeal to eventually reach their destination.

Some 30 minutes into the flight, two men and two women wearing Che Guevera T-shirts rose from their seats brandishing pistols and hand grenades, while shouting commands to the passengers. They called themselves Commando Martyr Halime. Their leader, a Palestinian with the alias ‘Martyr Mahmud‘, forced his way into the cockpit and ordered the co-pilot to join the passengers.

Jurgen Schumann, the pilot, listened as Mahmud told him to set course for Cyprus. Schumann countered saying they didn’t have enough fuel and would have to land in Rome first.

Siegfried Hausner Commando, a faction of the German pro-communist terrorist organization known as the Red Army Faction, had allied themselves with the hijackers and demanded the release of 10 RAF compatriots from a German prison, along with two Palestinians held in Turkey. In addition, they wanted 15 million dollars in exchange for the lives of the passengers. Germany began negotiations, and at 5:45 p.m., the jet lifted off from Rome without clearance and headed for Cyprus.

On the ground in Cyprus, a representative from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) arrived and attempted to negotiate the hostages’ release. Mahmud yelled at him over the radio and the man eventually gave up. At 10:50 p.m., the aircraft departed Cyprus and found itself being denied landing rights in Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus, and Kuwait. The only remaining airport was Bahrain, which they received word was closed. Schumann informed them they had to land again because of low fuel. A flight controller relented and they touched down at 1:52 a.m., only to have troops surround them, then withdraw after Mahmud held a gun to the co-pilot’s head and threatened to kill him. They refueled and left Bahrain, this time for Dubai.

Dubai ordered the runways blocked with vehicles, but as the plane made a low pass, Schumann pleaded with them to let them land as they once again were at their fuel limit. The vehicles, at last, raced away and they touched down in the morning light.

The terrorists ordered food and water to be brought in and the garbage to be removed. Seizing on the opportunity, Schumann proceeded to throw cigarette stubs out the hatch which informed the Germans on-site as to the number of terrorists. The information made its way to the Dubai authorities, who in turn gave an interview to journalists. The terrorists found out about it and Mahmud threatened to kill Schumann if refueling didn’t begin. What the terrorists didn’t know is that the Germans belonged to a unit that had arrived in Dubai shortly after Flight 181’s landing. The unit was led by a 48-year-old Oberleutnant( Lieutenant Colonel) named Ulrich Wegener, the man who had founded and commanded Grenshutzgruppe 9 (Border Guard Group 9), better known as GSG-9, Germany’s police counter-terrorism unit.

GSG-9 was created after the German police’s bungling of the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which Palestinian terrorists slaughtered Israeli hostages on a runway tarmac while being engaged by ill-trained sharpshooters. Determined not to repeat the past, Germany decreed the creation of a police counter-terrorism unit; soon thereafter on April 17, 1973, GSG-9 was born.