On this day: Liberation of the Sabena jet

May 9 1972: Hostage situation resolved

By Jennifer Lipman, May 9, 2011

On May Sabena flight 571 from Brussels to Tel Aviv was hijacked outside of Vienna with 90 passengers and 10 crew members on board.

The armed hijackers, two men and two women from the PLO's Black September organisation, demanded that the plane was flown to Lydda airport (now known as Ben Gurion airport) and said they would only release their hostages if Israel released at least 100 Arab prisoners.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan acted quickly, first by hinting he might accept the deal, in order to buy time.

He then arranged a rescue operation where 12 Israeli soldiers posed as El Al maintenance workers drove up to the plane and pretended to be carrying out repairs.

They let down the tires so it could not move, then climbed on to the wings and opened the emergency doors. As soon as they boarded, a gun battle between the hijackers and the soldiers began.

After 24 hours, the ordeal was over. All the passengers and crew survived, although several people were injured. The two male hijackers were killed, while their female co-conspirators were captured and later put on trial. They were found guilty and jailed for life.

What the JC said: All's well that ends well," said Captain Reginald Levy, of Sabena, summing up the feeling of relief which enveloped all Israel…A distant view of the passengers rushing from the airliner and a fleet of ambulances making for the aircraft parked at the end of the airport's far runway the first indication that the 21-hour siege was over…Grateful passengers who had sat in the baking hot aircraft while the terrorists walked up and down the aisles fingering pistols and grenades, threw themselves into the arms of the Israeli soldiers after their release, crying "Bravo" and "Merci."

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 9:43am, May 9 2011