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Miles To Go Before I Sleep

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Miles To Go Before I Sleep


  A Survivor’s Story of Life

  After a Terrorist Hijacking


  With Peter J. Kizilos


  Center City, Minnesota 55012-0176

  © 1996 by Hazelden Foundation

  All rights reserved. Published 1996

  Printed in the United States of America

  No portion of this publication may be

  reproduced in any manner without the

  written permission of the publisher

  09 8 7 6

  Unless indicated otherwise, all photographs are courtesy of Jackie Nink Pflug.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Nink Pflug, Jackie.

  Miles to go before I sleep: a survivor’s story of life after a terrorist hijacking / by Jackie Nink Pflug, with Peter J. Kizilos.

  p. cm.

  Includes bibliographical references.

  ISBN 1-56838-837-3 (pbk.)

  ISBN 978-1-59285-959-7 (ebook)

  1. Nink Pflug, Jackie. 2. Victims of terrorism—United States—Biography. 3. Hostages—United States—Biography. 4. Hijacking of aircraft—Egypt. I. Kizilos, Peter. II. Title.

  HE9882.7.Z7H56 1995





  The cloth printing of this book contains the subtitle My Grateful Journey Back from the Hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 648. The original subtitle was changed to A Survivor’s Story of Life After a Terrorist Hijacking for the paperback release in November 2001.


  Scarlett Rogencamp and Nitzan Mendelson—

  the two women cold-bloodedly executed

  by the hijackers of EgyptAir Flight 648.

  The forty-nine other passengers—

  from Israel, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Egypt, France, Ghana,

  Greece, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines, Spain, and Tunisia—

  killed during the storming of the plane.

  The eight children

  who spent their last hours as hostages

  aboard the plane.

  And to the thirty-five men and women who survived:

  My prayer is that you found the gift behind the tragedy.

  The day you can be grateful for every single trifle in your life,

  for the moving train, for the water that runs down a tap

  when you open it, for the light that comes on when you press

  a switch, for clean sheets on your bed. … your heart will be filled

  with a deep contentment and with almost continuous joy.

  The secret of being always joyful is to be always grateful.










































  THE TERRORIST ATTACK ON THE WORLD TRADE CENTER and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, in New York City has shaken and saddened the very soul of America. It has caused shock waves of fear that most people have never before experienced. Reports of heightened anxiety, depression, and inability to sleep or concentrate at work abound. People have cancelled vacations and have even turned in rage and fear on their neighbors who do not look like them. I recognize the terror. It is a terror I personally experienced sixteen years ago when EgyptAir Flight 648 was hijacked and I was shot in the head at point-blank range, dumped from the airplane, and left for dead on the tarmac.

  The recent suicide attacks resurrected my fear briefly, and then the difficult lessons I learned from my own tragedy reasserted themselves. In my long and difficult journey back from my own encounter with terrorism and death, I discovered that there is always Divine Good in what appears to be only bad. The seeds of healing and growth are buried in the rubble of tragedies. Although hard to see and even harder to believe, the hand of Divine Good is present in this horrific, unimaginable act. It is visible in the outpouring of help to the survivors—the prayers and food and money and clothing and time. It is visible in the renewed sense of life, commitment, and unity that this horrific act engendered.

  We can respond to this and other tragedies, from individual to global ones, in ways that help us to live fuller lives and move the world closer to peace and fullness. We can heal. I know.

  When the hijacked airliners, two in New York, one in Washington, D.C., and one in Pennsylvania, exploded in flames with 266 passengers and crew members, I felt an overwhelming sadness. I didn’t actually know the men, women, and children who died in the crashes, but I know what they went through: the shock, the disbelief, the confusion about who to believe, the fear that they may not be alive in the next hour, the sadness, wishing they had time to do all the things they love, time to say “I love you,” time to give hugs, time to say good-bye. I felt close to them all. Scarlett Rogencamp sat next to me on EgyptAir 648, and we comforted each other mostly without words, by touching, and by a visceral and transcendent knowledge of what we were feeling. The hijacker’s bullet killed Scarlett, and though I never met her before I boarded that airplane, I still miss her. On a beautiful day I will walk outside into the sunshine and think, Scarlett would have loved this day. I feel that kind of connection to the people who died in those planes and am filled with sadness.

  I feel a connection, too, to the survivors, the people who fled the towers, and to the family and friends of the survivors and victims of the suicide terrorists. Beyond that, I feel a connection to all the people in our country and others who watched the events unfold on television and suffer the shock of a world turned upside down. What touched me, my friends and family who cared for me sixteen years ago is now touching America on that same level. People are asking questions. Why did this happen to us? What do we do now? What does my life mean? Why are we here on earth?

