Yesterday was July 4th (well, duh, of course, since today’s July 5th), but it was more than the 239th anniversary of America’s independence; it was also the 39th anniversary of one of the most flawless hostage rescue operations of all time, the Raid on Entebbe aka Operation Thunderbolt. The raid brought attention to the terror that was Idi Amin, brought posthumous fame to Yoni Netanyahu, the young and educated commander of the operation (and brother of future Prime Minister of Israel Bibi Netanyahu), and laid the foundation for many future hostage rescues.
But one of the real heroes went relatively unsung: Patricia Martell.
A short history lesson:
In mid-June 1976, a regularly scheduled Air France flight took from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens. When the plane landed in Athens, about 50 people got off, and 30 more got on. Once in the air, four of those who boarded in Athens – two Palestinian men, a German man, and a German woman – hijacked the plane and diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda. They decided to hold the passengers hostage in exchange for 53 Palestinian prisoners to be released from jails in Israel and Europe.
Eventually, they landed in Entebbe, and through crazy good planning and very good luck, the Israeli intelligence drew up a rescue plan in 5 days and rescued (almost) all the hostages in Uganda on July 4, 1976. It took all of 90 minutes.
Pretty smooth operation.
Once the plane was hijacked and headed to Africa, the pilots told the hijackers that they were low on fuel and they wouldn’t make it, so they made a refueling stop in Benghazi, Libya. They had only stopped briefly and did not allow anyone off the plane. However, one passenger, a British-Israeli woman named Patricia Martell, had a plan.
Ms. Martell went up to the hijackers, asked to get off the plane because she was pregnant and had miscarried. Her pants were stained with blood and she was still bleeding everywhere.
The hijackers (including the one lady hijacker, who might have had some sympathy for the bleeding woman), were probably like:
So, Patricia Martell got off the plane.
But…she didn’t have a miscarriage.
She wasn’t even pregnant.
She was, however, a nurse in an Israeli hospital who happened to a) have a sharp object in her purse, like a knitting needle or scissors or something (this was pre-9/11, so you could take just about anything on a plane), b) know exactly where to stab herself on the inner thigh to cause a lot of bleeding but not sever an artery, and c) the guts to do it to herself and then lie about it.
Once Patty got into the Benghazi Airport, she headed straight for the Libyan Airlines counter (hopefully having changed her pants) and booked tickets on the next flight to London. She arrived later that day, where she immediately went to Scotland Yard and the Israeli embassy to give testimony which proved to be decisive. In the days before Twitter or Facebook, Ms. Martell gave the all-too-important details and descriptions of the hijackers, the passengers, the plane, and where they could be.
She is still alive and living in Israel. In a 2006 interview, regretted her decision, saying that it was “pretty stupid,” but considering what resulted, I’d disagree.
And that’s how a problem with someone’s lady parts played a part in stopping a hijacking, saving hostages, and stopping an international incident.
Well done, Patricia Martell. You do you.
“Entebbe Thirty Years On: Mancunian on Board.” Jewish Telegraph. <http://www.jewishtelegraph.com/enteb_2.html>. Web.
Kerr, Gordon and Phil Clarke. Hostages: Dramatic Accounts of Real Life Events. London: Canary Press eBooks, 2013. Web.