61 Years ago today: On 15 February 1961 a Sabena Boeing 707 lost control and crashed on approach to Brussels, Belgium, killing all 72 occupants and one on the ground.

Date:Wednesday 15 February 1961
Type:Silhouette image of generic B703 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Boeing 707-329
First flight:1959
Total airframe hrs:3038
Engines:Pratt & Whitney JT4A
Crew:Fatalities: 11 / Occupants: 11
Passengers:Fatalities: 61 / Occupants: 61
Total:Fatalities: 72 / Occupants: 72
Ground casualties:Fatalities: 1
Aircraft damage:Destroyed
Aircraft fate:Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:3 km (1.9 mls) NE of Brussel-Zaventem Airport (BRU) (   Belgium)
Phase:Approach (APR)
Nature:International Scheduled Passenger
Departure airport:New York-Idlewild International Airport, NY (IDL/KIDL), United States of America
Destination airport:Brussel-Zaventem Airport (BRU/EBBR), Belgium

Sabena flight SN548 was a transatlantic service from New York to Brussels, Belgium.

The Boeing 707-300 was on a long approach to runway 20 when, near the runway threshold and at a height of 900 feet, power was increased and the gear retracted. The plane made three 360 degrees turns to the left and climbed to 1500 feet. During these turns the bank angle increased more and more until the aircraft was in a near vertical bank. The wings then leveled, followed by an abrupt pitch up. The 707 lost speed, started to spiral rapidly towards the ground nose down, crashed and caught fire.

Among the victims were all eighteen members of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating team, as well as sixteen other people who were accompanying them. The ground casualty was a farmer who was struck by debris.

Probable Cause:

PROBABLE CAUSE: “Having carried out all possible reasonable investigations, the Commission concluded that the cause of the accident had to be looked for in the material failure of the flying controls.
However, while it was possible to advance certain hypotheses regarding the possible causes, they could not be considered entirely satisfactory. Only the material failure of two systems could lead to a complete explanation, but left the way open to an arbitrary choice because there was not sufficient evidence to corroborate it.”
The FAA commented that the most plausible hypothesis was a malfunction of the stabilizer adjusting mechanism permitting the stabilizer to run to the 10.5deg nose-up position.