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Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, all set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-THREE:
Today’s episode is about one of the most disturbing acts of terrorism to be perpetrated in London’s West End. So shocking and violent, it was unlike anything we had seen before. And yet, outside of the victim’s loved ones, this tragedy is entirely forgotten.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
This is the location of the London Marriot Hotel on Duke Street in Mayfair, formerly known as The Europa Hotel, where the attack on the flight crew of El-Al 016 took place. It is marked with a dark blue cross near the words 'Bond Street'. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
This is the location of the London Marriot Hotel on Duke Street in Mayfair, formerly known as The Europa Hotel, where the attack on the flight crew of El-Al 016 took place, with a few extra videos below. This is just a link to YouTube, so don't worry, it won't eat up your data.
SOURCES: The bulk of the information was taken from news sources of that era, as well as the following information where possible.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode is about one of the most disturbing acts of terrorism to be perpetrated in London’s West End. So shocking and violent, it was unlike anything we had seen before. But outside of the victim’s loved ones, this tragedy is practically forgotten.
Murder Mile is researched using authentic sources. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details. And as a dramatization of the real events, it may also feature loud and realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 133: The Termination of El-Al Flight 016.
Today I’m standing on Duke Street in Mayfair, W1; three streets east of the Hyde Park bombing, one street east of the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, one street south of Elsie Goldsmith’s electrical abortion, and one street north of the slaughtered family of Joseph King – coming soon to Murder Mile.
Interconnecting with the bustling shopping splurge of Oxford Street and running parallel with the over-priced hotels of Park Lane, Duke Street is one of those posh little places which is unremittingly vague. Unlike Bond Street – a haven for pouty pointless puppets so socially vapid they wear their personality – Duke Street has nothing but an okay café, a generic pizzeria, a nondescript newsagent, a dull coffee-chain, a few pubs and a five-star hotel. It’s almost as if it doesn’t want to be remembered for anything.
Look up any wall in Mayfair and you’ll see a series of plaques commemorating all manner of historical nonsense. Reading like the city’s footnotes, their connection is often a little bit tenuous. As with stately pomp, they proudly declare ‘here a famous composer lived... for a bit’, ‘a science boffin did some stuff upstairs... just not their best stuff’, ‘here an author sneezed’, ‘an actor breathed’ and ‘a businessman did a thing good for the poor... so please ignore their sex-crimes, fraud and history as a slave trader’.
On the corner of Grosvenor Square and Duke Street sits the London Marriott Hotel, a colossal seven-storey five-star hotel, formerly known as the Europa. With fine-dining, soft sheets and its staff trained to cater to our every whim, for many it’s the perfect place to unwind after a long flight to London.
Outside on the brick lined drive is often sat a flank of silver Mercedes shuttling guests from the airport to the hotel. To make their stay more pleasurable, the second a guest sets foot in the grand entrance, they’re greeted by the concierge, given keys by reception and their bags are whisked away by porters.
For the crew of El-Al Flight 016, the Europa was a regular stop-over between Heathrow and New York. It was familiar and welcoming, and being tired, they looked forward to a lovely meal and a good night’s sleep... but before they could even reach the door, nine lives would be changed forever.
The termination of El-Al Flight 016 was one of the bloodiest acts of terrorism in London’s dark history, but there are no memorials to the fallen, no plaques to the survivors and no statues to the dead.
As it was here, on Sunday 20th August 1978 at 1:34pm, that this peaceful hotel entrance was turned into a bloodbath. But just as quickly as this atrocity had ended... it was forgotten forever. (Interstitial)
Of the twenty-one strong crew of El-Al 016, not one of them was the true target of the terrorists... but when there’s a war of words between governments and groups, it’s always the innocent who are hurt.
On the 28th September 1948, the inaugural flight of El-Al Airlines, Israel’s flagship carrier began in very inauspicious circumstances. With Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, due to attend a conference in Switzerland but blockaded by a travel embargo imposed on the country’s military aircraft, an Israeli C-54 transport carrier was repainted with a fake logo and a made-up name, and flown non-stop from Tel Aviv to Geneva and back again the next day, where it was repainted and returned to military duties.
