ERG-KAMPENHOUT, Belgium - It is buried tragedy, not treasure. A seared seat belt buckle. A skimpy steel dinner knife. Indistinguishable scorched metal shards, the surviving fraction of what once was a majestic airplane. Forty years later, these remnants are preserved in a nondescript plastic sack and a rusted tin bucket in the basement of 720 Djikstraat, in this hamlet 4 miles northeast of Brussels.
Builders unearthed some of the items last summer while constructing the two-story white brick house on an unpaved cul de sac in the Brussels bedroom community. The five children of teacher Kristiaan Buys and his wife, Hilde, uncovered more while playing in the yard after moving into the home in August.
At first glance, it is mere trash. But the new owners refuse to discard any of it, for they know it constitutes a memorial of sorts, no matter how grisly. They discovered while passing papers for the property that they would be living at ground zero of one of the most devastating air disasters in athletic annals. Trapped in the rehabilitated earth are the only tangible remainders of the crash of Sabena Flight 548, a deluxe-sized Boeing 707 that plunged into the wooded farmland on the outskirts of Belgian National Airport on Feb. 15, 1961. All 72 passengers and crew, plus a farmer at work in his fields, were killed on that cloudless, windless morning, seemingly perfect for flying but instead the backdrop for dying. Among the casualties were the entire 18-member American figure skating team, bound for the world championships in Prague, plus coaches and relatives who swelled the entourage to 34. Ten of the victims were members of the Skating Club of Boston, and four of those members were national champions.
So the Buys family treat the refuse with a certain reverence. ''We've kept it because we think somebody might be interested in having it,'' says Hilde. ''Maybe it's a way to keep them alive.''
Their memory lives anew as the 40th anniversary of the crash approaches, signaled by the US Figure Skating Championships at the FleetCenter Jan. 14-21. In a three-part series, the Globe revisits the accident and its aftermath. Consumed in the Belgian pyre on that Ash Wednesday some four decades ago were not just the immediate hopes of American figure skating but also the incalculable potential of lives unfulfilled. And it was not only the victims who suffered. Many who were not on the plane - including some who would have been had it not been for random circumstance - will always be haunted by the destruction wrought at 720 Dijkstraat.