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Sabena Logo.svg
Sabena's last logo, used from 1993 to 2001.
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded23 May 1923 (1923-05-23)
Ceased operations7 November 2001 (2001-11-07)
(operations transferred to Delta Air Transport, which later became SN Brussels Airlines)
HubsBrussels Airport
Frequent-flyer programQualiflyer
Fleet sizeAt time of closure: 52
DestinationsAt time of closure: 99
HeadquartersZaventem, Belgium
Key peopleAt time of closure:

The Societé anonyme belge d'Exploitation de la Navigation aérienne (French; lit.'Belgian Limited Company for the Exploitation of Aerial Navigation'), better known by the acronym Sabena or SABENA, was the national airline of Belgium from 1923 to 2001, with its base at Brussels National Airport. After its bankruptcy in 2001, SN Brussels Airlines was formed through a takeover of former subsidiary Delta Air Transport and took over part of Sabena's assets in February 2002, which became Brussels Airlines after a merger with Virgin Express in March 2007. The airline's corporate headquarters were located in the Sabena House on the grounds of Brussels Airport in Zaventem.[1]


1923–1939: Beginnings[edit]

Sabena began operations on 23 May 1923 as the national carrier of Belgium. The airline was created by the Belgian government after its predecessor SNETA (Syndicat national pour l'étude des transports aériens, National Syndicate for the Study of Aerial Transports) - formed in 1919 to pioneer commercial aviation in Belgium - ceased operations. Sabena operated its first commercial flight from Haren Brussels to London (UK) on 1 July 1923, via Ostend. Services to Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Strasbourg (France) were launched on 1 April 1924. The Strasbourg service was extended to Basle (Switzerland) on 10 June 1924. Amsterdam (Netherlands) was added on 1 September 1924, and Hamburg (Germany) followed on 1 May 1929 via Antwerp, Düsseldorf, and Essen.

Belgian Congo[edit]

A Fokker F.VII in Sabena colours

When Sabena was created, the airline was partly funded by Belgians in the Belgian Congo colony who had lost their air service, an experimental passenger and cargo company (LARA) between Léopoldville, Lisala, and Stanleyville a year earlier. They expected the new Belgian national airline to fill this gap. On 12 February 1925, Sabena pioneered a long haul across Africa to Leopoldville, capital of the Belgian Congo. Throughout its history, Sabena had a long tradition of service to African destinations and for a long time, these were the only profitable routes served by the airline.

Sabena used land planes for its Congo operations and a program of aerodrome construction was initiated in the Congo. This was finished in 1926 and Sabena immediately began flights within the Belgian colony, the main route being Boma-Léopoldville-Élisabethville, a 2,288 km (1,422 mi) route over dense jungle. First, flights were operated with De Havilland DH.50s, although these were quickly replaced by the larger Handley Page W.8f which had three engines and offered ten seats.

By 1931 Sabena's fleet, including the aircraft used on the Congo network, totalled 43 aircraft. Its mainstay type was the Fokker F.VIIB with a lesser number of smaller Fokker VIIA and 14 Handley-Page types. It also flew British Westland Wessex aircraft.

Sabena occasionally flew to tropical Africa, Belgium's Congo colony, but mostly these aircraft were shipped out. There was no direct flight yet between Belgium and the colony. As the 1930s progressed, Sabena cooperated with Air France and Deutsche Luft Hansa, which also had interests in routes to destinations across Africa.

Sabena's first long-haul flight to the Congo occurred on 12 February 1935 and took five and a half days, for which Sabena used a Fokker F-VII/3m aircraft. The following year, Sabena purchased the Savoia-Marchetti SM.73 airliner. With a speed of 300 km/h (200 mph), it reduced the journey time to only four days, and the Sabena service ran on alternate weeks to an Air Afrique service.[citation needed]

A Savoia-Marchetti SM.73 from Sabena, similar to the one that crashed in the 1935 crash.

Expansion in Europe[edit]

In Europe, Sabena opened services to Copenhagen and Malmö in 1931 and a route to Berlin was initiated in 1932. The mainstay pre-war airliner that Sabena used in Europe was the successful Junkers Ju 52/3m airliner. The airline's pre-war routes covered almost 6,000 km within Europe. While the Brussels Haren Airport was Sabena's main base, the company also operated services from other Belgian airports and had a domestic network that was mainly used by businessmen who wanted to be in their coastal villas for the weekend.

In 1938, the airline purchased the new Savoia-Marchetti SM.83, a development of the S.M. 73 with a speed of 435 km/h (270 mph), although it flew services at a cruising speed of about 400 km/h (250 mph).

1939–1946: Wartime[edit]

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Sabena's fleet totalled 18 aircraft. Its mainstay fleet type was the Savoia-Marchetti SM.73 airliner (it had 11 of the type) and the Junkers Ju 52/3m airliner (it had five). Sabena also had just taken delivery of two Douglas DC-3s.