Two weeks later, El-Al Israel Airlines was formed, with the bulk of its acquisition funded by the Israeli government - just like Air Canada, Air France, Qantas and British Airways who were all once state-owned. Since the mid-1950s, El-Al has expanded to serve more than fifty domestic, commercial and cargo destinations across Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, Africa, Australia and the Far East.
Originating from a country of 74% Jews and 21% Arabs, El Al only offers kosher in-flight meals and its planes do not fly on the Shabbat and Jewish holidays, therefore this inequality is often representative of Israel’s ongoing conflict, being a region blighted by war, bloodshed and persecution.
As a symbol of the Israeli government, since the late-60’s, El-Al Airlines has had many acts of terrorism perpetrated upon it by the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), an anti-Zionist terror group who do not recognise the State of Israel, oppose any negotiations with the government and draw attention to the plight of their occupied lands through hijackings, bombings and assassinations.
Because of these acts of terror, El-Al is regarded as one of the world’s most secure airlines; being one of the first to introduce compulsory bag-searches, metal detectors and x-ray scanners. El-Al are also the only commercial airliners equipped with the ‘Flight-Guard’ anti-missile-defence system to protect its planes against surface-to-air missiles. And to ensure the safety of its flight crews abroad, El-Al even provides a flank of armed escorts on their transfer-buses to-and-from the airports and the hotels.
For the crew of El-Al 016, Sunday 20th August 1978 would mark the end of a very ordinary day. For the pilot, the co-pilot, the engineer, the stewards and the stewardesses, the political upheaval and conflict of their homeland was far from their minds, as all that mattered - at that very moment - was a hot meal, a warm bath, a cool drink and a good night’s sleep, before their flight home back to Israel.
Every crew-member was an innocent...
...and yet, they were targeted because they worked for El-Al.
(Airliner sounds / Bing / Intercom) “Ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. Welcome on board El-Al Flight 016, a Boeing 747 out of Newark. The weather is good and with a flight time of six-and-a-half hours, we will arrive into London Heathrow at 11:35am. Onboard are our attendants - Michel Unger, Yehudit Arnon, Yulie Cohen and Irit Gidron – and on behalf of myself and the rest of the crew, I would like to wish you all a good flight and thank you for flying El-Al Airlines”. (take-off)
With most of the flight-crew in their twenties, many were new but all were proud to be part of Israel’s premier airline. It was a pride reflected in their uniforms, with each stewardess looking resplendent in an orange striped blouse, cream-coloured heels, a bright orange skirt and a silk scarf which matched the airline’s livery. For many of the crew onboard El-Al 016, this marked the start of a bright future...
...but for some, this flight would be their last. (jet flies away)
By the 1970’s, the unrest in Israel had intensified, but many foreign governments still saw this ‘little war’ as “there problem, not ours”. Having aligned with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), the PFLP and rival terror groups sought to bring their campaign of terror to foreign soil, as wave-after-wave of bomb-blasts brought fear and bloodshed to city-after-city, until the foreign powers sat up and took notice. One of which was the British Government, with a key target for terrorism being London.
The attacks were deliberately random. Sometimes they gave warnings to minimise the casualties but maximise the fear. Other-times, they didn’t. Some targets were high-profile, others were unknown.
By the mid-to-late 1970’s, the PFLP had begun firing rocket-propelled grenades at El-Al airliners, they had escalated their arsenal of atrocities, the innocent casualties were seen as forgettable loss in their fight to free the Holy Land, and the hijacking and the bombing of airliners had become commonplace.
