Sabena Flight 571
The incident aircraft at Heathrow on 7 June 1976
|Date||8 May 1972|
|Site||Tel Aviv-Lod International Airport (TLV), Lod, Israel|
|Passengers||94 (inc. 4 hijackers)|
|Injuries (non-fatal)||3 (2 passengers, 1 commando)|
|Fatalities||3 (1 passenger, 2 hijackers)|
|Survivors||98 (inc. 2 hijackers)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 707-329|
|Flight origin||Wien-Schwechat International Airport (VIE/LOWW)|
|Destination||Tel Aviv-Lod International Airport (TLV), Lod, Israel|
Sabena Flight 571 was a scheduled passenger flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv operated by the Belgian national airline, Sabena. On 8 May 1972 a Boeing 707 passenger aircraft operating that service, captained by English pilot Reginald Levy, DFC, was hijacked by four terrorists from the Black September organization and landed at Lod Airport (later Ben Gurion International Airport), its scheduled destination.
The attack was planned by Ali Hassan Salameh and carried out by a group of two men and two women, armed with pistols, led by Ali Taha. Twenty minutes out of Vienna, the hijackers rushed the cockpit. "As you can see," Captain Levy told the 90 passengers, "we have friends aboard." While the passengers and the captain waited, hoping that something would happen and lead to their safety, Captain Levy talked about everything "from navigation to sex" with the terrorists. Unbeknownst to the terrorists, Levy's wife was a passenger on the plane.
Soon after the hijacking, the hijackers separated Jewish hostages from non-Jews and sent them to the back of the aircraft. The hijackers demanded the release of 315 convicted Palestinian terrorists who were imprisoned in Israel, and threatened to blow up the airplane with its passengers. Seeing the terrorists crying and hugging each other goodbye, Captain Levy managed to send a message and ask for help to be delivered as soon as possible. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan conducted negotiations with the terrorists while also making preparations for a rescue operation, code-named "Operation Isotope."
On 9 May 1972 at 4:00 p.m. the rescue operation began: a team of 16 Sayeret Matkal commandos, led by Ehud Barak and including Benjamin Netanyahu, both future Israeli Prime Ministers, approached the airplane. Disguised as airplane technicians in white coveralls, they were able to convince the terrorists that the aircraft needed repair. The commandos stormed the aircraft and took control of the plane in ten minutes, killing both male hijackers and capturing the two women. All the passengers were rescued. Three were wounded, one of whom eventually died of her wounds. Netanyahu was shot in the shoulder during the rescue. The two female surviving terrorists were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment, but were freed as part of a prisoner exchange after the 1982 Lebanon War.
The hijacked airplane itself continued to be operated by Sabena for another five years before being purchased by Israel Aircraft Industries and eventually sold to the Israeli Air Force, where it served as a spy plane for many years, and participated in most of the Air Force's long-range operations.
The British pilot, Captain Reginald Levy, a Royal Air Force veteran who took part in strategic bombing missions over Germany during World War II and the Berlin airlift, had joined Sabena in 1952. He retired in 1982 and died of cancer, at a hospital near his home in Dover on 1 August 2010. The hijacking took place on his 50th birthday.
- Hevesi, Dennis (5 August 2010). "Reginald Levy Is Dead at 88; Hailed as a Hero in a ’72 Hijacking". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
- "In a ruined country". The Atlantic Monthly.
- "Pilot’s Story: Terrorists Didn’t Know His Wife Was Passenger on Plane". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 11 May 1972. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
- Klein, Aaron J. (2005). Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response. New York: Random House. ISBN 1-920769-80-3.
- Judah Ari Gross (2015-08-13). "When the prime ministers took down the hijackers". timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
- Sontag, Deborah (1999-04-20). "2 Who Share a Past Are Rivals for Israel's Future". The New York Times. pp. Section A, Page 3, Column 1.
- Israeli Special Forces History
- Dennis Heves (August 4, 2010). "Reginald Levy Is Dead at 88; Hailed as a Hero in a ’72 Hijacking". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2010.