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Dawson’s Field 1970

In 1970 I had been Head of UPITN Productions for three years.  UPITN was a company formed by United Press International and Independent Television News.  I was always close to the News Room of UPITN and kept myself informed about what was going on.

In 1974 while in Amman, I met Hassan Dalal for lunch and he told me the whole story of filming the explosions at Dawson’s Field. Dalal was our cameraman in Amman.

I had gone to Amman, at the invitation of Jordan Television, to give a number of lectures to their technical staff and to make recommendations concerning the operation of their news programmes.

On September 6th 1970, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked three aircraft.  Their destination was New York; they had come from European airports.  There was a TWA Boeing 707 Flight 741, Swissair DC-8 Flight 100, El-Al Boeing 707 Flight 219.  In Israel, there was a failed attempt to hijack another El-Al plane resulting in the death of one hijacker and the capture of two others.  One was a woman named Leila Khaled who was handed over to the British (for reasons I do not understand).  As a result of this, on September 9th, a BOAC VC10 Flight 775, was hijacked with a view to ensuring the return of Leila Khaled to Palestine.

All these aircraft were flown to Dawson’s Field, Zarqa, a former R.A.F. desert air strip in, what was then, a remote area of Jordan.

Dawson's Field 1970 Image from wikipedia

On September 12th, the planes were blown up. One evening, a week before the hijackings, there was a knock on Dalal’s front door.  He answered the door and several masked men burst into his house, blindfolded him, collected his film equipment and film stock and bundled him out of the house.  He was held for several days before being driven to Dawson’s Field in the dead of night.  He was told to film what he saw.  He filmed the assembled aircraft and also the hostages, that is the passengers of the various aircraft.  He filmed the evacuation of some of the passengers and then he had to wait.

He was told that the PFLP were going to blow up the aircraft and he was ready to film it.  He did an excellent job of visual reporting from a distance of 300 yards.  He was asked when he knew when to start filming, he said, “As soon as I saw the commandos running”.  His main problem now was to get the film to London.

He managed to ship the film to London and to advise the newsroom that it was coming.

Before he could reach home, he was arrested by Jordanian Intelligence Services.  He was interrogated to reveal what he knew of his abductors.  At first, the interrogators were convinced that Dalal, being a Palestinian himself, was part of the plot.  He was held for six weeks before being released.

In the meantime, UPITN had a coup, a scoop, an exclusive. (The footage is held in the AP Archive, story number c0013216).

I have only ever seen one version of the actual blowing up and that was the work of Dalal.

Since this article was published Jan Borg, UPITN cameraman from Oslo sent me an email about the events of that week:

I was there.  The coverage turned out to be one of UPITNs greatest scoops in the seventies.  —  It was shot with a Bolex l6 mm camera and the 30 meter film can (only half of the roll was exposed) was shipped to Rome with a chartered Caravelle plane from Jordanian airways (Alia)…  The only aircraft available. Film was developed and cut in Rome before eurovised to London.

The plane cost a fortune and nobody knew the quality of the film when the agreement with the airline took place. However the coverage turned out to be excellent and reached the ITN news desk just in time for News at Ten same night. As far as I remember Hassan Dalal worked as a stringer for UPITN and received the normal fee of $50 for the job. !

© Terence Gallacher and, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about UPITN click here.

Additional links: 1970: Hijacked jets destroyed by guerrillas (BBC)

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