Central Texas Heroes: Charlie Lewellen

One November day 32 years ago, one Central Texas veteran went through something most of us probably couldn't handle.

Veteran Charlie Lewellen

His plane was hijacked by terrorists en route to Saudi Arabia and landed in Iran, a country that just years before held dozens of Americans hostage.

But the hijackers had no idea Charlie Lewellen was on board or what he was capable of.

"When the plane nosed over initially I thought we were going to crash, I thought we were going down," Lewellen said.

John Wayne said courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.

But you don't have to convince Lewellen.

A military man since 1957, he's been in the line of fire more than once even getting shot off the side of a truck in Vietnam during his first tour.

"I got shot to the legs and it went through my leg," Lewellen told us, "I still have shrapnel from bullets in my arm. "

But he finished that tour and went back for a second one.

He has 42 years of military training, service, and honors.

And one November day in 1984, fate chose to put Lewellen on Saudia flight 040.

"I was requested by the Saudi government to come to Saudi Arabia and assist them with some matters that they had," Lewellen explained.

He was returning from a trip home to the U.S. to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

When they stopped in Jeddah they unwittingly picked up some rotten cargo.

And it became evident to Lewellen something was wrong.

The crew was acting strangely.

"Even if people had not finished eating they were picking up the tray," he recalled, "and the crew members went to their assigned seats. "

The plane never began its midnight decent into Riyadh and a mysterious voice over the intercom called someone named Mohammed to the cockpit.

Then around 2:30 a.m. the pilot suddenly dropped the landing gear and flaps.

"And soon as they were down, the plane nosed over into a dive, not a descent a dive and we were just hurdling towards the ground," he said.

There is much more to this story and what led up to that moment.

Next week we'll explain who hijacked the plane and what happened to the passengers and crew.