During the war, the airline maintained its Belgian Congo routes, but all European services ceased.

1946–1960: Transatlantic expansion[edit]

Douglas DC-3 of Sabena in 1949
Sabena Douglas DC-6B arriving at Manchester Airport from New York in 1955

After the war, in 1946 Sabena resumed operating a network of intra-European scheduled services. The fleet initially consisted mainly of Douglas DC-3s. There were thousands of surplus Douglas C-47 Skytrains (the military variant of the DC-3) available to help airlines restart operations after the war. The airline now flew under the name of SABENA - Belgian World Airlines.

Sabena started its first transatlantic route to New York City on 4 June 1946, initially using unpressurised Douglas DC-4 airliners which were augmented and later replaced by Douglas DC-6Bs. The DC-4s also restarted the airline's traditional route to the Belgian Congo. Sabena was the first airline to introduce transatlantic schedules from the north of England, when one of its DC-6Bs inaugurated the Brussels-Manchester-New York route on 28 October 1953.

The Convair 240 was introduced in 1949 to partially replace the DC-3s that until then had flown most European services. As of 1956, improved Convair 440 "Metropolitan" twins began replacing the Convair 240 twins and were used successfully well into the 1960s between European regional destinations.

In 1957, the long-range Douglas DC-7C was introduced for long-haul routes but this plane would begin to be supplanted after only three years by the jet age. It remained in service on the transatlantic route until 1962.

On 3 June 1954, a Soviet Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (NATO reporting name "Fagot") attacked a Sabena-operated Douglas DC-3 on a cargo flight from the United Kingdom to Yugoslavia, killing the radio operator and wounding both the captain and engineer. Co-pilot Douglas Wilson managed to land in Austria but the plane suffered significant damage.[2]

For the 1958 world exposition in Brussels, Sabena leased two Lockheed Super Constellations from Seaboard World Airlines, using them mainly on transatlantic routes. In the same period, there were experiments with helicopter passenger service using Sikorsky S-58 aircraft from Brussels to Antwerp, Rotterdam, Eindhoven and the Paris heliport at Issy-les-Moulineaux.

1960–1990: The jet age[edit]

Revenue Passenger-Kilometers, scheduled flights only, in millions
Year Traffic
1950 235
1955 579
1960 1,264
1965 1,635
1971 2,720
1975 3,796
1980 4,853
1989 6,760
1995 8,620
2000 19,379
Source: ICAO Digest of Statistics for 1950-55, IATA World Air Transport Statistics 1960-2000
Sabena Boeing 707-329 in April 1960, shortly after delivery.
A Sabena Boeing 747-100 seen in 1976.
Sabena Douglas DC-10-30CF convertible pax/freighter at Brussels Airport in 1977.
A Sabena Airbus A310 seen in 1985.
A Sabena Boeing 707 near its end of service, in 1981.

1960 saw the introduction of the Boeing 707-320 intercontinental jet for trans-Atlantic flights to New York. SABENA was mainland Europe's first airline to operate a jet across the Atlantic (BOAC had been flying jet transatlantic services using the de Havilland Comet 4 since 4 October 1958). One of Sabena's aircraft became the first Boeing 707 to crash while in commercial service when Flight 548 crashed while preparing to land at Brussels on 15 February 1961. The United States Figure Skating Team was aboard the aircraft, en route from New York to Prague via Brussels to compete in a figure skating championship.

Six Caravelle jetliners were introduced on all medium-haul routes in Europe from February 1961, being flown on most routes alongside the Convair 440s, until the early 1970s.

The beginning of the 1960s saw a major upheaval for Sabena in the Congo. Widespread rioting against Belgian colonials in the months leading up to, and after the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, caused thousands of Belgians to flee the country. The Belgian government commandeered Sabena's entire long haul fleet to get the refugees back to Europe. Independence also meant the end of the impressive regional network of routes that the airline had built up in the Congo since 1924. When the new republic began its own airline, Air Congo, in June 1961, Sabena held 30 percent of that airline's shares.

The Douglas DC-6Bs remained in service with Sabena in the mid-1960s although they were no longer used on the airline's main routes. The Boeing 707s and Caravelles became the mainstay types during this decade. Boeing 727-100s were introduced on important European routes and also some African services from 1967 in a unique colour scheme; the fin markings incorporated bare-metal rudder and white engine colours. The only other aircraft to have its own special markings was the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. At this time Fokker F27 Friendships entered service between regional Belgian airports and European destinations such as London Heathrow.

