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Jackie Pflug--Unimaginable adversity

Thirty minutes into the flight, three men stood up with guns and grenades.

In 1985, my husband Scott and I were teaching at the Cairo American school. On Thanksgiving weekend, Scott and his students went to Athens to attend a volleyball tournament for four days. I joined Scott for the weekend and left Athens the day before he and his students were scheduled to leave.

EgyptAir Flight 648 departed at nine in the morning. Thirty minutes into the flight, three men stood up with guns and grenades. We were 35,000 feet in the air. The flight attendant came on the intercom and announced that we had been hijacked by the “Egypt Revolution”, and if we did what we were told, then no one would be hurt. I believed that.

The hijackers were screaming in broken English, telling us to sit down and shut up. It was very chaotic. They started to collect passports from the passengers. Halfway back there were three undercover sky marshals. One of the marshals reached for his gun when asked for his passport and bullets started to fly, puncturing the aircraft. The cabin depressurized and the oxygen masks descended as the pilot brought the plane to a lower altitude. He was forced to make an emergency landing in Malta.

That is when the negotiations started. The Maltese officials demanded that all the passengers be released. The hijackers wanted to go to Beirut and they warned that they would execute a passenger every fifteen minutes starting first with Israelis and next with Americans.

About twenty minutes after we landed, the lead hijacker grabbed a woman and put a gun to her head. The passengers in the front could see what was happening. I was sitting in the back when I heard a gunshot. The man beside me said, “Oh my goodness, he shot her and threw her down the staircase.” Fifteen minutes later they shot another Israeli woman and it became very clear what was happening. I could not believe they were doing this. I knew Egyptians respected women and held them in high regard, so I had thought we would be OK. This hope left me because the first few people executed were women.

The hijackers tied my hands behind my back. I was taken with two other passengers, Scarlet and Patrick, who were also Americans, and seated in the first row. I sat by the window. I kept thinking about whether I had told people close to me that I loved them enough, and concluded that I had not. Patrick was shot first, then Scarlet.

I had grown up a Catholic and had gone to church every Sunday and was still a strong spiritual person. I had always felt that God protected me. I knew that didn’t mean I would not get hurt in any way; it just meant that I was being watched over. I closed my eyes and prayed to God for my life. A peaceful, tranquil feeling came over me and I felt I would be fine. If I lived it would be OK and if I died I would be OK, too. I also felt that God was saying, “You do not understand this, but someday you might find a reason for it.”

They brought me to the front of the plane and opened the door. I looked at my world for what I believed would be the last time. It was a beautiful day with blue sky and puffy clouds, and I thought what a terrible thing this was to be happening on such a day.

My intellect was telling me to try to knock them down, and then throw my body down the staircase. But then some voice inside me said, “Do not worry, it will be OK. Everything in life will be OK no matter what the outcome.” It was almost as if I gave up and put everything in God’s hands. I was in shock. That is when he put the gun to my head and shot me.

I did not feel anything as I fell twenty-five feet from the metal stairs of the plane onto the ground. I was sprawled facedown on the airport tarmac with a bullet in my head and my blood slowly draining onto the cement.

I was semiconscious when the vision of my grandmother came to me in spirit as a bright whiteness. She said, “It’s time to go.” I lifted out of my body and went with her. She was leading me through a dark tunnel towards light. I had an awareness that I was leaving earth and I could see myself lying on the tarmac below. Something was telling me that it was not time for me to go yet so I told her that I loved her and then she let me go. She went into the white light while I came back into my body. After five hours I was picked up by an airport grounds crew, who at first assumed I was dead.

I spent time in hospitals in Malta and Germany before being transferred back in early December to the United States. Recovering from the injuries caused by the bullet was a long-term process both physically and mentally. In the years after the hijacking, I had to battle a brain injury that left me with no short-term memory, near-blindness, and epilepsy that caused seizures. The other big challenge for me was overcoming the event itself.

My marriage ended three years after the hijacking. We had only been married for five months when it happened. Our union was not strong enough to survive the event and the subsequent recovery.

Tragedy catapults you into another way of thinking. Before the hijacking I did not keep commitments and only did things that I wanted to do. I was thirty years old when it happened and thought that life was about friends, laughs, and having the right car and clothes. I was off visiting one country after another by myself. Now I want to be with people and loved ones. My adventurous spirit has never died but I do not need it to make me happy. If you ask my parents or friends, they would say they see me as the “old Jackie,” but I think my integrity has changed a lot for the better.

Now I ask myself before I go to sleep: “Did I live with integrity today, did I laugh and smile a lot, talk to someone I did not know, and did I move closer to my goals?” Each night I write down five things that I am grateful for. I constantly tell people how much I love them, and I try to resolve disputes before traveling. Now, when I fly, I can honestly say I have no regrets. I look back at the hijacking as a wakeup call to pay more attention to what life is all about.

Today, when I think back to my out of body experience in Malta, I remember the beauty and peacefulness of it and I am comforted that loved ones ahead of us are all OK.

People’s perceptions of difficult times vary. They could range from cancer or debts to divorce. An obstacle that leaves you devastated may be something I just brush off. Whatever the situation, never give up and get the help you need along the way.

Look around to see who you perceive as strong and follow them. Do what they do. If you want to be fit, go to the person who is fit and ask them what they do every day and then follow their advice. If you want to be at peace with yourself, then follow a person with strong faith, and rely on your faith.


Jackie Pflug was the fifth passenger on EgyptAir Flight 648 to be shot in the head and thrown down the stairs onto the tarmac. The hijacking continued until the plane was stormed by Egyptian Commandos. Fifty-nine passengers died during the ordeal.

Eleven years after the hijacking, Jackie was finally able to forgive the hijackers and by doing so, release the hold they had on her. She has since remarried and has one son. Today, she has rehabilitated herself to a point where she travels the country speaking to groups and advising teachers and students on educational issues.

Reprinted with permission from Surviving Adversity—The Collection.