Tour Challenges

All musical organization tours have significant challenges: transportation, financial, meals, facing the unknown, interpersonal difficulties, not understanding local customs, communication problems, language barriers, accidents, etc., but none have ever impacted us like the two discussed below.

Bomb Reported On Our Airplane

Following a tour of America's Youth in Concert, Phyllis and I extended our stay in Europe for a few days and then boarded a flight in London bound for home. We had been in the sky for a short time when the flight attendants began serving meals. Suddenly the pilot came on the public address system and announced that we were making an emergency landing in Ireland and that meal service should stop immediately and the flight attendants would be collecting our trays, etc. In a matter of moments (as I remember the events of more than 50 years ago) our airplane landed and we exited rapidly. The plane did not make the usual taxiing to the airport but stopped at a significant distance on the tarmac. After a brisk walk to the airport and a brief stay, we were instructed to go back out to the plane, identify our luggage on the tarmac, open it, and have it searched before we could return to the tiny airport.

747 with Luggage on Tarmac
747 with Luggage on Tarmac
Passengers Searching Luggage
Passengers Searching Luggage

Dublin is a small airport which was not equipped to handle a large 747 and all those passengers (not enough space for us to sit, and limited food.) The pilot assembled us and told us that there had been a very reliable report that a bomb was aboard our plane and that we would be unable to continue our flight until the federal inspectors arrived from New York and completed an extensive search. In the meantime, we were not allowed outside the airport – essentially, we were captives in that tiny space that hardly had enough toilets for those of us who were nervously waiting. I believe we were there for a total of about 18 hours.

Pilot Speaks with Passengers

Eventually, we were informed that no bomb had been found, and that the flight would soon depart for New York. We were still apprehensive, but boarded the flight, and continued toward New York City with no further problems. We were all elated when we ultimately landed in the USA.

Stanford Chorale Begin Their European Tour in Rome

Following a wonderful and successful tour of Israel, the Stanford Chorale flew to Rome on December 26, 1985, in anticipation of a tour of Central Europe and a semester in Vienna. As we arrived at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, we were surprised to see many security guards throughout the airport brandishing firearms. We continued through the passport checkpoint and were subsequently driven to our housing. There we met other Stanford students as well as those from other universities and colleges. We enjoyed the conversations with those new friends.

One "international" student was John Buonocore III, a twenty-year-old Dickinson College junior. He was departing the next morning to return to the USA. He was jovial and anticipating his return home for the Christmas Holidays. Our first Rome concert was to take place the following evening in San Paolo dentro le Mura (St. Paul's Within the Walls, also known as The American Church in Rome.)

Mosaic - St. Paul's Within the Walls
St. Paul's Within the Walls
St. Paul's Within the Walls

When we arrived at the church we learned that there had been a terrorist massacre at the airport. One of five Americans killed in a terrorist attack had been the young man we spoke with the previous evening, John Buonocore. He was standing at the check-in counter of Trans World Airlines when Arab suicide terrorists began hurling hand grenades and firing rifles at holiday travelers.

John Buonocore
John Buonocore

The attack was primarily aimed at the terminal of El Al, an Israeli airline, and was a reprisal for an Israeli air raid on the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Tunis, Tunisia on October 1, 1985. There was a similar attack in Vienna at the airport at about the same time on the same day.

Only one of the five attacking terrorists survived as airport security forces returned fire. In his clothes, authorities found a note, in Arabic, which read:

“As you have violated our land, our honor, our people, we in exchange will violate everything, even your children to make you feel the sadness of our children. The tears we have shed will be exchanged for blood. The war has started from this moment.” The letter was signed, “The Martyrs of Palestine.”

Approximately 60 people were in the area of the bar at the time. 13 people were killed in the attack, and 76 were injured. Three of the perpetrators were killed by security staff, who returned fire towards the sources of the shooting. One terrorist was captured wounded. The incident took place over 15-20 seconds overall.

Leonardo da Vinci Airport on December 27, 1985

Although we were distraught by the attack in the same airport where we had arrived a day earlier, the concert was a successful memorial to those who had perished. It was only later, however, that we learned of the death of John Buonocore.

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