The Boeing 747-100 was introduced in 1971, on transatlantic routes flying alongside the Boeing 707-320Cs. Sabena, like many other trans-Atlantic airlines, was satisfied with the Boeing 707s. For commercial reasons it was recognised that it had to buy jumbo jets for its prestige services, notably New York JFK and as of the mid-seventies, Chicago O'Hare. Sabena purchased only two first generation jumbo jets, one named Tante Agathe (which means Aunt Agathe in French), and it continued to fly the 707 into the late 1970, as the Boeing 747-100's last flight occurred in 1993.

In 1973, the Boeing 727s on the European network were replaced by Boeing 737-200s. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 entered service in 1974. In total, Sabena purchased five of these convertible (Passengers and/or freight) combi aircraft wide-body jets.

In 1984 Airbus A310s were introduced on routes that had high passenger density. This aircraft type also introduced a modernisation of the 1973 Sabena livery, in which a lighter blue was used and the titles on the fuselage were in a more modern style.

In June 1986 the first of two Boeing 747-300 aircraft joined the fleet, eventually replacing the older 747-100s.

In an advertisement in National Geographic June 1982 (volume 161, no. 6) Sabena prided itself with a superior inflight service. "And unlike most European airlines Sabena still offers First Class service within Europe and all the way through." This advertisement also stated that "Sabena flies to 76 destinations on 4 continents" and used the slogan "belgian world airlines".

In 1989 Sabena invited Belgian fashion designer Olivier Strelli to create a new range of uniforms for its cabin crews.

1990–1995: Sabena World Airlines[edit]

A Sabena Boeing 737 at Dublin Airport in 1985.

A new name, Sabena World Airlines, and colours were introduced for the 1990s. The new livery had an overall white colour and the white circle tail logo in blue on the fin. A large "Sabena" title covered the fuselage in light blue and the name "Belgian World Airlines" was at times just visible, though the title was also painted on the fuselage in small, clear letters. The 1990s saw further fleet type renewal: the DC-10-30s were replaced with twin-engined Airbus A330 and the Boeing 747s with four-engined Airbus A340.

To replace their old Boeing 747s, Sabena purchased many Airbus A340s. The first Sabena Airbus A340 first flew in 1993.

After the liberalisation of the airline industry throughout Europe and the economic consequences of the Gulf War, the Belgian government, the main shareholder of the company, realized that Sabena had little chance of surviving on its own in this very competitive market, and began searching for a suitable partner.

Sabena remained in a poor financial state, and year after year the Belgian government had to cover losses, however it was prevented from providing new funds due to EU State Aid rules. For help in business due to their financial problems, Sabena leased a couple of Boeing 747s from Air France. Many more aircraft were leased for longer periods, but had to keep their distinctive French registration numbers.

A Boeing 747-128 leased from Air France in 1992.

Around 1987, SAS tried to merge with the carrier, but the merger was blocked by the Belgian authorities. In 1989, British Airways and KLM purchased stakes in Sabena, which were later sold back to the Belgian government. In 1993, Air France purchased a large minority stake in Sabena, which it sold soon after. Finally, in 1995, Swissair purchased a 49 percent stake in Sabena and took over management.

In 1993 Sabena adopted its third and final logo, and its head office was in the Air Terminus building on Rue Cardinal Mercier in Brussels.[3]

In 1994, Paul Rusesabagina, a manager for Sabena-owned hotels in the former Belgian territory of Rwanda, sheltered over 1200 Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the Hôtel des Mille Collines of Kigali, saving them from being slaughtered by the Interahamwe militia during the Rwandan genocide (this is depicted in the 2004 motion picture Hotel Rwanda).[4]

1995–2001: Swissair control[edit]

A Sabena Boeing 737-500 in 2000.
Sabena BAe 146 at Birmingham, 2001

When Swissair took over management of the airline, few modifications were made to the aircraft's liveries, including a sticker, saying: Flying together with Swissair. In March and April 1998 two McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 aircraft, both leased from CityBird, joined the fleet and such long-haul destinations as Newark, Montreal and São Paulo were (re)introduced. Also, that year saw the delivery of the last passenger version of the MD-11 from Boeing, which merged with McDonnell Douglas a year before.

1999 saw new colours introduced to the fleet, beginning with an Airbus A340. One of the latest fleet types that Sabena introduced, right after the A321 and A320 was the A319 which saw service in 2000. These new planes were part of a record-order of 34 Airbus A320 family aircraft, imposed on Sabena when under Swissair management.

After an airline recession and the effects on the airline industry of the September 11 attacks in 2001, all airlines that flew across the Atlantic suffered. Swissair had pledged to invest millions in Sabena but failed to do so, partly because the airline had financial problems itself, having filed for bankruptcy protection one month prior. Sabena filed for legal protection against its creditors on 3 October, and went into liquidation on 6 November 2001. Fred Chaffart, chairman of the board of directors of Sabena, read a declaration on this day to explain the decision.

7 November 2001 was the final day of operations for Sabena. Flight 690 [nl] (operated by an Airbus A340-311 registered as OO-SCZ) from Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Cotonou, Benin, was the last Sabena flight to land in Brussels.[5] The flight had 266 passengers and eleven crew members.

A group of investors managed to take over Delta Air Transport, one of Sabena's subsidiaries, and transformed it into SN Brussels Airlines. That airline merged with Virgin Express in 2006 to form a new company, Brussels Airlines.

2001: Bankruptcy[edit]

SN Brussels Airlines BAe 146 in the former Sabena livery at London Heathrow Airport in 2002.

The Belgian Parliament formed a committee to investigate the reasons behind the bankruptcy of Sabena and the involvement of Switzerland's flag carrier. At the same time, the company's administrator investigated possible legal steps against Swissair, and its successors in interest Swiss International Air Lines and Lufthansa.

In 2006, the Belgian government, a former major shareholder, filed criminal charges against the former Swissair management. The former Swissair management was condemned by the judges.[6]

On 16 January 2007 the Belgian - Flemish news program Terzake reported that during the 1990s, several members of the board were paid large sums illegally through a Sabena affiliate in Bermuda. When Paul Reutlinger became the CEO of the company, he stopped the illegal payments. Terzake went on to state that this might explain why the Belgian board members remained quiet when it became apparent Swissair was exploiting Sabena and eventually drove the company into bankruptcy.

The reasons for Sabena's bankruptcy [fr; nl] are numerous. One of the direct causes was Swissair not living up to their contractual obligations and failing to inject necessary funds into the company. This was because at the time Swissair was having its own financial problems. In the so-called "Hotel Agreement", signed on July 17, 2001, Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt met with Swissair boss Mario Corti, who agreed to inject €258 million into Sabena, but the sum was never paid. The purchase of 34 new Airbus A320 family planes, imposed under Swissair's management, was a burden with which Sabena could not cope.[7][8]

After the bankruptcy, a parliamentary commission in Belgium was established to investigate the demise of the airline. The Belgian politicians got a part of the blame; Rik Daems, who, at the time, was Minister of Public Enterprises and Participations, Telecommunication and Middle Classes, received the most criticism due to his lack of effort. Swissair itself went bankrupt in October 2001 and was liquidated in March 2002.[9][10]

Georges Jaspis[edit]

At the outbreak of World War II, Georges Jaspis (b. 11 November 1916) was a pilot in the Belgian Military Aviation. In 1942 he escaped to England where he flew for No. 609 Squadron RAF, during which time he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war he joined Sabena and flew with the airline for 33 years, amassing more than 27,000 hours flying time before he retired. Captain Jaspis inaugurated Sabena's Manchester to New York service in October 1953, and took delivery of the Sabena's first Boeing 707 and 747 aircraft. He died 14 December 2007, and was buried in Opprebais, a village south-east of Brussels. The Belgian military attended and a flypast of four F-16 jets in missing man formation was made.[11]


The flight schedule of Sabena published in March 2001 comprised 33 cities in Europe, 17 in Africa, 6 in North America, and 4 in Asia.[12] In addition to its air destinations, Sabena also had a ground shuttle service between Valenciennes, France, and Brussels Airport.[13]


Sabena's fleet consisted of the following aircraft at the time of the bankruptcy in November 2001:[14]

Sabena fleet
Aircraft In
Orders Passengers Notes
C Y Total
Airbus A319-100 15 10 131 131 On order but never delivered
Airbus A320-200 6 156 156
Airbus A321-200 3 188 188
Airbus A330-200 6 54 187 241
Airbus A330-300 4 50 222 272
Airbus A340-200 2 54 198 252
Airbus A340-300 3 3 52 242 294 On order but never delivered
Boeing 737-300 6 126 126
Boeing 737-500 6 111 111
McDonnell Douglas MD-11 2 48 249 297 Leased from CityBird
Last passenger version delivered in 1998
Total 53 13

Historical aircraft[edit]

Over the years, Sabena has operated a variety of the following aircraft:[14][15]

