The diamonds were on their way to Zurich from Antwerp, where $200 million worth of diamonds go through the city every day, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Center told Agence France-Presse.
The armed and masked robbers made a hole through a security fence at the airport and drove to the tarmac, a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office told the Associated Press. They were disguised as police officers, according to The New York Times.
Flashing guns, the robbers then took off with the diamonds without firing a shot. The heist took mere minutes.
The plane that was supposed to transport the diamonds was operated by Helvetic Airways. The flight was canceled.
Where does the heist rank among the largest airport robberies in history? Here’s a look at other lucrative airport hauls.
1978 Lufthansa Heist
The 1978 Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is perhaps the most infamous airport robbery. About $5 million in cash (the equivalent of about $17.6 million in today’s dollars) and $875,000 in jewels ($3 million in 2013) was taken during the heist.
At the time, the FBI said the $5 million stolen in the heist made it the largest cash robbery in history, the New York Times reported a few days after the robbery.
The mastermind of the Lufthansa heist was Lucchese crime family associate Jimmy Burke, who was aided by other associates of the New York mob family.
The Luccheses learned of the chance of the lucrative haul after an airport worker who owed money to bookmaker Martin Krugman told him about millions of dollars being stored at the airport. Krugman then relayed the information to Lucchese associate Henry Hill, whose life story was the basis for the Martin Scorcese film “Goodfellas.” The Lufthansa heist, named after the German airline, was featured in the movie.
1983 Brink’s-MAT Robbery
Known as the “crime of the century” at the time, the Brinks-MAT robbery at London’s Heathrow Airport in 1983 involved the theft of more than $776 million worth of gold bullion in today’s dollars, making it the largest airport heist to date.
The armed robbers initially thought they would find the equivalent of about a few million dollars in cash inside the vault of the Brinks-Mat security company at Heathrow.
“It was only when they got there that they found the gold. They hadn't expected it at all. They were so disorganized that they didn't even have a big enough vehicle to deal with it. They had to go and get a van. They were supposed to be in and out within minutes, but the job ended up taking nearly two hours,” a south London criminal who only wanted to be identified as Ron told The Guardian. The British tabloid’s source was a friend of Brian Perry, one of three armed robbers who carried out the heist.
It was blamed for a surge in violence among London’s criminal underworld, with 20 killings linked to the Brink’s-MAT robbery, according to the Daily Mail.
2005 Schiphol Airport Heist
The largest robbery in Dutch history occurred at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in 2005, when about $115 million worth of diamonds in today’s dollars was taken.
The heavily armed thieves hijacked an armored truck at the airport at gunpoint, NBC News reported at the time. The diamonds were supposed to be transported on Dutch airline KLM to Antwerp.
An inside job was suspected, and the robbers were never caught.
1935 Croydon Airport Heist
Roughly $20 million in gold bullion at today’s prices was stolen from Imperial Airways, which was known to transport gold bullion from around the world.
The robbers were aided by lax security, as only one security guard was on duty at the now defunct south London airport. When the guard went to check on an inbound plane, the robbers snatched their haul.
Only one robber, Cecil Swanland, served prison time for the crime. Other suspects were charged but later cleared, the Croydon Guardian reported.
The proceeds were never recovered.