  In the aftermath of the recent attacks, millions of people find themselves filled with fear. I hope my story can help them in their struggles. After my own encounter with death and paralyzing fear and after years of work toward healing, I have been compelled to share my story. God’s voice, or what some people call an inner voice, higher power, or goodness of being, has said to me repeatedly that my purpose on earth now is to tell my story of healing and hope. I believe it can help people who have to face all kinds of difficulties from stress to illness to catastrophes to look for the Divine Good in the difficulty. At some point, everyone has to heal. Everyone goes through the same healing process. This is a book about healing.

  In the months after I was left for dead on
the tarmac, I was filled with fear. I was afraid to go outside my house, to the grocery store, a movie, or use a public restroom. I was afraid I would be hunted and gunned down. I struggled to get back on an airplane. Each time I got on, I walked down the aisle sneaking glances at laps to see if they were holding packages that could be guns or grenades. This fear gripped me and wouldn’t let me grow. I went through severe depression and lived with an overpowering anger for years. Ultimately I learned to forgive.

  I don’t use the word forgiveness glibly; it is a word that gets thrown around way too much. It took me eleven years to forgive the hijackers of EgyptAir 648, eleven years of doing something every day, whether consciously or not. I started with hatred and anger. You cannot forgive if you’re still angry. I cried. I grieved. I raged. I hung in there, kept my faith, worked with a therapist, and finally was able to let go. I’m so glad I did. Forgiving does not condone what the hijackers did. Rather, forgiveness is a release, a letting go so that the person no longer has a hold on you. For a long time, I had to make sure that the man who shot me, who was held in a Malta jail, was not a happy man. I wanted him as miserable as I was. Little by little, I began to accept what had happened, who this person was, and stop hungering for his punishment.

  I had, and still have, physical challenges. My vision is fractured. I see only parts of things, so I have had to learn to walk again without bumping into walls or trees. I have had to learn to read again. I suffer memory loss and seizures. I lost my career, income, and marriage. I lost my dream of living in other countries among other peoples, including the Arab people in Egypt who I loved and continue to love so much. But I was given a gift as well. The hijacking was a wake-up call for me to slow down, cherish life, and pay attention. It forced me to deal with a reality that I would have postponed until my dying day. I learned to look past the obstacles that get in my way and focus on what really matters in life. I tend to worry a lot about little things, but if I am paying attention and self aware, I don’t let myself do that anymore. I live in the moment, and I’m fine. I’m great. I have lost a lot of my vision, but I’m light now.

  I talk to God a lot, and in the weeks since that sad, unforgettable Tuesday morning in September, I keep hearing God’s voice saying everything is going to be okay. I know this voice does not mean that I will be able to see well again, or read more easily, or that my epilepsy will disappear. It does not mean that I will never have my heart in my throat as I round a dark corner or board an airplane, or that no one will be paralyzed or die. But it means we can make good happen by this. We have no guarantee about what will happen to our bodies, but we can be assured and guaranteed that our spirits will be okay, that who we really are will be okay.

  When I was shot in the head, I was awakened to life. I try every day to remember that I already have what I need and be thankful on a daily basis. I try to remain alert every moment of every day, alert to the sunshine and the rain, alert to the pain and pleasures of my fellows and family, alert to opportunities to be the kind of friend to others that I would like to have as a friend.

  Each of us can make a profound difference in the world by paying attention to what happens in our own personal spheres of influence. We live in an increasingly violent world. I believe there is a way, through reconciliation, love, acceptance, and understanding that each of us—individually and collectively—can truly make a difference in the world. We can reach out and stop the cycle of violence and hatred.

  We can make a difference by slowing down, noticing the moment we live in, extending ourselves to others, living with integrity, and telling ours mates, children, friends, and family that we love them. Ask, why am I here on earth? Am I doing my part? Am I committed to forgiving others and healing the hurts in our relationships? Do I expect and give thanks for the everyday miracles I see all around me? Am I letting my spirit sing while I’m here?

  I am immensely saddened by the terrorist attacks that took so many lives and spawned so much understandable fear and rage. The sadness is with me every day. The sadness has been with me every day for the last sixteen years, an unavoidable recognition of pain and hurt. But I am still hopeful that we are moving forward toward peace here on earth. As in every tragedy, whether it is an act of terrorism, a life threatened by cancer or AIDS, an accident that leaves one disabled, a separation from a loved one, we can know that Divine Good is always present and that our spirits will heal.


  THIS BOOK WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE without the generous and loving help and support Peter and I received from so many people.