Sabena historical fleet
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired Notes
Aérospatiale Alouette III 1 1957 1968
Airbus A310-200 3 1984 1997
Airbus A310-300 3 1987 1997
Ansaldo A.300 1 1923 1925
Airco DH.4 2 1923 1926
Antonov An-12V 1 Un­known Un­known Leased from Balkan Bulgarian Airlines
ATR 72-200 2 1999 2001 Leased from Schreiner Airways
Auster Autocrat 1 1946 1970
Avro Anson 1 1950 1953
Avro RJ85 14 1995 2001 Operated by Delta Air Transport
Avro RJ100 12 1997 2001
BAC One-Eleven Series 500 6 1995 1996 Leased from European Aviation Air Charter and British World Airlines
Bell 47D-1 3 1950 1954
Bell 47H 1 1957 1963
Bréguet 19 1 1923 Un­known
British Aerospace BAe-146-200 8 1990 2001 Operated by Delta Air Transport
British Aerospace Jetstream 31 1 1996 1996
Beechcraft 65 1 1968 1970 Operated by Delta Air Transport
Beechcraft 99 2 1976 1986 Operated by Publi-Air
Blériot-SPAD S.33 4 1923 1926
Boeing 707-320 7 1959 1978
Boeing 707-320C 10 1965 1996
Boeing 707-420 1 1978 1978 Leased from Geminair
Boeing 727-100 6 1967 1978
Boeing 727-200 1 1997 1997
Boeing 737-200 16 1974 2001
Boeing 737-400 3 1991 2001
Boeing 747-100 1 1978 1978 Leased from Air France
1 1992 1992
Boeing 747-100SCD 2 1970 1990
Boeing 747-200M 2 1993 1996 Leased from Air France
Boeing 747-300 3 1986 1999
Bristol Freighter 3 1957 1966 Leased from Air Charter Limited
Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander 2 1971 1975 Operated by Publi-Air
Cessna 172M 1 1990 2001
Cessna 310 11 1957 1982
Convair CV-240 7 1949 1957
Convair CV-440 12 1956 1968
de Havilland DH.9 4 1923 1931
de Havilland DH.50 2 1923 1927
de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth 2 1954 1971
de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide 1 1949 1950
de Havilland DH.104 Dove 7 1947 1957
de Havilland DH.114 Heron 1 1967 1968 Operated by Belgian International Air Services
de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 1 1973 1981 Operated by Publi-Air
De Havilland Canada Dash 8-100 1 2000 2001 Leased from Schreiner Airways
De Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 12 1990 2001 Operated by Delta Air Transport
Douglas C-47 Skytrain 35 1946 1969
Douglas C-54 Skymaster 3 1947 1961
Douglas DC-3 12 1946 1969
Douglas DC-4 13 1947 1964
Douglas DC-6 20 1947 1971
Douglas DC-7C 9 1956 1964
Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia 2 1994 Un­known Operated by Delta Air Transport
Embraer EMB 121 Xingu 5 1991 2001 Operated by Belgian Flying School
Farman F.60 Goliath 4 1923 1929
Fairchild FH-227B 3 Un­known Un­known Operated by Delta Air Transport
Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner 3 1976 1989 Operated by European Air Transport
1 1987 1987 Operated by Publi-Air
Fokker F.II 2 1927 1937
Fokker F.VII 28 1929 1946
Fokker F-27 Friendship 3 1969 1990
Fokker F-28 Fellowship 11 1993 1996 Operated by Delta Air Transport
Fokker 50 1 1990 1991 Leased from Maersk Air
Göppingen Gö 4 1 1956 1957
Handley Page W.8F 15 1924 1935
Junkers F 13 3 1923 1929
Junkers Ju 52 9 1936 1946
Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra 2 1942 1947
Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar 7 1941 1949
Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation 3 1958 1958 Leased from Seaboard World Airlines
MBB/Kawasaki BK 117 1 1989 1989
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 6 1979 1997
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30CF 6 1974 1994
Piper L-4 Grasshopper 2 1954 1963
Piper PA-32 Cherokee Six 1 Un­known Un­known
Piper PA-34 Seneca 1 Un­known Un­known
Rumpler C.IV 4 1923 1929
Saab 91 Safir 2 1953 1957
SABCA S.2 1 1926 1933
Savoia-Marchetti SM.73 12 1935 1940
Savoia-Marchetti SM.83 4 1938 1940
Scheibe Spatz 1 1954 1965
Schleicher Ka 2 Rhönschwalbe 1 1956 1957
SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 4 1970 1991
Sikorsky S-55 6 1953 1957
Sikorsky S-58 10 1956 1967
Sikorsky S-62 1 1960 1961
Sud Aviation Caravelle 12 1961 1977
Vertol 44 2 1958 1958 Leased from Vertol Aircraft Corporation
Westland IV 4 1930 1935


  • On 7 December 1934 at least two SABENA aircraft were destroyed in a hangar fire at Haren Airport as a result of a crash of a military Fairey Fox biplane.

