Leaving on a Jet Plane

October 1977

After a year in Northern Virginia learning the basics of my job as a radio technician/diplomat for the Office of Communications/Programs & Engineering (OC/PE) I was ready to move on.  I had checked off the 60% part of my mentor Norm Bates’ “60/40 Hypothesis:”

  • Completed technical schools
  • Supported SY (State Department Security) Protective Details
  • Learned the ins & outs of SECSTATE’s (US Department of State) telegraphic messaging.
  • Obtained skill at operation, implementation, and repair of the various radio equipments used at American missions overseas.
<feature photo Lufthansa Flight 181 by en.wikipedia.org

However, mastering the more esoteric 40% part of the 60/40 Hypothesis would require me to hit the ground running in the Foreign Service post at Am Consul Karachi. Note: one of the large components of the 40%, the skillful oration of “war stories,” was still beyond my grasp.

leavingonajetplane
photo by ukeleleclub.org

The night before my flight departed to London on my assignment to Karachi, Pakistan I heard Peter, Paul & Mary sing, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” by John Denver…

“All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin’
It’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’
He’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome
I could die”

There was nothing unusual about this other than the frequency and timing of its occurrence. Lately, every time the song played I’d get the call to travel. Later in life the song played less often on the airwaves. Still, it became a siren that alerted me that I would be traveling soon. It never failed—if I heard the song I’d be leaving on a jet plane to somewhere.

Pan Am Flight to London

pan-am-pinterest
photo by pinterest.com

The pilot hit his cruising altitude of thirty-some thousand feet. He turned off the “Fasten Seat Belt” lights. I was on my way for a two-day stopover in London before continuing on to Karachi, Pakistan. In business-class, I ordered a beer from the stewardess and leaned back in my seat.

Assignment to Am Consul Karachi: a new chapter in my life… Another “open gate” allowing me entrance. There’s something about flying at thirty-three thousand feet that clarifies the mind. It doesn’t hurt to have a few beers to expedite the process. Add some good music and I was literally in heaven, but I couldn’t help but survey my surroundings…

Lufthansa Flight 181 | International Terrorism

The stewardesses had handed out the International Herald Tribune newspaper before takeoff. Recently, terrorists had hijacked Lufthansa flight 181 after departure from Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. The four terrorists were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PLO. Their objective was to secure the release of imprisoned Red Army Faction leaders in Germany

lufthansa-hijacking-time-magazine-cover
photo by liveandletfly.com

Five days later, after several Middle East stopovers with intense negotiations, and threats to passengers, the ordeal had ended. Sadly, the terrorists had executed the Lufthansa pilot Jürgen Schumann in Aden, South Yemen before taking off to Mogadishu, Somalia.

After the co-pilot landed at Mogadishu, a German anti-terrorist squad (GSG-9) created a fire diversion on the runway in front of the plane. When the terrorists ran to the cockpit the German squad stormed the plane through the rear and traded gunfire with the terrorists.

Miraculously, all the passengers survived. Three out of the four terrorists had been killed. The incident backfired for the PLO and Red Army Faction. It resulted in the deaths of several members of the RAF in Germany.

The Middle East Powder Keg

The article about Lufthansa flight 181 got me to thinking. Flight 181 and many other terrorist incidents were the reason why I was on the Pan Am flight headed on assignment to Am Consul Karachi, Pakistan.

The Middle East had recently been described as a powder keg. The Office of Management & Budget (OMB) had allocated a lot of money and resources to protect American missions abroad:

  • Hiring of technical personnel
  • Physical security upgrades at American missions (by threat assessment precedence)
  • Radio programs upgrades (by threat assessment precedence)
  • Telephone programs upgrades (by threat assessment precedence)
  • Telegraphic (Crypto) programs upgrades (by threat assessment precedence)

As a member of the Regional Communications Office (RCO) at Am Consul Karachi I would be responsible for supporting Foreign Service personnel with radio systems and equipment at over forty American embassies and consulates. My title changed to Communications Electronic Officer (CEO). The responsibilities along with that title increased accordingly.

I would be traveling thousands of miles between Karachi and Athens. These were dangerous times and I was headed to dangerous places in the near future such as Beirut, Damascus, and Cairo.

a tale of two cities
photo by kikouskas.wordpress.com

I ordered another beer. The prospect of what lie ahead reminded me of Charles Dickens opening sentence in “A Tale of Two Cities:”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The stewardesses had handed out the headphones. I clicked on the control button for music. A familiar song played:

“Cause I’m leaving on a Jet Plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again…”

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