(Airliner / Bing / Intercom) “Ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. The time is 11:35am and we have arrived on schedule at London Heathrow. Once again, on behalf of myself and the flight crew of El-Al 016, we would like the thank you for flying with El-Al Airlines”. (engine shuts down)
For the passengers, it was an uneventful flight; they ate, slept and the worst they would experience was a lost bag or a bit of jetlag, being six-hours behind their body-clock. The Boeing 747 was cleaned, refuelled and a new crew boarded this return flight to Newark, as El-AL Flight 016 terminated.
For its exhausted crew of twenty-one men and women, this would be a regular stopover, in a familiar city, at a hotel their company had a long-standing contract with. With their next flight scheduled for early the next morning, the turn-around would be tight, but there would still be a little time for fun.
At 12:40pm, on Sunday 20th August 1978, they boarded a transfer bus at Terminal Three. (bus departs)
Security at UK airports by the late 1970’s was lax; x-ray scanners weren’t mandatory, passengers weren’t routinely checked with a magnetometer (a low-level detector capable of sensing only large metal objects), and it wasn’t until 1986 that passengers were first questioned on their bag’s contents.
In the first week of August 1978, 22-year-old Fahad Mihyi flew into Heathrow from Tel Aviv. With big bushy hair, a tight brown beard, an intense stare and a demeanour described as “ice cool”, although little is known about his history, his passport was clean and his entry into the country was approved.
Waved through security, Fahad collected his suitcase from the carousel, which contained a set of non-descript casual clothes including green corduroy trousers, a multicoloured sweat shirt, a pair of green trainers and a black canvas sack, as well as the tools of this trade; two submachine guns – believed to be ‘The Carlo’, an inferior replica of the Israeli-made Uzi 9mm, compact enough to hide inside a jacket and capable of firing 400 rounds-a-minute – and a nest of M26 grenades fitted with a 4.4 second fuse, with a kill radius of 5 to 15 metres and shrapnel able to inflict serious damage up-to 230 metres away.
Packing a deadly arsenal - capable of causing a maximum quota of casualties in the quickest possible time - Fahad and his accomplice caught the recently-extended Piccadilly Line tube into town and in an unknown flat, somewhere in London, over the next two weeks, they laid low and awaited their orders.
His accomplice was never identified; he was late 20’s, 5ft 6ins, with protruding front teeth, a Mexican style moustache and a sallow complexion. And although some witnesses claimed there were two more assailants, we know it was these two who unleashed one of the bloodiest acts of terrorism in London’s dark history, because one of them was sent to a prison and the other was sent to a morgue.
(Bus sounds / intercom) “Ladies and gentleman, welcome on board this Gold Eagle Coach to Mayfair. My name is Ron Stagg, I will be driving you in a K-reg Bedford VAL, but only because your Boeing 747 is too wide for Duke Street and the Europa hotel aren’t best pleased having a jet parked on the drive. The weather is currently fine, but being Britain, it’ll probably be piddling down by the time we get anywhere nice. Thank you for flying with Gold Eagle Coaches... not that you had much choice”. (laughs)
Across the next fifty-minutes, the half-full 55-seater bus drove along the A4 from Heathrow to Victoria. As a relatively new coach, the full-aspect windows were large and clear, the metalwork gleamed brightly in the sunlight and down the length of it sides were stylish red flashes and wood panelling.
Inside, although tired, the flight-crew of El-Al 016 were upbeat, with their chat concerning their plans for the evening; what type of food to eat, where to go for a drink, and whether they could catch Annie or Evita at the theatre, or Saturday Night Fever or Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the cinema.
And although, over the last decade, atrocities against Israeli targets had surged on London’s streets, onboard were an El-Al security escort to provide protection - even if ‘legally’ they couldn’t be armed.
At 1:32pm precisely, the coach pulled onto Park Lane on the eastern edge of Hyde Park. Turning left onto Upper Brook Street, the engine growled as it gently cruised passed the US Embassy, its indicator clicked as the wheels steered left, and rounding the corner, the coach crawled onto Duke Street.
Being too big to fit on the drive of the Europa - which was already busy as a black cab idled awaiting a fare and an excitable wedding party milled around reception - the bus parked-up parallel to the hotel; with the front passenger door facing George Yard and the rear luggage bay facing Grosvenor Square.
