A Look Back: 1972 Munich Games

The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, were known as the "Games of Peace and Joy," but they turned into a high-stakes game of terror when 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists.

Sept. 5 is the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by eight Palestinian terrorists after a hostage siege.

ABC was broadcasting those Games, and Jim McKay of ABC Sports and ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings were perfectly placed to cover the unfolding drama.

McKay reported that terrorists had climbed the 6-foot wire fence protecting the Olympic Village and entered the headquarters of the Israeli team.

"One man was shot immediately, Moshe Weinberg," McKay announced on air. "They're holding 14 other hostages. The latest word is that another man had been killed."

Weinberg, a 33-year-old wrestling coach, and Joseph Romano, a 32-year-old weightlifter, were killed almost instantly by men who called themselves members of the Black September Palestinian Liberation Organization. The group took nine other Israelis hostage.

Terrorists Reveal Demands

The Palestinian group was demanding the release of more than 200 jailed Arab guerrillas from an Israeli prison, in addition to their safe exit from Munich.

Ankie Spitzer lost her husband, athlete Andre Spitzer, that day.

"At around 5 o'clock in the afternoon they brought Andre in front of the window," Spitzer said. "He had his hands tied behind his back and he was wearing like a little T-shirt. Then I saw them hit him with the butt of the rifle and they pushed him back into the room and they closed the window and they closed the curtain."

The Olympic Games continued, and German authorities stalled for time as the terrorists' first deadline passed.

"They had set a deadline of noon, saying they were going to kill all their hostages at that time," McKay reported one hour and 15 minutes after the deadline.

The terrorists' leader continued to negotiate with the Germans as deadline after deadline passed.

After the first deadline was not met, Jennings thought it looked like the guerrilla operation was unlikely to succeed.

"With this first deadline passing and the next one four hours away, my guess would be that this operation of theirs is more likely to fail than to succeed," Jennings said on air. "That, however, is pure speculation."

The Rescue Attempt

The terrorists eventually got their demand for a safe exit — buses to helicopters to a waiting Lufthansa jet. The final, chaotic moments in the Olympic Village were documented by ABC reporters, communicating on walkie-talkies, as they scrambled to piece together the movements of the hostages and their captors from Building 31 to the buses and then to waiting helicopters.

Jennings contacted ABC's Howard Cosell for the latest developments.

Jennings: "This is Peter. Do you have something to report to us from where you are?"

Cosell: "I certainly do, Peter. We have a flurry of action here. Suddenly in the whole area between 20 and Building 12 they have been clearing out cars. Police officers in almost platoon-like numbers have been running past us and are now staging in front of us. We are building up to a climax, I think."

When the terrorists and hostages arrived at the airport, German police were waiting and the plane had no pilot. A Black September leader soon realized he'd been duped and the operation went completely awry.

Undermanned German sharpshooters who had been hidden in the darkness opened fire. In the ensuing firefight, the Arabs on the ground killed the Israelis with them. One of the terrorists tossed a hand grenade into the other helicopter, killing its occupants.

McKay, fighting back emotions, announced, "There were 11 … two shot yesterday … nine at the airport … they're all gone."

An ABC one-hour special on the 1972 Games, Our Greatest Hopes, Our Worst Fears: The Tragedy of The Munich Games, airs Sunday, Sept. 1 at 1:30 p.m. ET.

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