Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Unanswered questions remain in 1970 Swissair crash

Wreckage from the Swissair plane that crashed in a forest in Würenlingen in February 1970 Keystone

Following revelations that Switzerland and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) concluded a secret deal in 1970 to avert further terrorist attacks against the country, looks at the fatal plane crash that acted as catalyst for the negotiations. 

On February 21, 1970, a cold and wet Saturday, Switzerland was shaken when Swissair 330 bound for Tel Aviv crashed shortly after take-off from Zurich, killing everyone on board: 38 passengers and nine crew. 

“330 is going down,” co-pilot Armand Etienne told the control tower in German. “Goodbye everybody,” he added in English. These final words were said at 1:34pm. 

About 15 minutes earlier, an altitude-sensitive bomb had exploded in the rear cargo compartment. The crew tried to turn around and attempt an emergency landing at Zurich but struggled to see the instruments in the smoke-filled cockpit. The aircraft deviated to the west and crashed in a wooded area at Würenlingen as a result of loss of electrical power. 

The burial in Jerusalem of the Israeli victims of the plane crash Keystone

Arthur Schneider, a local politician at the time, arrived on the scene about half an hour later. “I saw a hand just lying there on the forest floor. I can’t get that image out of my head,” the 74-year-old told Swiss public television SRF. 

Other witnesses reported seeing a “massive fireball”, with one fearing the plane had crashed into the nearby nuclear power plant. The wreck was eventually found a few hundred metres from the plant. 

Swiss news agencies said the PLO had claimed responsibility, although other media reports said the group denied involvement. 

Within a few days the main suspect was named as a Jordanian national who had allegedly deposited the bomb in Munich with the intention of blowing up an Israeli plane. However, as a result of a flight diversion, it ended up on a Swissair plane. 

Wreckage in the Swissair hangar in Zurich Keystone

Yet the Jordanian and other suspects were never taken to court, despite arrest warrants. The Swiss investigator, Robert Akeret, handed his report to the federal attorney-general but says today that Bern threw a “cloak of silence” over the case. 

The investigation into the crash of Swissair flight 330 in Würenligen was discontinued permanently in 2000.

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR