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Sabena Flight 571
The incident aircraft at Heathrow on 7 June 1976
Hijacking summary
Date 8 May 1972
Summary Hijacking
Site Tel Aviv-Lod International Airport (TLV), Lod, Israel
Passengers 94 (inc. 4 hijackers)
Crew 7
Injuries (non-fatal) 3 (2 passengers, 1 commando)
Fatalities 3 (1 passenger, 2 hijackers)
Survivors 98 (inc. 2 hijackers)
Aircraft type Boeing 707-329
Operator Sabena
Registration OO-SJG
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,[1] was hijacked by four terrorists from the Black September organization and landed at Lod Airport (later Ben Gurion International Airport),[1] 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,[1] led by Ali Taha.[2] Twenty minutes out of Vienna,[1] the hijackers rushed the cockpit. "As you can see," Captain Levy told the 90 passengers, "we have friends aboard."[1] 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.[3]

Soon after the hijacking, the hijackers separated Jewish hostages from non-Jews and sent them to the back of the aircraft.[4] The hijackers demanded the release of 315 convicted Palestinian terrorists[5] 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. Security Minister Moshe Dayan conducted negotiations with the terrorists while also making preparations for a rescue operation, code-named "Operation Isotope."[citation needed]

On 9 May 1972 at 4:00 p.m. the rescue operation began: a team of 16 Sayeret Matkal commandos, led by Ehud Barak[1] and including Benjamin Netanyahu,[1] both future Israeli Prime Ministers, approached the airplane.[6] disguised as airplane technicians in white coveralls,[1] and 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.[1] All the passengers were rescued. Three were wounded, one of whom eventually died of her wounds. Netanyahu was wounded during the rescue, it is believed by friendly fire. 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

The British pilot, Captain Levy, after flying RAF World War II bombing missions over Germany[1] and taking part in the Berlin airlift,[1] had joined Sabena in 1952.[1] He retired in 1982[1] and died of cancer, at a hospital near his home in Dover on 1 August 2010.[1] The hijacking took place on his 50th birthday.[1]


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