Ulrike Patzelt (August 8, 1944 – February 18, 2005) a.k.a. Uli Derickson (by marriage), was a German American flight attendant best known for her role in helping protect 152 passengers and crew members during the June 14, 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by Organization of the Oppressed on Earth terrorists, a group with alleged links to Hezbollah.
Uli Derickson was born as Ulrike Patzelt on Aug. 8, 1944, in Ústí nad Labem, Czechoslovakia. Her family was expelled from Czechoslovakia while she was a child, and moved to East Germany. They later fled to West Germany. She worked in the UK and Switzerland as an au pair before emigrating to the United States in 1967.
In 1985, Derickson was serving as the lead flight attendant on Flight 847 between Athens and Rome when the flight was hijacked. Derickson took a kick to the chest from one of the hijackers as he forced her to go with him into the cockpit. The other hijacker — who was holding a grenade with the pin removed — started kicking open the door. Once inside, they pistol-whipped the pilot and flight engineer. The two hijackers spoke poor English, but one of them spoke German. Derickson was the only crew member able to speak German, which left her responsible for translating the hijackers' demands to the pilot. At one point, one of the two hijackers asked her to marry him, something she later described as the most terrifying moment of the ordeal.
The plane was diverted first to Beirut, where Derickson first pleaded with the hijackers to release the women on board the plane. After the hijackers refused, she successfully pleaded for the release of 17 elderly women and two children. The hijackers then directed the plane to Algiers. The ground crew in Algiers refused to refuel the plane without payment, leading the hijackers to threaten violence. It occurred to Derickson to offer her Shell Oil credit card. The ground crew charged about $5,500 for 6,000 gallons of fuel.
The hijackers then ordered the plane flown back to Beirut. On the way the first real violence started. The hijackers had earlier identified some American military personnel on the flight. They singled out U.S. Navy diver Robert D. Stethem. After beating him severely with an armrest, they shot Stethem and dumped his body on the ramp after landing. Additional henchmen boarded the plane to assist the hijackers. The plane then headed back toward Algiers, where Derickson and the rest of the women on board were released. The plane, now with only 39 American men on board as hostages, flew back to Beirut where they were held for 17 days. The ordeal ended on June 30 after Israel released 31 Lebanese prisoners, a fraction of the 766 the hijackers had demanded.
During the hijacking Derickson was asked to sort through passenger passports to single out people with Jewish-sounding names. Initial reports suggested that she had followed the orders. It was later revealed she had actually hidden the passports.
Aftermath, later life, and death
Because some reports had said that she had given the hijackers names of Jewish passengers on the flight, Derickson later received threats from extremist groups. When the truth about her efforts to protect Jewish passengers by hiding their passports was verified, she received threats from other extremists. Derickson’s family relocated to Arizona as a result of these threats. She moved to Delta Air Lines in the 1990s and continued her work there as a flight attendant. For her heroism Derickson was awarded the Silver Cross for Valor by the Legion of Valor, a veterans' organization. She was the first woman to be honoured thus. A 1988 TV movie based on her experience, The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story featuring Lindsay Wagner as Derickson, received five Emmy nominations.
Subsequently, Derickson testified as a prosecution witness at the trial of Mohammed Ali Hamadi, one of the hijackers convicted of murdering Stethem. He received a life sentence. She later advised TWA, Delta Air Lines and the FBI on crisis management.
Derickson was still working as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines when she was diagnosed with cancer in August 2003. She died on February 18, 2005, at the age of 60. She was survived by her son, Matthew, who resides in California and by her mother who resides in Nuremberg, Germany.