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History of PIA - Pakistan International Airlines

Date: March 03, 1981

Aircraft Type: Boeing 720-030B

Registration: AP-AZP

Crew: 9 on board  (Complete list of crew is at the bottom of this page)

Passengers: 132 on board

Number of hijackers: 3

Total on board: 144

Victims: 1 passenger

Flight: Karachi - Peshawar

Flight number: PK-326

Description: On March 3, 1981, Pakistan International's flight PK-326 began as a routine domestic hop from Karachi to Peshawar. In midair three heavily armed men seized the plane, diverted it to Kabul, Afghanistan, and demanded the release of 92 "political prisoners" from Pakistani jails.

On March 4, twenty nine hostages including women, children and sick men were released in Kabul. The released passengers were flown to Peshawar by PIA Fokker F27 Friendship Mark 200 (AP-AUR) on March 5. Another sick male passenger was released by hijackers on March 5.

The hijacked Boeing 720B sat in Kabul, and when Pakistan's President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq refused to give in, the hijackers on March 6 shot a Pakistani diplomat Tariq Rahim in full view of the other passengers and dumped his body onto the tarmac.

On March 7, hijackers released two sick Pakistani men and also forced two American women who wanted to remain aboard to leave the aircraft. The two air hostesses were also offered freedom but both of them bravely decided to stay in the aircraft.

PIA Boeing 720-030B

Boeing 720-030B  (Abbas Ali Collection)

Weapon in hand, a Pakistani gunman waves defiantly from cockpit of grounded AP-AZP at Syria's Damascus Airport 

Next, on March 8, the plane flew to Damascus, Syria, and by the time ordeal ended there on March 15, more than 100 hostages had endured 13 days of tension and squalor. At that time it was the longest hijacking episode in the history.

PIA Boeing 720-030B

Boeing 720-030B  (Abbas Ali Collection)

A ruthless hijacker gestures from hijacked PIA Boeing 720B (AP-AZP) at Damascus Airport in March of 1981

On March 9, hijackers freed an air hostess at Damascus Airport. On March 11, relatives of two hijackers were freed and flown from Pakistan to Damascus to plead for the lives of hostages but the hijackers refused to meet their relatives. The gunmen repeatedly threatened to blow up the plane, but were talked into long extensions while negotiations continued by radio with Pakistani and Syrian officials in the Damascus control tower. Finally the hijackers said they would settle for just 55 prisoners - but they coupled the concession with a grim warning: they would soon kill the three Americans on board. "Be ready to pick up the bodies," they told the tower. Just twenty minutes before the deadline President Zia gave in, ordering that the prisoners be flown to sanctuary in Libya. "It's over," said Pakistani negotiator Sarfraz Khan.

PIA Boeing 720-030B

Boeing 720-030B  (Abbas Ali Collection)

Hijacked AP-AZP at Damascus Airport in March 1981

But it wasn't over. First, Pakistani authorities said they could not trace one of the 55 prisoners. And some of the others didn't want to leave Pakistan. On March 15, a PIA Boeing 707 flew 54 prisoners from Karachi to Aleppo, Syria.

PIA Boeing 707

Boeing 707  (Abbas Ali Collection)

Released Pakistani political prisoners seen coming out of a PIA Boeing 707 on March 15. The Boeing 707 flight from Karachi arrived in Aleppo, Syria, hours before hostages were freed at Damascus Airport

After arriving at Aleppo on a PIA Boeing 707, the prisoners were transferred to a smaller Syrian Air aircraft for flight to Libya. Then, when the Syrian aircraft carrying the released prisoners was in the air approaching Tripoli, Libya suddenly announced that it had changed its mind about granting asylum to the hijackers and their friends. The prisoners' plane had nowhere to go, and the hostages' lives were again in jeopardy. After circling Tripoli Airport, the plane flew to Athens, where officials refused to let it land until the desperate pilot radioed he had no more fuel and was about to ditch into Aegean Sea. The aircraft was then allowed to refuel in Athens. Finally, Syria announced that it would take in the prisoners and the hijackers, and the gunmen gave up.

