On Oct. 4, 1992, between the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, an El Al cargo plane crashed into an apartment complex in Amsterdam in the worst aviation disaster in Dutch and Israeli history.
The crash of El Al flight 1862, a Boeing 747, was precipitated by the detachment of two engines while the plane was in flight. While attempting to return to Schiphol airport for an emergency landing, the plane spun out of control and crashed into the nearby Bijlmermeer neighborhood, densely populated with low-income residents and immigrants. The crash killed at least 39 residents, 3 crew members and one passenger on board.
Crash investigators later blamed the crash on faulty fuse pins used to bolt the engine to the wing of the plane. As a result, Boeing ordered examination and replacement of the faulty parts and in 1994, the airline manufacturer settled claims filed by 547 residents of the building.
But the matter wasn’t resolved. In 1999, a Dutch parliamentary committee launched an inquiry examining the fatal 1992 crash to examine whether toxic materials may have been aboard, adversely affecting 800 citizens who claimed health problems related to the incident. (At the time, JTA pointed out the health-related claims were not investigated by the Dutch Health Ministry prior to the inquiry.) Leading up to the hearings, El Al considered suspending its operations in Holland, citing threatening calls and a “hostile environment” related to the inquiry.
The result of the six-month inquiry and its hearings, which were broadcast on Dutch national television and on the internet, was a 350-page report asserting that no toxic chemicals were aboard, and dismissing any connection between the plane’s cargo and reported health problems after the crash.
The 1992 Amsterdam disaster wasn’t El Al’s first fatal crash.
In 1951, over the Thanksgiving weekend, another cargo plane crashed in Zurich, killing six and leaving one survivor.
In 1955, an El Al passenger jet that flew into Bulgarian airspace was shot down by Bulgarian MIGs, killing all 51 passengers and seven crew members. In 1959, Israel to the Hague, which determined that it had no jurisdiction in the matter. In 1963, the matter was settled when Bulgaria agreed to pay the victims’ families $8,236 each, which JTA noted was “the maximum compensation payment fixed by the Warsaw Convention for damage claims of individuals against foreign governments.”
In a Feb. 22, 1973 incident reminiscent of the Bulgaria fiasco, Israel shot down a Libyan passenger jet that got lost over Sinai en route to Cairo in 1973. 108 passengers were killed, with five surviving the ordeal. The incident took place shortly after an Israeli raid on terrorist targets in Libya, after which media reports had surfaced warning that Arab terrorists were planning to load an airliner with explosives and crash it on a suicide mission over a densely populated area of Israel. Israel paid $300,000 in indemnification to families of the victims.
For more JTA articles related to the 1992 El Al crash in Amsterdam, click here.