The Heist

SWISS A330-300 Alex Kwanten

On Tuesday, the FBI announced that it was investigating the apparent disappearance of $1.2 million in $100 bills, apparently from the hold of a Swiss International Airlines (SWISS) A330-300 flying form Zurich-Kloten to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, June 22. The stolen lucre was part of a part of a $93 m currency shipment bound for the New York Federal Reserve.

The aircraft seen here, HB-JHF (msn: 1089), is actually on short final at JFK operating that very same flight (incorrectly reported in most media as SWR17, it’s actually SWR16 that flies westbound to JFK) – though this particular photo was taken in 2012.

The sealed containers carrying the shipment arrived on the 22nd but weren’t opened until Monday, June 24, when a forklift operator noticed a large gash in the side of one of the containers that was “big enough to put your arm through” – according to ABC News.

Air cargo theft isn’t unique, but the theft of shipments of cash or valuables in connection with JFK might sound especially familiar because it’s happened before.

In 1967, associates of the Lucchese Crime Family stole $420,000 from the Air France Cargo terminal at JFK. Eleven years later, some of the same gang stole almost $6 million in cash and jewels from Lufthansa at JFK. The Lufthansa Heist, as it was known, was the largest cash robbery in American history at the time. Adjusted for inflation, the take in the Lufthansa heist would be almost $21 Million in today’s dollars. Both of these robberies are detailed in Martin Scorcese’s 1990 film Goodfellas, which recounts the life of low-level mobster Henry Hill. Hill was directly involved in the Air France theft and a close associate of Irish-American mobster Jimmy Burke – the architect of the Lufthansa Heist.

JFK isn’t alone though, and this isn’t the only recent cargo theft of cash or valuables.

Just this February a gang of armed bandits dressed as Belgian police officers made off with $50 million in diamonds stolen right on the tarmac in broad daylight at Brussels International Airport (BRU). The cargo, in the process of being loaded into a Helvetic Airways Fokker 100 by Brinks guards, was taken after two vehicles carrying the thieves stormed through a security gate, drove right up to the aircraft, and pried open the lower cargo door.

The large ring of criminals that planned, supported, and carried out the daring robbery was later caught by Belgian and Swiss authorities.

Neither the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), which runs JFK, nor SWISS have commented publicly on the recent theft discussed at the beginning of this story, likely due to the ongoing investigation. SWISS spokeswoman Susanne Mühlemann told ABC news, “We do not have any indication of a robbery of a Swiss aircraft” – suggesting the possibility that the theft did not take place during the airline’s transport of the cargo but at some other point in the chain.

For now, the FBI and police on both sides of the Atlantic are investigating.

SWISS International Airlines rose from of the ashes of the old Swissair and its former regional partner Crossair in 2002, but is now owned by Lufthansa. The airline maintains a thriving cargo operation, carried mainly in the bellies of its fleet of 14 A330-300s and 15 A340-300s. The Airline placed an order on 14 March for 6 Boeing 777-300ERs, which will only boost its capacity.

© Photo: Alex Kwanten

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