On Feb. 15, 1961, the 18 members of the 1961 U.S. figure skating world team, and 16 coaches, officials and family members, gathered at Idlewild Airport in Queens, New York, to board Sabena Flight 548 en route to Brussels, Belgium, a stopover on the way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Spirits were high. Several of the athletes, including U.S. women’s champion Laurence Owen, had medal hopes. All were excited, if a bit apprehensive, about competing for the U.S. behind what was then thought of as the “Iron Curtain” of Eastern Europe.
It was not to be. The Boeing 707-329 aircraft crashed on approach to Zaventem Airport, killing all 72 people on board and one person on the ground. The precise cause of the crash has never been firmly established.
Tonight (Feb. 11) the documentary “RISE,” created by U.S. Figure Skating to honor the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, will be broadcast at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton and Michelle Kwan serve as storytellers for “RISE,” with reactions from other American figure skating legends.
All proceeds from the movie have gone to the Memorial Fund, a living legacy to the lives lost on that fateful day which helps current skaters reach their skating and academic goals.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Skating Club of Boston, home to several members of the 1961 world team, will host an online panel discussion to commemorate the lives lost and the rebuilding of the U.S. figure skating program. Participants include 1956 Olympic champion Dr. Tenley Albright; revered coach Frank Carroll, whose own mentor, Maribel Vinson Owen, was lost in the crash; 1960 Olympic bronze medalist Barbara Roles; 1968 Olympian Albertina Noyes; and others, including current competitors Audrey Lu, Misha Mitrofanov and Maxim Naumov. The event will be streamed online beginning 4 p.m. ET. Register online at SCBoston.org/events.
U.S. Figure Skating is also commemorating the anniversary through its Get Up campaign. Skaters and fans are encouraged to participate in the Get Up Virtual 5K throughout the month of February, be it by skating, running, walking or other means. Participants can register here and will receive a 1961 race bib, with all proceeds going to the Memorial Fund.