Diamond Heist Nets $50M Worth of Gems

ABC News
Airport Heist Nets $50M Worth of Gems
.

View photo

In a brazen heist right out of the movies, thieves drove onto Belgium's airport tarmac and stole more than $50 million of diamonds from a plane without firing a single shot.

It took them fewer than five minutes to cut through an airport fence Monday night, drive up to a Helvetic jet in cars with flashing lights, hold up the pilot and security officials on the plane, and take 120 packages of rough and cut stones, according to the Belgium prosecutor's office. The men carried submachine guns, were dressed in police uniforms and camouflage masks.

"It was a well prepared operation. Robbers knew exactly when Brinks diamond and jewellery services truck would load" at 8:05 p.m., Ine Vanwymersch, told ABCNews.com.

Vanwymersch said the thieves "forced open the fence between two construction sites," allowing them onto the tarmac.

She said the pilot and co-pilot out of the plane doing a pre-flight safety check and were held them at gunpoint along with the plane's security detail, and it took the robbers "just three minutes" to unload the gems from the "belly" of the plane, referring to the luggage section.

Big Diamond Heists

"It took them another two minutes to get to the tarmac and to escape in two vehicles: a black Mercedes Vito van and a black Audi A8," Vanwymersch said. The left through the same hole in the fence, she said.

None of the plane's 20 passengers saw anything, and thieves kept details about themselves to a minimum.

"We don't know the color of their skin or the language they spoke. We cannot comment on it," Vanwymersch told ABC News.

One thing about them was clear, however.

"All eight were heavily armed," she said.

The heist is one of the largest diamond thefts in history and will raise serious questions about whether the thieves were tipped off to the location of the jewels by an insider, and how they could so easily drive onto the tarmac in a major European capital.

"It's quite remarkable that you can even get to the tarmac in [Brussels airport], with two vehicles and eight armed people," an incredulous Caroline De Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp Diamond Centre, which promotes the Belgian diamond business, told Belgian TV. "That it's possible to get the goods out of the aircraft, this is unacceptable."

The prosecutor's office said it was checking surveillance images, but it wasn't clear whether the video showed the robbers entering the airport.

The stolen gems had arrived at the airport by road from Antwerp, authorities said. Police are still searching for clues. They found the burned out Vito but have announced no other leads.

Antwerp is one of the world's leading diamond centers. Last year diamonds traded in the port city had a value of $51.9 billion, accounting for 80 percent of the world's rough diamond trade and 50 percent of the trade in polished gems. Belgium hasn't suffered as serious a theft as this since 2003 when thieves stole approximately $100 million worth of stones, jewels and gold from the Diamond Centre itself in Antwerp. Local media report that security has been beefed up since that attack, but today the airport could not explain why it was so vulnerable.

"We abide by the most stringent rules," airport spokesman Jan Van Der Crujsse told reporters.

The plane, bound for Zurich and operated by Swiss airlines, was ready to leave when the robbery occurred. It was subsequently cancelled, the airline said.

Usually, transporting valuables on a plane is seen as safer than using cars or trucks since a plane is always kept within the confines of an airport.

"We choose to transport goods via airplane precisely because of the safe and controlled nature of this means of transportation," de Wolf said in a statement emailed to reporters, acknowledging the heist would cause "significant" damage to Antwerp's reputation. "We do hope additional security measures can be put in place in order to safeguard a fluent and safe transport of diamonds."

Later in the day a second brazen jewel heist occurred in Paris' posh Printemps department store where thieves escaped with 3 million euros in jewelry, police said.

The two armed robbers entered the store about 6:45 p.m. They may have been wearing wigs and carried semi-automatic weapons and wore bullet-proof vests, according to French news reports. The thieves ordered a saleswoman to open the diamond cases, grabbed the stones and jewelry and escaped through a rear exit of the store. No one was injured.

View Comments (1541)

Recommended for You

  • Dixville Notch Casts First Votes in New Hampshire Primary

    The nine voters of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, became some of the first in the state -- and consequently, first in the nation -- to cast their ballots in the presidential primary in the early hours of Tuesday. New Hampshire has held the "First in the Nation" presidential primary since 1920, and…

    Good Morning America22 mins ago
  • 2 Trains Collide in Germany, 8 Dead, at Least 100 Injured

    Two morning commuter trains have collided in Bad Aibling in southern Germany, killing four people and injuring more than 100 others, police said.The train manufacturer, Meridian released a statement in German, saying two trains collided just after 7am local time.There is no detail on the condition…

    Good Morning America27 mins ago
  • Panda Cub Bei Bei Climbs a Tree With the Help of His Mom

    Bei Bei is moving up in the world.The Smithsonian National Zoo’s baby panda experienced the outdoors for the first time last week and now the nearly six-month-old cub is scaling trees—-with the help of his mom Mei Xiang, of course. The Washington DC based Zoo posted a video of the feat online this…

