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Families Take Comfort in Viewing Hostages on Videotape

June 25, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ The families of 12 hostages from hijacked TWA Flight 847 say they were reassured by a televised videotape showing their loved ones, despite the hostages’ somber faces.

″It’s nice to see him alive, but it’s terrible to see him under these conditions,″ said Anna Lee Burghard, grandmother of James W. Hoskins, 22, of Indianapolis, after watching the tape on a network news program Monday night.

On the poor-quality videotape, apparently made Friday, eight hostages answered questions from one of their captors. Each was asked if he was being treated well and each assented, without enthusiasm. Many sported new beards; few smiles were seen.

Hoskins, when asked if he had a message to relay, replied, ″I hope to see my family and friends soon.″

″I feel OK. I feel fine,″ said Steve Willett, 36, of Choupic, La. ″I hope to see my family and friends soon.″

Four other hostages were shown but did not speak.

CBS News said the tape, which ran less than seven minutes, was obtained from the Shiite Amal militia Monday afternoon. It was also made available to NBC, ABC and Cable News Network. All four networks broadcast the tape or portions of it Monday evening after a 6:30 p.m. EDT embargo had passed.

Other hostages who spoke were Ralf Traugott, 32, of Lunenberg, Mass; the Rev. James W. McLoughlin, 45, of Geneva, Ill.; Grant Leonard Elliott, 27, of Algonquin, Ill., Blake Synnestvedt, 24 of Bryn Athyn, Pa., Claude Whitmoyer of Severn, Md., and Robert Peel Jr., 33, of Hutchinson, Kan.

″I’m doing well,″ McLoughlin told the interviewer. ″I’m looking forward to being home with my family and the people in the parish.″

His sister-in-law, Elizabeth McLoughlin of Deerfield, Ill., said, ″I thought he looked reasonably healthy, but he sounded like he was under a good deal of strain. He has a quiet, deliberate way of speaking, and when he is very stressed it becomes even more accentuated.″

CBS said it had identified those who appeared but did not speak as Victor Amburgy, 30, of San Francisco, Stuart Darsch, 30, of Boston, and Raymond Johnson, 62, of Aurora, Ill. It could not identify the 12th hostage.

The 12 are among 37 Americans from the flight held captive in Beirut. Three crew members are being kept aboard the hijacked jetliner at Beirut airport.

On the videotape, Willett leafed through a June 19 edition of USA Today.

Marsha Willett, 33, said her husband ″looked good. It was good to see him. ... But he now has a beard, which he didn’t have before.″

Axel Traugott of Boxford, Mass., said his brother ″looked like a man under a lot of stress,″ although Ralf Traugott had said before the camera, ″We’re being treated well.″

″That whole group looked like they had fear written all over their faces,″ Axel Traugott said.

Robert Peel’s parents, who were also aboard the hijacked plane but freed, along with their son’s wife, watched the tape from their Hutchinson home.

″We can’t make up our mind if he’s changed shirts or not,″ said Robert Peel Sr. ″We think he was wearing a golf T-shirt. He hasn’t shaved.″

″For the first time, at least I know he’s still alive,″ Gerald Darsch, 31, of Braintree said of his brother, Stuart.

″He still has that affable grin that he’s famous for, and to me that shows that he’s at least psychologically and physically ... he did look pretty good,″ Darsch said.

CBS News said in a statement that the tape was made for the European television news organization Visnews on Friday and remained in the hands of the Amal militia until Monday afternoon. It did not detail negotiations that led to receipt of the tape.

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