AMSTERDAM (Oct. 4)
El Al Airlines and the Israeli Transport Ministry are sending teams here to investigate why an El Al cargo flight crashed into two crowded apartment buildings Sunday, in what is expected to be the worst aviation disaster in the Netherlands.
As many as 200 people were feared dead, among them the three crew members and one passenger of the Boeing 747 plane, which had arrived here from New York.
Without ruling out a terrorist action, Dutch authorities said a mechanical malfunction was the most likely cause of the crash, which occurred early Sunday evening.
They pointed out that the El Al crew reported engine trouble before asking for an emergency landing at Schiphol Airport some 20 minutes after takeoff.
The plane took off at 6:20 p.m. local time from the airport en route to Tel Aviv. A few minutes later, the pilot asked for permission to return for an emergency landing because of trouble with two of the plane’s engines.
As the El Al jumbo jet completed a U-turn, it was flying very low over Bijlmermeer, a residential suburb of Amsterdam, six miles from both the airport and downtown.
With its tanks still filled with 100 tons of fuel, the plane collided with two large apartment buildings, setting them ablaze. While some eye-witnesses said the jet exploded first, Dutch authorities said that the engines were aflame but there was no explosion before the crash.
The two nine-story buildings, containing 480 apartments, continued to burn for hours. Hundreds were trapped inside.
All El Al planes, including freighters, are very closely guarded. As a further security measure, El Al cargo planes bear no specific external signs.
In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed its “deep condolences to family of victims of the tragic accident.”
(Contributing to this report was JTA European Bureau chief Michel Di Paz in Paris.)