    Good Morning America
  • Countdown to New Hampshire With 5 Things to Watch in Tuesday's Primary

    Tuesday will be a critical moment on the road to the White House as residents of the Granite State cast their votes in the first-in-the-nation primary. With independents making up more than 40 percent of the electorate, the New Hampshire primary can often surprise, and that may be the case…

    Good Morning America
  • 'Girls' Star Lena Dunham Taking Time Off for 'Chronic' Illness

    The acclaimed HBO show "Girls" is back for a new season this month, but its biggest star will not being making press appearances due to a "chronic condition."Lena Dunham took to Instagram today to write, "I just wanted to let you know that, while I am so excited for Girls to return on Feb 21, I…

    Good Morning America
  • Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Rocked by Hurricane-Force Winds Heads Back to New Jersey

    A Royal Caribbean cruise ship that was rocked by hurricane-force winds overnight is sailing back to port in Bayonne, New Jersey. The ship left from Cape Liberty, New Jersey, on Saturday for a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas. The company posted a message on Twitter saying that all guests are…

    Good Morning America
  • US Veteran Says He is 'ISIS Soldier,' Calls Bin Laden 'Beautiful Man,' Officials Say

    The FBI has arrested a former member of the Army on weapons charges after he allegedly expressed sympathy for ISIS, called Osama bin Laden "a beautiful man" and said the murder of government agents was "a hundred percent obligation," according to court documents filed in a Washington state federal…

    Good Morning America
  • Giant Rabbit From Scotland Looking for a Home

    The Scottish SPCA center in Glasgow has a 7-month-old continental giant rabbit up for adoption. The rabbit, Atlas, is already about the size of a Westie dog and is still expected to grow, according to a Feb. 8 press release from the Scottish SPCA. Atlas is not only the same size as a dog, but…

    Good Morning America
  • Dad Tells Other Fathers, 'Respect the Mother of Your Child' in Viral Facebook Post

    A U.K. dad’s advice to fellow dads “respect the mother of your child” has gone viral after being posted in a Facebook tribute to the mother of his 9-month-old son.Tony Emms, of Cresswell Northumberland, in the U.K., posted on Facebook last month a photo of his fiancé, Charlotte Sperry, sleeping…

    Good Morning America
  • 'Kung Fu Panda 3' Stays on Top at the Box Office

    "Kung Fu Panda 3" scored another box office win during Super Bowl weekend.The animated sequel earned an estimated $21 million in its second weekend of release.'Kung Fu Panda 3' Tops the Box Office'The Revenant' Tops Weekend Box OfficeThe Coen brothers' "Hail, Caesar!" opened in second place,…

    Good Morning America
  • Peyton Manning Knows What He's Doing After Super Bowl Win

    Peyton Manning kept with tradition when it came to his Super Bowl celebration plans. The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers, 24-10. During a press conference after Sunday night's game, Manning said that he was "taking his kids to Disneyland" before he and his family…

    Good Morning America
  • WWE Wrestler Daniel Bryan to Retire

    Former WWE champion and professional wrestling star Daniel Bryan is retiring."Due to medical reasons, effective immediately, I am announcing my retirement. Tonight on Raw, I'll have a chance to elaborate. #gratitude," he tweeted on Monday.Read: Stone Cold Steve Austin: My Life After Pro…

    Good Morning America
  • Manning 'Very Much at Peace' After Super Bowl Win

    The Broncos quarterback talks to "GMA" about winning his second Super Bowl title

    Good Morning America
  • White House Asks Congress for $1.8 Billion to Fight Zika Virus

    The Obama administration is requesting $1.8 billion in emergency funding from Congress to fight the Zika virus in the United States and abroad, the White House announced today. The request comes after lawmakers on Capitol Hill urged the White House to address the spread of the virus, which is…

    Good Morning America
  • Dad's Piano-Playing Lullaby Soothes Baby Boy to Sleep in Seconds

    Take a look at little Samuel who couldn’t fall asleep because he had an ear infection. The moment his crafty dad starts playing his own version of the classic “Brahms’ Lullaby” however, the soothing sounds work like magic, putting the tiny tot to sleep within seconds.

    Good Morning America
  • Super Bowl 50: Beyonce Takes Fans Behind the Scenes of Her Performance

    Although Coldplay headlined the Super Bowl 50 halftime performance, all eyes were on Beyonce, who shared the stage with the British band along with pop star Bruno Mars.The singer, who announced her Formation World Tour right after the big game ended, is letting fans in on how her performance came…

    Good Morning America
  • 4 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Scoring Beyonce Tour Tickets

    Minutes after Beyonce announced her 2016 Formation World Tour during Super Bowl 50, fans flooded to her website looking for more information about the tour, and temporarily crashed the site. Fans have also been tweeting in anticipation and excitement for the ticket sales to go live. Securing…

    Good Morning America