ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross today gave a public, yet personal thanks to two U.S. officials who were involved in a dramatic incident more than three decades ago in which Ross and dozens of others were held captive aboard a hijacked airline in Central America.
“On a point of personal privilege, let me just say that my first experience with counter-terrorism took place 32 years ago when I was held hostage by terrorists in Honduras for three days on a flight in Tegucigalpa,” Ross said today during the introduction to a counter-terrorism discussion at the Aspen Security Forum. “[Panelist] Mike [Vickers] was the Special Forces operator who came here to save me and John Negroponte, who’s here in the audience, was the ambassador at the time. I never had a chance to thank you publicly, but I wanted to say it publicly to both of you.”
As a secret commando at the time, Vickers’ role was unknown to Ross until today when Ross said Vickers brought up the decades-old incident just before the panel discussion began. Vickers had been on hand to plan a military rescue, should it have come to that. “He was just another selfless American hero like so many who never get credit for all they do,” Ross said after the panel.
Ross, then a correspondent for NBC News, was aboard a domestic flight in late April 1982 when the plane was stormed by four armed men who identified themselves as from the leftist group Lorenzo Zelaya Revolutionary Popular Forces.
For three days the kidnappers held the passengers on the plane until one morning Ross led an escape of several of the hostages, most of them Americans, by diving through a smashed window and making a run for it, according to contemporary news reports. The terrorists fired a shot at the hostages but missed. The rest of the hostages were released hours later.
In a black and white photo hanging in ABC News offices, a 33-year-old Ross is seen bleeding from the head but smiling shortly after he had made it to freedom.
Mike Vickers, currently the Under Secretary for Defense Intelligence, was on the ground with U.S. Army Special Forces at the time of the hijacking. Vickers’ Defense Department biography says he later served as an operations officer in the CIA for years before climbing the Pentagon ladder.
John Negroponte, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras at the time, went on to serve as a career diplomat for the U.S., twice earning the State Department’s Distinguished Service Medal before leaving the government in 2009. He now serves as vice-chairman at the D.C.-based international strategy firm McLarty Associates.