Black September Plane Hijack – 50 Years Ago Today

May 10, 2022 | News


Black September – Had it not been for the courage of an unflappable British Second World War veteran, the hijacking of an Israeli jet 50 years ago could have ended in disaster and immense loss of life.  

On May 8, 1972, four hijackers from the Black September terrorist group who were armed with explosives and pistols seized Sabena Airlines’ Flight 571, 20 minutes into its journey from Brussels via Vienna to Tel Aviv. 
On board the aircraft were ten crew members and 90 passengers, including the wife of the plane’s pilot Captain Reginald Levy, who was set to celebrate what was his 50th birthday after landing in Israel’s capital. 
The hijackers, who included two women and were led by a man calling himself Captain Rafat, were demanding the release of 315 terrorists in exchange for the captured passengers and crew. 
But after Captain Levy had been forced to land at Lod Airport – which is now known as Ben Gurion International – the RAF hero was able to send a coded message to Israeli officials requesting help. 
After opening negotiations with the hijackers to keep them occupied, Israel’s defence minister Captain Moshe Dayan hatched a plot to rescue the passengers, and Captain Levy played a key role. 
The pilot had been allowed by the hijackers to go to Lod’s control tower on the pretext of arranging repairs to the jet’s undercarriage so that it could take off again. 
But once out of the plane, Captain Levy – a recipient of the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross – gave a detailed description of the four captors to a crack team of commandos. 
Minutes later, the squad of 16 soldiers from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit followed Captain Levy back towards the aircraft. Among their number were Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu – both future prime ministers of Israel.
The men stormed the aircraft and, within two minutes, shot dead Captain Rafat and his male accomplice, while the two women – one of whom was injured – were caught alive. 
Only one passenger – a pregnant woman who had been injured in the exchange of fire – died, whilst Netanyahu himself was hit in the arm by a misplaced bullet from a commando colleague. 
After the hijacking, the then Israeli PM Golda Meir held a banquet for the unflappable pilot and his crew, at which she told him: ‘Captain Levy, I love you.’ 
 

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