Flights to or from Europe[edit]

  • On 11 September 1930, a SABCA F7b/3m (OO-AIN) lost control and crashed shortly after takeoff from Croydon Airport following an unexplained in-flight fire, killing both pilots.[16]
  • On 10 December 1935, a Savoia-Marchetti S.73 (registered OO-AGN) crashed at Tatsfield, Surrey, United Kingdom, with the loss of 11 lives.
  • On 4 January 1937, Max Wenner disappeared from a Savoia Marchetti S.73 (registration OO-AGP) over Belgium; the plane itself was dismantled and hauled away by the Germans shortly after invasion of Belgium in 1940.[17]
  • On 16 November 1937, a Junkers Ju 52/3m (registered OO-AUB) crashed near Ostend, Belgium, while landing, killing all 12 people on board.
  • On 10 October 1938, a Savoia-Marchetti S.73 (OO-AGT) broke up in mid-air over Soest, Germany en route to Berlin from Düsseldorf, killing all 20 on board.[18]
  • On 14 March 1939, a Junkers Ju 52/3mge (OO-AUA) crashed in a field at Sint-Stevens-Woulve due to pilot error, killing the three crew. The aircraft was operating a cargo (mail) from London to Brussels.[19]
  • On 17 September 1946 at 01:47 local time, a Douglas DC-3 (registered OO-AUR) crashed upon takeoff from Haren Airport, killing one crew member. The other two crew and four passengers on board the flight bound for Croydon Airport survived. The aircraft had lost airspeed on takeoff for unknown reasons.[20]
The crash site of the DC-4 in Newfoundland.
  • The next day, 18 September 1946, 27 people died when a SABENA Douglas DC-4 (OO-CBG) crashed 35 km short of Gander Airport, where the aircraft planned to land for a refueling stop on the flight from Brussels to New York. At the time of the accident (07:42 UTC), there was dense fog near the airport, and the pilot executed a flawed approach at too low an altitude. There were 17 survivors (16 passengers and one crew).[21]
  • The 19 passengers and three crew members on a flight from Brussels to London died on 2 March 1948 when a Douglas DC-3 registered OO-AWH, crashed at 21:14 local time on approach to London Heathrow Airport in low visibility conditions.
  • On 18 December 1949, at approximately 20:30 local time, a DC-3 (registered OO-AUQ) crashed near Aulnay-sous-Bois, France, killing the four passengers and four crew on board. The aircraft had just left Le Bourget Airport for a flight to Brussels, when a wing separated.[22]
  • On 14 October 1953 at ca. 15:20 local time, a Convair CV-240 (registered OO-AWQ) crashed near Kelsterbach, West Germany, killing the 40 passengers and four crew aboard the flight from Frankfurt to Brussels. Engine power was lost upon takeoff from Frankfurt Airport, making the aircraft impossible to control. The accident remains the deadliest involving the Convair 240.[23]
  • One passenger on board a flight from Brussels to Zurich was killed on 19 December of the same year, when the aircraft (a CV-240 registered OO-AWO) hit the ground 2.5 km short of the runway threshold of Kloten Airport at 18:55 local time. In low visibility conditions, the pilot descended below the glidepath. The other 39 passengers and three crew members survived the accident.[24]
  • On 3 June 1954, a DC-3 (registered OO-CBY) was attacked [de] by a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter aircraft near Maribor, Yugoslavia. The aircraft, on a cargo flight from Blackbushe Airport to Belgrade, remained airborne, and a forced landing at Graz Airport was carried out, during which it ran off the runway. In the incident, one out of the four people on board was killed.[25]
  • On 13 February 1955, the pilots of Flight 503 from Brussels to Rome lost orientation when approaching Ciampino Airport, resulting in the Douglas DC-6 registered OO-SDB crashing into the slope of Monte Terminillo at 18:53 local time, killing the 21 passengers and eight crew on board.[26]
  • The crash of Flight 548 with its 73 casualties marked the worst accident in the history of SABENA. It happened on 15 February 1961 at 09:05 UTC, when the aircraft, a Boeing 707 registered OO-SJB, crashed at Brussels Airport following a flight from New York City.[27] Among the dead were the entire American delegation to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships slated to be held in Prague; the competition was canceled in the aftermath.
  • On 13 July 1968, Flight 712 [fr; nl], a cargo-configured 707 (registered OO-SJK) crashed upon approach to Lagos Airport in Nigeria on a flight from Brussels, killing the seven occupants. It was determined that the aircraft descended too low and struck trees.[28]
  • A DC-3 registered OO-AUX was damaged beyond repair in a ground accident at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on 9 May 1970. The pilots began to taxi the aircraft even though they had not been cleared to do so, which resulted in the right propeller hitting an obstacle on the ground, and debris destroying the airliner beyond economic repair. The aircraft had been leased from Delta Air Transport.[29]
  • On 8 May 1972, Flight 571 from Vienna to Tel Aviv with 101 people on board (a Boeing 707 registered OO-SJG) was hijacked by four members of the terrorist organization Black September, in order to secure the release of 315 detainees from Israeli prisons. At Ben-Gurion International Airport, two hijackers were shot and killed by the Israeli Sayeret Matkal special forces. One passenger died later of the wounds she had suffered in the shootout.[30]
The wreck of the Boeing 707 (OO-SJE) at Tenerife North Airport
  • On 15 February 1978, a Boeing 707 (registered OO-SJE) undershot the runway at Los Rodeos Airport, causing the nose gear to collapse, following a chartered holiday flight from Brussels with 189 passengers and seven crew on board. After all passengers and crew were evacuated spilled fuel caught fire, destroying the aircraft.[31]
  • On 4 April of the same year, at 18:07 local time, a Boeing 737-200 (registered OO-SDH) on a crew training flight suffered a bird strike during landing practice at Charleroi Airport. The pilot instructor attempted to get the aircraft airborne again, but failed because of insufficient remaining runway. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair.[32]
  • On 29 August 1998, Flight 542 from New York to Brussels with 248 passengers and 11 crew members on board, an Airbus A340-200 (registered OO-SCW), suffered a broken right landing gear upon landing at Brussels Airport. The aircraft veered off the runway. There were no notable injuries in the ensuing evacuation, and the aircraft was repaired.[33]
  • On 13 October 2000, Flight 689 from Brussels to Abidjan was hijacked by a Nigerian national who was due to be deported. The Airbus A330-200 with 146 other passengers and 11 crew members on board was forced to land at Málaga Airport in Spain, where the perpetrator was overpowered by local police forces.[34]
  • On 4 December 2000, Flight 877 from Brussels to Nairobi, Kenya, via Bujumbura, Burundi, was struck by machine gun fire as it approached Bujumbura, injuring a passenger and crew member. The Airbus A330, carrying 170 passengers and crew, was struck in an attack blamed by the government on Hutu rebels, who denied responsibility. The aircraft landed safely but did not continue the flight.[35]

