El Al Establishes Relief Fund As Death Toll Revised Downward

As officials lowered the expected death toll in last week’s El Al crash here to 80, Israel’s national airline announced the establishment of a $10 million emergency fund to help survivors of the Oct. 4 disaster.

Fifty-one bodies were recovered from the crash site by Sunday as the original estimate of up to 250 dead was revised sharply downward.

Forty of those reported missing after the El Al cargo jet slammed into two apartment buildings have since contacted authorities to report they were safe. The dead include the three Israeli crew and one Israeli passenger aboard the jumbo jet.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Kessar and the director-general of El Al, Rafi Har-Lev, were among the thousands who filed silently past the site of the disaster Sunday in memorial ceremonies attended by Dutch Prime Minister Rudolph Lubbers.

Also attending were the president of Suriname, the prime minister of the Dutch Antilles and the ambassador of Ghana. Most of the victims are believed to have been immigrants from those countries.

The director of the Schiphol airport control tower, meanwhile, has defended the action of the El Al captain, Yitzhak Fuchs, in setting aside advice to land at another runway, which would have diverted the aircraft from built up areas. Theo Croon said the crew did not have time to make a switch in their controls.

Until seconds before the crash, it seemed they believed the plane would be able to make an emergency landing at Schiphol. Croon also assumed the crew was not aware that one or both of the starboard engines had dropped off.

One of those engines was recovered about 15 miles east of Amsterdam. It showed no traces of an explosion or fire, news reports said.

Careful monitoring of recordings in the Schiphol control tower has established that less than a minute before the crash, the pilot, apparently believing he could bring the plane in safely, ordered his crew in Hebrew to prepare for a landing.

In Israel, El Al announced the jumbo jet had suffered mechanical trouble twice before. It said both cases were unrelated to the focus of the current investigation into the loss of the aircraft’s two right-wing engines before impact.

El Al said the cargo jet in 1985 developed trouble in its front landing gear on approach to Kennedy Airport in New York. El Al maintenance engineers, with the major assistance of the Boeing manufacturers, examined the nose gear and found it seriously damaged. The faulty gear was replaced and caused no subsequent problems.

In a second incident that occurred last July, Schiphol airport personnel reported to the pilot there was a small flame in the No. 1 engine as the aircraft was coming in to land.

The fault was later found to have been in No. 2 engine, and not on the starboard No. 3 or 4 engines involved in last week’s disaster.

The engine concerned was subsequently replaced during a routine maintenance check a week or so later.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)

NEXT STORY