PIA Boeing 720-030B

Boeing 720-030B  (Abbas Ali Collection)

Three Pakistani terrorists wave weapons and give a V-for-victory sign as they leave hijacked jetliner at Damascus Airport on March 15, ending the longest episode of air piracy in history at that time. The three hijackers were identified as Salamullah Tipu (leader), Nasir Jamal and Arshad Ali Khan Tegi. Aboard the aircraft, the three hijackers used codenames "Alamgir" for Salamullah Tipu, "Siraj" for Nasir Jamal and "Khalid" for Arshad Ali Khan Tegi

The Syrian aircraft with released passengers on its return flight to Syria landed at Damascus Airport where the hijacked aircraft was parked. After the arrival of political prisoners at Damascus Airport, the three young hijackers, all dressed in shalwar kameez, emerged gun barrel first from the rear door of PIA Boeing 720B. They surrendered their weapons to Syrian officials and drove off with them to luxury Damascus Airport Hotel & Casino where political prisoners also had been accommodated.

Boeing 720-030B  (Abbas Ali Collection)

Passengers coming out of AP-AZP freed by hijackers on March 15 at Damascus Airport. The released passengers were followed by aircraft crew. Flight's captain was the last person to emerge from the released aircraft

After the departure of hijackers, the freed passengers began leaving the aircraft from its front door. The passengers were followed by aircraft's crew members. The aircraft's captain was the last person to come out of the plane freed by hijackers at Damascus Airport. The long flight was over.

PIA Boeing 720-030B

Boeing 720-030B  (Abbas Ali Collection)

Freed AP-AZP after arriving at Karachi Airport on March 16

A fresh PIA flight crew brought AP-AZP back to Pakistan from Damascus. The Boeing 720B was ferried to Karachi by Capt. Syed Irtiza and First Officer Ahsan Aftab Bilgrami. The freed aircraft landed at Karachi Airport at 5:16 PM on March 16.

PIA Boeing 707-340C

Boeing 707-340C  (Abbas Ali Collection)

On March 18 freed passengers and crew members carried by PIA Boeing 707-340C (AP-AXG) landed in rainy weather at Peshawar Airport which was the destination of hijacked flight PK-326

The passengers and crew members of the freed aircraft were flown to their destination Peshawar on March 18 by PIA Boeing 707-340C (AP-AXG). The Boeing 707 flew them to Peshawar from Jeddah where they were sent by Government of Pakistan to perform Umrah after getting freedom in Damascus.

PIA Boeing 720-030B

Boeing 720-030B  (Abbas Ali Collection)

AP-AZP on display at Karachi's Jabees Funland in New Clifton in 1980s

AP-AZP was withdrawn from use and retired in April 1981. Later, it was put on display at Karachi's Jabees Funland in New Clifton where it became source of joy and happiness for young children. Few years later, it was removed from the park and sold to scrap metal dealers.

1985's Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Heroism Award was presented to hijacked aircraft's Air Hostess Miss Naila Nazir for her brave handling of tense and dangerous situation during 13 days of hijacking ordeal.

At the time of hijacking Naila was only 19-year-old and had joined the airline as flight attendant just two months ago. The hijackers offered Naila to leave the aircraft at Damascus Airport but she decided to stay with the rest of passengers and crew members till the end of hijacking during which she took good care of passengers.

The FSF Heroism Award was established in 1968 to recognize civil aircraft crew members or ground personnel whose heroic actions exceeded the requirements of their jobs. Selection of FSF Heroism Award recipients is determined by the degree of personal risk involved in the heroic act; the nature of the courage, perseverance and other personal characteristics that were displayed; and the degree to which the heroism was outside normal levels of duty and ability.

Crew members of hijacked PIA Boeing 720-030B (registration AP-AZP):

Cockpit Crew:
Captain Saeed Khan  (Click here  to see photo)
First Officer Junaid Yunus  (Click here to see photo)
Flight Engineer Munawwar
Cabin Crew:
Flight Purser Javed Bhatti
Flight Steward Shakeel Qadri
Flight Steward Zaffar Ishtiaq
Flight Steward Muhammad Feroze Maniar
Air Hostess Naila Nazir  -  Recipient of the Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award - Year 1985
Air Hostess Farzana Sharif - After falling ill freed by hijackers at Damascus Airport, Syria, on March 9, 1981

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