The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jackson, District Judge.
On the morning of Friday, June 14, 1985, TransWorld Airlines
("TWA") Flight No. 847, a Boeing 727, took off from Athens,
Greece, bound for Rome, Italy, with a full complement of 143
passengers and a crew of eight. On board were U.S. citizens
Robert Stethem, Kurt Carlson, Stuart Dahl, Jeffery Ingalls,
Clinton Suggs, Tony Watson, and Kenneth Bowen. All were U.S.
military personnel, enroute back to the United States from
various assignments abroad and coincidentally aboard the same
plane traveling in civilian dress.
Shortly after takeoff the plane was commandeered at gunpoint
by at least two hijackers, also armed with hand grenades, who
forced the plane to divert first to a landing for fuel in
Beirut, then on to Algiers, and back once more to Beirut,
finally landing dramatically at night in Beirut about 16 hours
after the flight had commenced. During the journey several of
the servicemen were brutally beaten by their captors. One was
executed by gunshot to the head and his body shoved from the
plane onto the tarmac at the Beirut airport. Eventually debarked
from the plane as prisoners of a local militia in Beirut, the
surviving servicemen were held captive by confederates of the
hijackers until June 30, 1985, when they were released to Syrian
military personnel and ultimately flown home.
The airborne portion of their ordeal was characterized for
some of them by excruciating pain from repeated beatings, and
for all of them by stark terror in expectation of either an
imminent violent death or prolonged captivity. While imprisoned
in Beirut they were confined under execrable conditions,
tormented with daily threats of torture and death, and vilified
as citizens of a despised nation, all the while uncertain of
These two consolidated actions by the servicemen and their
spouses, and by the personal representatives of the murder
victim, seek to recover damages from the
parties they hold ultimately responsible for these terrorist
acts, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Ministry of
Information and Security, pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign
Immunities Act ("FSIA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq. Defaults
were taken against defendants in both cases on December 1, 2000,
and June 26, 2001, respectively, and upon the evidence adduced
at an ex parte hearing before the Court October 22-26, 2001,
which the Court finds to be satisfactory for the purpose, the
foregoing and following facts are found pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
52(a). Judgments will consequently be entered for plaintiffs in
accordance with the conclusions of law drawn therefrom.
Robert Dean Stethem (Deceased)
Robert Stethem, the murder victim, was identified by the
hijackers early in the flight as a U.S. serviceman. He was, in
fact, a 23-year-old U.S. Navy petty officer, trained as a diver
and underwater construction specialist. In June, 1985, Stethem
and fellow divers assigned to Underwater Construction Team No. 1
("UCT1"), stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, were aboard TWA 847
enroute back to the U.S. from Athens where they had spent
several weeks repairing an underwater structure at a U.S.
military installation nearby.
First thought to be a U.S. Marine by the hijackers (who never
totally abandoned their suspicions), Stethem was taken to the
front of the aircraft, his arms tightly bound, and beaten about
the head and shoulders repeatedly with a pistol or an armrest
wrenched from a passenger seat. He bled profusely. Although only
semisensible, losing blood, and in obvious pain for much of the
trip, he apparently never lost consciousness altogether. Upon
the second landing in Beirut, Stethem was the hostage the
hijackers selected for their first execution, partly to
emphasize their insistence that their various demands be taken
seriously, partly to manifest their hostility to Americans
generally. The forward passenger door was thrown open, and one
of the hijackers placed his gun to Stethem's head and fired a
shot through his skull. As he was about to die he was heard to
mutter an exclamation — "Oh, God" — indicating that he was aware
of what was happening. His body was pushed from the open doorway
to fall upon the pavement beneath the plane where it remained
for several hours.*fn1
Stethem's survivors include his father and mother, Richard and
Patricia Stethem; a sister, Sheryl (Stethem) Sierralta; and two
brothers, Kenneth and Patrick Stethem. Although none were his
dependents, the family is a remarkably close one. Filial and
fraternal affection between Robert, his parents, and siblings
was both mutual and intense.
