Amsterdam commemorates 31st anniversary of El Al plane crash in Bijlmer
Hundreds of local residents and surviving relatives commemorated the Bijlmer plane crash in Amsterdam-Zuidoost on Wednesday. It has been 31 years since a cargo plane from Israeli airline El Al crashed into the Groeneveen and Kruitberg apartment buildings in Amsterdam’s Bijlmer. Every year, the disaster is commemorated at the “Tree that saw everything,” a tree that was left standing despite the crash and resulting fire.
"Every year you feel the sadness here, even after 31 years," said Tanja Jadnanansing, the chair of the Zuidoost district council. "The tree that was there then is still there. All those unanswered questions are still there," Jadnanansing said.
Survivor Marlène Truideman reflected on the loss of her two children. "A plane crashed right in the house where they felt safe. How do you explain that?"
A total of 43 people are known to have died as the result of the crash on October 4, 1992. The three crew members of the El Al Boeing were among the dead. Forty apartments were completely destroyed, and over 135 flats caught fire.
The commemoration started at 5:30 p.m. with speeches from Jadnanansing, and Henk van de Belt of the Bijlmermeer Airplane Commemoration Committee. A survivor and a care provider also spoke, and there was music and poetry. The gathering closed with music by Gilbert Hamel, a poem by Jurgera Hassell, and a minute of silence at 6:35 p.m., the time of the crash. As in previous years, there was no air traffic over part of the Bijlmer during the commemoration, which is normally a busy flight path for Schiphol.
After the disaster there was a lot of uncertainty. For example, it is not known exactly how many people died, because many undocumented migrants were said to have been living in the flats. There were also questions raised about the cargo on the aircraft. Emergency workers and local residents suffered health problems later, and the black box containing the flight information was never found.
Karin Moor, considered a "neighborhood mother," mentioned how there was no victim support 31 years ago. "To heal we only had each other; the Bijlmer community."
Emergency worker Baafi Owusu Sekyere said the monument near the tree needs to be properly maintained. "We must not forget a disaster of such magnitude."
Now 31 years later, the disaster is still relevant. In April, members of the Tweede Kamer asked that the classified archive of documents from the former Netherlands Aviation Safety Board be released to the public. The Board was responsible for investigating the disaster. Members of parliament think the move would clear up some of the unanswered questions.
There has been "a deafening silence ... when it comes to the settlement of the disaster," Jadnanansing continued. "It is good that the Tweede Kamer has now asked questions," she said of the lower house of Parliament.
The municipality recently announced that it would conduct soil research at the site of the disaster, looking for PFOS, a type of PFAS. The substance used to be used in fire-fighting foam and got into the ground while the fire department fought the fires in the disaster. The investigation was supposed to start in September but was postponed until after the commemoration at locals’ request.
This year the commemoration was organized for the first time by a committee of local residents, relatives and care providers.
Reporting by ANP