Belgian heli's first on the scene of the 1953 North Sea flood.



    In the night of Saturday January 31st and the morning of February 1st, 1953 (60 years ago) The Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom were hit by a major flood. A combination of high tides and a severe North-Western winter storm over the North Sea raised the water levels up to 5.6 meters above the normal sea level. The sea defenses of that time were no match against such a brute force of nature and were overwhelmed by the beating of super waves causing them to give way on many locations. The Netherlands was particularly affected by the extensive flooding resulting in the death of 1.836 people, mainly in the Zeeland province. In the United Kingdom the 1953 North Sea flood made 326 victims and in Belgium 28 people drowned.

  Belgium was one of the first countries to help their Northern neighbors sending two companies of soldiers (457 men) to Zeeuws-Vlaanderen in very short notice. The Belgians were also the first to be present with several helicopters which greatly helped to coordinate and direct the much needed help. Sabena-pilot Gerard Tremerie was the first to arrive on the scene on Sunday afternoon with his Bell 47D-1 OO-UBA which normally was used by Sabena for mail flights between Melsbroek (Brussels) and Rotterdam (Nl.).

Bell 47D-1 OO-UBA

Sabena operated three Bell 47D-1 helicopters identical to the one used by Gerard Tremerie in his rescue effort in the first days after the 1953 North Sea Flood. Here Bell 47D-1 OO-UBA (c/n 179) is seen at Melsbroek in September 1950.

The pilot recalled that these were difficult flights as there was still a lot of storm wind which greatly affected the controls of his light helicopter making these missions quite dangerous.  Tremerie was the first to fully realize the extent of the flooding as he was flying from the area North of Zandvliet near the Belgian border to the region of Tholen. During the whole week he was in action (mainly over Schouwen-Duiveland) to rescue trapped people, dropping food and medicines and giving directions to areas where victims could be found. It is estimated that Tremerie rescued some 25 people in 12 flights many times transporting (often hanging on to the helicopter’s skids) twice as many people as the three occupants the Bell was normally supposed to transport. A courageous pilot indeed.

  On Monday the ”Companie des Propriètaires Réunis” also dispatched their very light Hiller UH12A Raven OO-APR helicopter to assist in the coordination of the rescue effort.  Sabena followed the same day with two more Bell 47's (OO-UBB and OO-UBC)

Hiller UH12A Raven OO-APR

The other Belgian civil helicopter which participated in the rescue effort following the 1952 floods in the Netherlands: Companie des Propriètaires Réunis” Hiller UH12A Raven OO-APR (c/(c/n 106) seen here on the beach near the "Kursaal" at Oostende on July 18th, 1954.

Tremerie - Vervoort

The crew Tremerie - Vervoort of the Bell 47D-1 OO-UBA at the time of the catastrophy.

  As a result of Tremerie’s first reconnaissance flights with the Sabena Bell 47, the Royal Netherlands Navy dispatched the now famous Sikorsky S-51 H.5 “Jezebel” (named after a 1951 hit song by Franky Lane) to the scene of the disaster.  “Jezebel “ also managed to rescue several people from trees and rooftops.  Later on that week more helicopters arrived from many neighboring countries and the Germany based USAF Europe.





© Daniel Brackx & Bernard Deneckere (February 2013)






Last updated 07/11/11 10:59   Daniel Brackx