The Stethems are a Navy family. Richard Stethem retired as a
Senior Chief Petty Officer after a 25-year career, most of it on
sea duty, and worked thereafter as a civilian employee of the
Navy Department until 1995. Patricia met Richard while she
herself was a sailor. Kenneth joined the Navy at age 19, became
a SEAL, and retired in April, 2000, after 20 years. Patrick
enlisted the day before TWA 847 was hijacked, followed his
deceased brother into underwater construction, and remained a
Navy diver for nearly 10 years.
The surviving Stethems last saw Robert at a family reunion in
May, 1985, but were together again in June, 1985, to follow the
saga of TWA 847 on CNN at the family home in Waldorf, Maryland,
all the while besieged by an insatiable media horde at their
doorstep. They first learned that Robert was the murdered U.S.
serviceman thrown from the plane when Kenneth identified the
distinctive shirt on the body on the tarmac shown on television
as a shirt he had given his younger brother.
All of the Stethem family have been diagnosed as suffering
from post-traumatic stress syndrome. According to the
psychologist who made the diagnosis, their grief at Robert's
death remains unresolved to the present and will probably never
Plaintiffs Richard Stethem and Patricia Stethem, as father and
mother of Robert Stethem, are the duly appointed co-personal
representatives of Robert's estate. Both are U.S. citizens, as
are his brothers and sister. They bring this action in the
nature of a wrongful death and survival action for such damages
as may be recoverable from defendants under the FSIA by reason
of Robert's false imprisonment as a hostage aboard TWA 847, his
torture by beating prior to his death, and his extrajudicial
killing that can only be characterized as an intentional,
deliberate and premeditated act of murder. These damages
include, as established by numerous prior decisions under the
FSIA, the net economic loss to Robert's estate; compensation for
his ante mortem pain and suffering; solatium for his immediate
surviving kin; and punitive damages to chasten the perpetrators
of these acts of terrorism and deter their repetition by others.
Kurt and Cheryl Carlson are U.S. citizens, married since 1969,
who reside in Illinois, where Kurt Carlson is a building
contractor. In 1985, Carlson was a major in the U.S. Army
Reserve, and he volunteered for an active duty assignment in
Cairo, Egypt, to make a preliminary survey of facilities in
preparation for forthcoming joint U.S.-Egyptian military
exercises. On June 14, 1985, Carlson was enroute home from Egypt
aboard TWA 847 when it landed in Athens where Robert Stethem and
his companions boarded.*fn3 Carlson, traveling alone, had
acquired a standby seat in the first class cabin.
Ten minutes into the flight the hijackers stormed the forward
section of the plane, assaulted a flight attendant, and,
brandishing both a pistol and hand grenades, shouted in English,
"Americans come to die!"
Carlson surreptitiously slipped his military identification
out of his pocket into the seat cushion, but was eventually
discovered to be in the U.S. armed forces by the hijackers
following an enforced passport collection in which the absence
of a passport in his name was noted.*fn4 At first, however,
he was forced into a seat in the after cabin with all other
passengers, and, like them, compelled to assume an
excruciatingly uncomfortable position Carlson describes to this
day as the "847 position" — hands behind head; head down, with
elbows on knees — and to remain so, in total silence, whenever
the plane was airborne.
Following Stethem's death on the ground in Beirut, Carlson and
all but one of the Navy divers were turned over to a contingent
of local militia (known as Amal) who were confederated with the
hijackers. They were held captive — and periodically tormented —
for approximately two weeks in a filth-ridden basement dungeon
in a combat zone somewhere in West Beirut.
Like most of the rest of the U.S. population, Cheryl Carlson
followed the saga of TWA 847 on television, apprehensive that
she would never see her husband again. When he did return she
became aware of how profoundly the experience had affected him,
and she has suffered with him through the manifestations of the
posttraumatic stress syndrome with which he remains afflicted to
the present — irrational fear, sleeplessness, nightmares,
extreme irritability — and which has had a markedly deleterious
effect on their marriage relationship.
Stuart and Martha Dahl are U.S. citizens, have been married
since 1974, and live in Virginia. Stuart Dahl ...