Central Texas Heroes: Charlie Lewellen, Part 2

Veteran Charlie Lewellen

WACO, Texas (KWTX) One Central Texas Hero who survived injuries after two tours in Vietnam stepped up to the plate when a new danger presented itself.

He was on a Saudia Airlines flight that was hijacked on election day 1984.

Charlie Lewellen explained how his military experience came into play.

The Army Captain was doing some work with the Saudi Arabian government in 1984.

After a quick trip home he was headed back to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia when two hijackers boarded in Jeddah.

The passengers didn't know but Saudia flight 040 had been hijacked.

Lewellen caught on when the crew was acting strangely and the plane never landed in Riyadh at its scheduled midnight arrival time.

Then at 2:30 a.m. the pilot suddenly lowered the plane's flaps and landing gear.

"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.

But through the window, Lewellen could see the lights of a city below and flight 040 landed on a runway hard.

They were in Tehran, Iran although the passengers didn't know it.

They soon found out two hijackers were onboard, Mohammed who was in the cabin wearing an explosive vest and another man armed with a gun in the cockpit.

They were from Yemen demanding $500 million for the country from the Saudi government, and $50 million for themselves.

So on the runway everyone waited.

Growing impatient the hijackers wanted to take off again.

But they agreed to let the crew have blankets and pillows to rest before hand which presented an opportunity.

Lewellen said, "when they handed the stuff in the cockpit the hijacker moved the gun away from covering the two pilots and when they did that he grabbed the gun hand and shoved it up and the guy started firing into the roof of the cockpit."

The co-pilot started smashing the hijacker's hand with a fire ax.

"He wouldn't release that gun for any reason so he turned the ax on his head, hit him in the head a couple times with the fire ax, and his last words were halas which means finished," Lewellen said.

But Mohammed was still in the cabin.

"He got up and started going forward to the cabin and he was focused forward, not behind him and I hit him from the back," Lewellen said, "put a choke hold on him and choked him until he was unconscious."

That gave the crew time to open the cabin doors and deploy their emergency chutes to evacuate.

But one of the chutes didn't deploy.

After everyone got out, Mohammed gained consciousness.

With Mohammad still armed with the explosive vest the two began struggling until Mohammad was shoved out the open door," Lewellen said, "he hit the ground and broke his neck."

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard rounded up the passengers and sent them to a hotel.

The Americans feared they'd be held hostage by Iran as 52 others were five years earlier.

"The state department was scared to death that they were going to hold 11 more Americans," he said.

It was Nov. 6, 1984, election day.

Working to avoid a crisis a Swiss Ambassador was sent to oversee the Americans and ensure their safe return.

That was especially important since the U.S. had no diplomatic relationship with Iran at that time.

Soon they were on a plane bound for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi royalty recognized Lewellen and the others who worked to save innocent lives and get everyone home safely.

"Always look for opportunities to strike. You've got to know who your enemy is," Lewellen said.

But while he and the other 127 souls on board survived he thinks back to other hijacking victims who didn't make it.

The bravery of those on flight 93 when it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on 9-11 will always stay with him.

He said, "I don't think the people onboard the aircraft on 9-11 that tried to stop the hijackers are given enough credit. They gave their lives to save our capital."