Video: Fighter jets escort KLM plane across Amsterdam

KLM Boeing 777 and fighter jets
A KLM Boeing 777 escorted by Dutch F-16 fighter jets. 14 March 2019photo: NL Times

A strange site crossed the sky of Amsterdam Centrum on Thursday afternoon, when a KLM passenger jet escorted by four F-16 fighter jets flew past Central Station at just 1,500 feet (457 meters). Though the fly-by was a scheduled event, it was kept as a closely-held secret, frightening many people who took to social media concerned about what they had seen.

The Boeing 777 flight went past the EYE Filmmuseum, where a ceremony was held to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Dutch aviation, a KLM spokesperson remarked to NL Times. The location is the geographical site of the first aircraft exhibit in the country which took place in 1919, she said.

People in the Noord Holland cities of Amsterdam, Purmerend, Zaandam, Alkmaar and Haarlem had the best chance of seeing the fly-by, which was never higher than 2,000 feet (609 meters). The flight left Schiphol Airport just after 2:10 p.m., continued in a holding pattern over the coast near Egmond aan Zee, passing the Damrak in Amsterdam by 2:58 p.m.

"Here on the Haarlemmerdijk people dove to the ground," said one witness in Amsterdam Centrum. "There seem to be people who like this. Not me!" the Twitter user wrote from the account  @kookboekhandel.

King Willem-Alexander was in attendance on Thursday at the EYE where the Netherlands Aerospace Center (NLR) was celebrating its 100th birthday. KLM, which was formed in October 1919, is also celebrating its centennial this year. Airplane manufacturer Fokker also moved to The Netherlands in 1919.

The escorted 777 continued out over the IJmeer and Markermeer waterways before heading back inland and south to Schiphol. It landed at the airport at 3:11 p.m. The immediate reaction for the surprise fly-by was not particularly positive on social media platforms, where people hustled to their accounts trying to find out what was happening.

"Just saw a #KLM airplane accompanied by at least 4 #jetfighters flying over #amsterdam. What's going on?" wrote Twitter user @ilioswillemars.

"Did this really happen or do I have a psychosis?" asked another, @Mylou_Oord.

Some were frightened it might be another incident involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, following the second fatal crash involving the passenger jet model in just six months. Several others reacted in astonishment and anger. "Guiding large airplanes #KLM with fighter jets makes people fear the worst," wrote @wishmaster_nl.

"Thanks #KLM for the heart attack," said @jolanda_mulder.

"@klm: Thanks for the air show. I thought it was a terrorism incident," said @Violavdz.

Some were pleased by the site, like @LindaDekker79. "Imagine... There happened something nice in/above the city because there is something to celebrate," she wrote. "Fortunately, there are also many people who enjoyed it."

At the EYE Filmmuseum, the King was joined by Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management. Earlier this week she made the decision to ban all Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft from Dutch airspace.

Also scheduled was Finance Secretary Menno Snel, who was to be present as the King helped showcase a new five-euro commemorative coin for the 100-year anniversary. Students were able to participate in a workshop to help come up with solutions related to sustainability issues. The aircraft industry, the royal family statement noted, is to cut carbon emissions in half by 2050.

Greenpeace led a protest at the event, accusing the aviation industry of doing too little to cut emissions levels. They said the industry has presented no concrete solutions to compensate for the industry's current growth.