Inside, the crew collected their hand luggage, and although they were off-duty, as representatives of their airline, they straightened their caps, adjusted their ties and brushed away any creases to exit the coach with a sense of elegance and pride. The pilot, co-pilot and engineer in neat blue suits, crisp white shirts and blue peaked caps, and – like bright orange rays of sunlight – four flight attendants of El-Al 016 - Michel Unger, Yehudit Arnon, Yulie Cohen and Irit Gidron. Watched by the wedding guests, the cab-driver and the drinkers of a summer’s pint at the Barley Mow pub, just twenty feet away, the crew were something to behold, as there’s always something impressive about a person in uniform.
As the crew disembarked, the engine was cut and the driver opened the rear boot where the aircrew’s luggage was stored. Like a well-oiled machine, the concierge greeted his guests, reception prepared their room keys and a ready line of porters pushing baggage carts stood ready to do their duty.
For the flight crew of El-Al 016, this was the end of another day...
...but for one of the crew, it would be the end of her life.
The time was 1:34pm.
As Yulie Cohen stood-by, she spotted two men approach the front and rear of the coach. To her right, on the corner of Grosvenor Square was an Arab with a Mexican moustache and protruding teeth. To her left, on George Yard, a second with fuzzy dark hair who glared at the flight-crew with hateful rage. Sensing the danger, Yulie stuttered to her supervisor “I think he’s going to start shooting at us”...
...but by then, it was too late.
Just as Irit Gidron pulled her bag from the boot, the assassins unleashed hell. Like fast hard cracks of thunder, gun-fire echoed off the walls, as fierce flashes of fire erupted from their submachine guns, as the two men sprayed the coach and its human cargo with bullets. With 32 rounds in each magazine, having emptied the first clip in five second flat, they loaded a second, then a third, and then a fourth.
In panic, terrified wedding guests dived inside the hotel lobby, pub guests ducked for cover and the air-crew scattered, as a hot black rain sprayed far and wide, smashing glass and ricocheting off walls.
Richard Oldridge, a chauffeur later stated "suddenly a man ran alongside the coach. Somebody inside closed the doors and the man started firing. All hell broke loose. It was terrifying”. Shouting in Arabic, their words were lost, but three letters were audible – PLO (the Palestinian Liberation Organisation).
Bullets riddled every door, wall or window; guests, air-crew and passers-by alike. It didn’t matter who as this was a number game. The target was Israel, but the more they could kill, the greater their glory.
Thinking fast, Yulie ran for cover behind a parked car as she dragged Yehudit to safety. A volley of fiery bullets had ripped through the stewardess’ pale legs – snapping her bones like toothpicks - and as she drifted in and out of consciousness, a river of blood pooled, as her orange skirt spread with red.
Yulie called out to her colleagues; some had got to safety, some had not, and one was entirely still.
Julian Harris who lived across the street later stated “there were bodies and blood everywhere”...
...and although the casualty list was climbing, the assassins were far from finished.
With their submachine guns spent, from the black canvas sacks strung across their chests, they pulled a nest of M26 fragmentation grenades. With a kill radius of up-to 15 metres and its shrapnel able to maim as far as 230 metres away, accuracy wasn’t essential, as this was a maximum casualty weapon.
Harry Kaye, a porter said “I saw one bomb land under the taxi and explode”. Having hid inside his cab when the shooting began, although bullets had peppered its black panels, the grenade blast blew the taxi-driver clear out of his seat, as the bloodied man slumped onto the drive in a crumpled heap.
Witnesses stated “the grenades seemed to fall everywhere”. A second hit the glass door of the Europa, spraying the staff with shards of flying glass and the wedding guests were hit with hard steel splinters.
Jim Murray, pub manager, later said of Fahad “he stood pulling grenades from a haversack and lobbing them at the bus. He was just taking them out and throwing it. God, he was ice-cool. He was so calm”.