  We’d like to thank Irene Getz, Ph.D., for reading early drafts of the work; Cheryl Haraseth, for her incredible diligence in transcribing hours and hours of taped interviews; and Bill and Marcia Behring, my business partners, for all their help and hard work during many wonderful years of working together.

  Others who helped Peter and me and deserve recognition include my mother and father, Rylma and Eugene Nink; Scott Pflug; June and Greg Pflug; Barbara and Wayne Wilson; Debbie Reno Wells; my sister Mary Nink and my nephew Michael Nink; my sister Gloria Beaver; Mr. E. C. Woods; Cindy Carter; Anne Moen; Ellie Hyatt; Roger Brunner; Mark and Betsy Gathercole; Kathy MacPherson; Ursula Lommen; Barbara Zimbeck Garland; Brenda Schaeffer; Mark Lyso; Don George; Stephen Boehlke; Paul and Rina Kizilos; Tolly and Betty Kizilos; Michael and Meg Adamovich; Jack Orth; George Cleveland; Rudy Ruettiger; and Ken Schelper.

  We also wish to thank Rebecca Post, our editor at Hazelden, for her insightful and incredibly skillful advice and help in shaping this book. We’d like to thank everyone at Hazelden who helped make this book possible—including sales and marketing staff, graphic designers, manuscript editors, and proofreaders.

  Many thanks to other friends and supporters who offered their critical comments, encouragement, moral support, and love throughout the project—especially Jim Olsen and Nancy Clift.

  Finally, I’d like to thank my Inner Voice for urging me to share my story—even when I didn’t seem to listen.


  THE HIJACKING OF EGYPTAIR FLIGHT 648 was a terrifying drama that sent shock waves around the world.

  For an entire week in late November 1985, it was the lead story in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and on television network news broadcasts worldwide. Millions of concerned readers and viewers followed the fate of passengers from fourteen nations who were left to the mercy of three cold-blooded killers.

  I was a thirty-year-old special education teacher, and one of three U.S. citizens on the plane when it was forced to land on a darkened, desert airstrip on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta. Along with the ninety-four other men, women, and children, I waited nervously as the international community considered its response.

  President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz joined the Maltese, Egyptian, and other world leaders in seeking to negotiate a peaceful end to the siege. When the terrorists’ demand for fuel was refused, they threatened to start executing one passenger every fifteen minutes—starting with Israelis and Americans—until they got what they wanted. The world watched in horror as the terrorists carried out their plan.

  I was the fifth person shot in the head at pointblank range, shoved out of the plane and onto the tarmac, and left for dead.

  When negotiations finally broke down, Maltese and Egyptian government officials decided to storm the plane in a desperate effort to rescue the remaining hostages. There was plenty of second-guessing and finger-pointing after that strategy failed. At the same time, tensions in the Middle East flared as Egypt braced itself for a possible attack by Libya. The United States issued a strong condemnation of terrorism and vowed to hunt down terrorists everywhere and bring them to justice.

  As time passed and the immediate crisis faded, the story of the hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 648 slowly drifted to the back pages—and, eventually, disappeared.

  Yet the bullet’s impact on my life continued to grow and grow. I
n addition to vision and memory loss, I struggled to cope with a severe learning disability, a strange numbness in my left side, epileptic seizures, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and clinical depression. The long, uphill struggle to heal from these wounds and their emotional consequences wreaked havoc on my marriage and other relationships. There were times when despair closed in around me and life didn’t seem worth living.

  For me, the real drama of the hijacking begins after the cameras stopped rolling and the front-page stories were filed and forgotten. The “story behind the story” starts in the quiet and lonely place where I come face-to-face with the fear, anger, sadness, and grief stirred by the hijacking. It starts on the long road to recovery. It starts when I begin to own my bitterness, pain, and many losses. It starts when I asked myself the question: What am I going to do about it now?

  There were two obvious choices: I could slip into self-pity and blame, and see myself as a victim for the rest of my life. Or I could choose to accept total responsibility for my responses to a terrible tragedy. Either way, I came to realize that the decision was up to me.

  Choosing the second option, to reclaim my life and my dreams, would require years of slow and painful work. It would take every ounce of strength, every bit of courage, persistence, and determination I could muster. I’d have to be willing to probe deep inside, to explore a murky world of hidden emotions. I’d have to apply everything I knew about teaching learning disabled children to myself. I’d have to become more patient with myself, become thankful for the small things, and learn to trust my gut for answers.

  I had to rely more on my Inner Voice—my words for what others call the Christ Within, God, intuition, insight, a Higher Power, or Higher Consciousness. Listening closely to my Inner Voice helped me solve many problems I could never have handled alone.

  I had three major goals after the hijacking: to raise my reading level, drive again, and go back to work. I was determined to do everything in my power to come back strong.

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