LONDON – LONDON (AP) — Reginald Levy, a pilot praised for his cool-headed bravery during a 1972 hijacking by Palestinian militants, has died at the age of 88, his daughter said Thursday.
Linda Lipschitz said her father died Sunday in Dover, southern England, of a suspected heart attack or blood clot.
Levy was a pilot for Belgian airline Sabena when he took off from Brussels bound for Tel Aviv on May 8, 1972 — his 50th birthday — with 90 passengers onboard. Mid-journey, the Boeing 707 was hijacked by four armed members of the group Black September, who ordered Levy to land at Israel's Lod — now Ben Gurion — airport and threatened to blow up the plane if Israel did not release more than 300 Palestinian prisoners.
Levy's response was admirably calm, even though one of the passengers was his wife Dora. It was their wedding anniversary and they had planned to celebrate with dinner in Tel Aviv.
He kept talking to the hijackers to keep them calm. Sent to convey messages from the militants to Israeli authorities led by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Levy gave the Israelis detailed descriptions of the attackers' numbers, weapons and positions.
After almost 24 hours, commandos disguised as airplane mechanics stormed the plane, killing two of the hijackers and capturing the other two.
Among the commandos were Ehud Barak, now Israel's defense minister, and the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Several passengers were injured, but none was killed.
"Every one of us is lucky to be alive," Levy said after the attack. "I have had some tough times, but this was my toughest."
Levy's behavior earned him the admiration of Israeli authorities — and the enmity of Black September, which issued threats against him.
Levy's daughter said the family always had faith their father would survive the hijacking.
"We weren't so worried about him," Lipschitz said. "He was calm under pressure and knew how to be in control. We knew he would come out of it OK.
"When he came back and we talked about it he said, 'My only concern was the lives of my passengers.'"
Levy became friends with several prominent Israelis, including President Shimon Peres. Lipschitz said her father had recently received a letter from Peres wishing him well after a cancer diagnosis.
Born in Blackpool, northwest England, in 1922, Levy flew bombers with the Royal Air Force during World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war took part in the Berlin airlift before joining Sabena as a commercial pilot. He retired in 1982.
"Airplanes and flying were his whole life," Lipschitz said.
Levy is survived by four children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
His funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Dover.
Associated Press Writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.