As a third grenade exploded, shrapnel struck Yulie in the arm. Johann Duplesis, a guest stated “one of the hostesses had been blasted. I tried to help her as she lay there, but already she looked dead”. And although Yulie was hurt, Yehudit was bleeding to death, as a bullet had struck her in the head.
Where-as the last grenade remains a mystery; maybe Fahad caught his cohort in its crossfire, maybe it went off mistake, maybe he was shot by the supposedly unarmed El-Al escort, or perhaps having mistimed its 4.4 second fuse, the maniac with the Mexican moustache failed to throw it fast enough and felt the full force of the blast in the face. Either way, as Fahad fled, his unknown assailant lay dead.
Three police officers wrestled Fahad to the ground and he was swiftly arrested. In total, the assassin’s bullets and bombs had wounded nine and killed one in an attack which lasted less than two minutes.
Of the four flight-crew of El-Al 016 who were hit; Michel Unger’s injuries were listed as “not serious”, Yulie Cohen escaped with a shrapnel scar, and 23-year-old Yehudit Arnon - who was weeks away from getting married - was listed as critical, had a bullet removed from her brain and amazingly she survived.
But one of the crew had not. Having left the coach to collect her bag, 29-year-old Irit Gidron was hit by the first wave of bullets. Turning to face the gun-fire coming from Grosvenor Square, it’s likely that she died before she even knew what was happening, as an eye-witness would later recall “she was lying at the rear of the coach, all still and silent, with the back of her head entirely blown out”. (End)
As always, the British Government expressed its “deepest sympathy”, the Israeli Prime Minister called it a “a barbarous crime”, the PFLP took full credit, and the next day Israeli fighter-jets bombed a Palestinian camp south of Beirut; killing 3 and injuring 14, in a pointless tit-for-tat of violent retaliation.
Fahad Mihyi was tried at the Old Bailey on 28th February 1979 under heavy police guard, as on that same day, the assassins of Abda Al-Razzak Said-Al Naif, the ex-Iraqi Prime Minister, were on trial too.
Defended by Henry Pownall QC, even against overwhelming evidence, he pleaded not guilty. On the 8th June 1979, he was found guilty of murder, attempted murder and explosive and weapons charges, and was given four life sentences. He is currently 65-years-old and is an inmate at Dartmoor Prison.
Two days after the attack, the body of Irit Gidron was flown back to Israel. As a mark of respect, she was buried near to the eleven Israeli athletes who were killed in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. And although a memorial service in held in Haifa every year, Yulie still finds it too painful to attend.
The crew of El-Al Flight 016 were just good people, doing their jobs and living their lives, who were used as pawns in a political tug-of-war. Caught-up in one of the bloodiest acts of terrorism in London’s history, forty years on, there are still no memorials to the dead and the events are mostly forgotten.
But why? Perhaps it could be blamed on politics, on the deluge of devastation that the 1970’s brought, on our desensitisation to the violence we consume in the media, or maybe it’s as simple as this? A plaque might have been put in place had the victims of the attack been British? But as this tragedy is all but forgotten, for now, this episode will have to stand as their memorial to the crew of El-Al 016.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
If you enjoyed that, and you enjoy cake-chat, tea-twaddle and extra details about this case. But I warn you now, it is waffly bullshit, so if that’s not your thing, switch off now. But before that, here’s a true-crime podcast which might be the equivalent of a handy megaphone for a mouthy coot.
A big thank you to my new Patreon supporters, who are; Kaley Groom, Sharon Bennett, Lydia Pappas and Rachel Tester, I thank you all, you are now part of a very exclusive club, and unlike half of the member’s clubs in Soho, it’s not full of arseholes. With a thanks you to two very kind anonymous donations which came in via the Supporter link, I thank you. And, as always, a big thank you to you. Yes, you. Your continued audio appreciation of the podcast is very much appreciated.
Murder Mile was researched, written and performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards", one of The Telegraph's top five true-crime podcasts and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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