Flights in the Belgian colonies[edit]

  • On 26 January 1937, a SABCA S.73 (OO-AGR) crashed south of Oran-es Senia Airport, Algeria during a round trip from Belgium to Belgian Congo, killing all 12 on board. During the flight back to Belgium the aircraft was approaching Oran for an en route stop. Witnesses noticed the aircraft flying at 1,000 m (3,300 ft) when it went into a sudden nosedive until it crashed. The cause was not determined, but bad weather and engine problems were ruled out. Several recommendations were issued in the wake of the accident: the center of gravity and baggage requirements are checked to ensure proper load distribution, ensure adequate maintenance and inspection personnel are available in the Congo and ports of call, review maximum hours of piloting to avoid fatigue as well as provide use of the autopilot, require seat belts for pilots, ensure all security measures are taken for crossing the Mediterranean, and to install more cockpit instruments.[36]
  • On 1 January 1943, a Junkers Ju 52 (registered OO-AUG) crashed 80 mi from Bangui in then French Equatorial Africa.[37]
  • On 25 March 1944, a Junkers Ju 52/3mge (OO-AGU) crashed at Costermansville (now Bukavu), Belgian Congo.[38]
  • Only some days later, on 3 April, another aircraft of the same type (OO-AUF) crashed nearby at Mongena.[39]
  • On 14 December 1945, a Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar (registered OO-CAK) caught fire and was subsequently destroyed following a forced landing near Kouandé during a flight that had originated at Lagos, Nigeria.[40]
  • On 7 January 1947, a Douglas DC-3 (registered OO-CBO) crashed near Costermansville.[41]
  • On 24 December 1947, a Lockheed Lodestar (OO-CAR) experienced an engine failure shortly after take-off from an airfield near Mitwaba, then French Congo, and subsequently crashed, killing the five occupants on board.[42]
  • On 12 May 1948, at 11:00 local time, a DC-4 (registered OO-CBE) crashed near Magazini after flying into a tornado at low altitude during a scheduled passenger flight from Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) to Libenge, then Belgian Congo, killing the 24 passengers and seven crew members; only one passenger survived.[43]
  • Another 13 people (ten passengers, three crew) were killed on 31 August of that year, when their aircraft, a DC-3 registered OO-UBL, crashed near Kimbwe en route to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) from Manono.[44]
  • On 27 August 1949, a Douglas DC-3 (registered OO-CBK) experienced a loss of engine power shortly after take-off from Leopoldville Airport for a flight to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi), with 17 passengers and three crew on board. The three crew members and two out of the seventeen passengers on board died in the ensuing crash [de].[45]
  • On 24 July 1951, the right engine of a cargo-configured DC-3 (registered OO-CBA) failed on takeoff from Gao Airfield and crashed [de], resulting in the loss of lives of the three persons on board. The engine failed due to hydraulic failure; hydraulic fluid squirted on the windshield, temporarily blinding the pilots who then lost control of the aircraft.[46]
  • On 4 February 1952, Flight 425 [de], a C-47A (registered OO-CBA), crashed in the Dibata forest some 20 km (12 mi) from Kikwit en route from Costermansville to Léopoldville after a blade broke off the right side propeller and cut through the fuselage, severing control cables and resulting in a loss of control, killing all 16 on board. The propeller blade broke off following a shaft failure when the number two engine stopped suddenly after the piston lug on the No. 6 cylinder failed due to fatigue.[47]
  • On 18 May 1958, a Douglas DC-7 (registered OO-SFA) suffered a problem with its leftmost engine, whilst on a flight from Lisbon to Léopoldville with 56 passengers and nine crew members. The pilots prepared for an emergency landing at Casablanca–Anfa Airport, but shortly before touchdown, a go-around was attempted, which resulted in a stall because of the lesser available engine power. The aircraft crashed into buildings and caught fire at 4:25 a.m. local time, from which only four passengers could be saved alive.[48]
A Douglas DC-7C similar to this one crashed in 1958 at Casablanca due to a mechanical failure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Von Schreiber, Sylvia. "Organisierte Pleite." Der Spiegel. 26 November 2001. "Wenige Stunden vorher geschah noch weit Merkwürdigeres: Polizisten der Brüsseler "Aufspürungsbrigade 4" drangen in die Privatwohnungen von vier Managern und in das Firmengebäude Sabena House am Flughafen Zaventem ein."
  2. ^ "Aviation Safety Network". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  3. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. 24–30 March 1993. 119.
  4. ^ Lacey, Marc (28 February 2005). "Rwandan Hotel Is Still Haunted by Horror". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  5. ^ Osborn, Andrew (7 November 2001). "Belgian airline goes bust with loss of 12,000 jobs". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  6. ^ "Sabena finally gets justice - the judges felt that the demise of Sabena was a consequence of non-compliance by Swissair contractual obligations - DBNet report January 2011 accessed 26 December 2011". 28 January 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  7. ^ "Airbus's secret past". The Economist. 12 June 2003. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  8. ^ Gumbel, Peter (20 October 2002). "The Last Days of Sabena". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  9. ^ "Sabena files for bankruptcy". The Guardian. 7 November 2001. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  10. ^ "Sabena bankrupt as its last flight lands". The Irish Times. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  11. ^ "Georges JASPIS".
  12. ^ "Flight schedule effective 25 March 2001 to 27 October 2001". Sabena. Archived from the original on 28 October 2001. Retrieved 17 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Did you ever fly by bus?". Sabena. Archived from the original on 9 September 1999. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  14. ^ a b "Sabena Fleet Details and History". Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  15. ^ "Sabena fleet". Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Crash of a Sabca F7b/3m in Croydon: 2 killed". Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives.
  17. ^ Marut, Alex (17 October 2020). "Het enigma rond Max Wenner" [The enigma surrounding Max Victor Wenner] (PDF). (in Flemish). Genk, Flanders, Belgium. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  18. ^ Accident description for OO-AGT at the Aviation Safety Network
  19. ^ Accident description for OO-AUA at the Aviation Safety Network
  20. ^ "17 September 1946 accident at the Aviation Safety Network". 17 September 1946. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  21. ^ "ASN Aircraft accident Douglas DC-4-1009 OO-CBG Gander, NF". 18 September 1946. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  22. ^ "December 1949 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 18 December 1949. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  23. ^ "October 1953 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 14 October 1953. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  24. ^ "December 1953 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  25. ^ "1954 military occurrence at the Aviation Safety Network". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  26. ^ "1954 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 13 February 1955. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  27. ^ "Flight 548 at the Aviation Safety Network". 15 February 1961. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  28. ^ "1968 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 13 July 1968. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  29. ^ "1970 incident at the Aviation Safety Network". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  30. ^ "1970 hijacking at the Aviation Safety Network". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  31. ^ "February 1978 incident at the Aviation Safety Network". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  32. ^ "April 1978 incident at the Aviation Safety Network". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  33. ^ "1998 incident at the Aviation Safety Network". 29 August 1998. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  34. ^ "2000 hijacking at the Aviation Safety Network". 13 October 2000. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  35. ^ Eismont, Maria. "Gunfire Damages Sabena Jet in Burundi, abc News". Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  36. ^ Accident description for OO-AGR at the Aviation Safety Network
  37. ^ "1943 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 1 January 1943. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  38. ^ "March 1944 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 25 March 1944. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  39. ^ "April 1944 accident at the Aviation Safety Network". 3 April 1944. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  40. ^ "1945 incident at the Aviation Safety Network". 14 December 1945. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  41. ^ "January 1947 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 7 January 1947. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  42. ^ "December 1947 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 24 December 1947. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  43. ^ "May 1948 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 12 May 1948. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  44. ^ "August 1948 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 31 August 1948. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  45. ^ "August 1949 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 27 August 1949. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  46. ^ "1951 accident at the Aviation Safety Network". 24 July 1951. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  47. ^ "1952 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 4 February 1952. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  48. ^ "1958 crash at the Aviation Safety Network". 18 May 1958. Retrieved 23 July 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Sabena at Wikimedia Commons