The jumbojet disaster in Amsterdam October 4, 1992 – KAMEDO-report 64

The Kamedo-reports are published by the Swedish Disaster Medicine Study Organisation (Kamedo), at the National Board of Health and Welfare. Observers study the medical, psychological, organisational and social aspects of disasters. The results, with a focus on experiences gained, are presented in the reports.

This report is entirely in Swedish. Only summary in English.


A few minutes after take-off from Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, October 4, 1992, at 18:20 hours, a Boeing 747 (Jumbo jet) cargo aircraft belonging to El Al lost its no. 3 pylon and the engine attached to it. The pylon and the engine then hit no. 4 pylon and its engine. As a result, they also separated from the right wing, which had become partially damaged.
The crew then tried to return to Schiphol Airport. During the attempted final approach the aircraft at 18:35 hours went out of control and buried itself into an angle of two abutting blocks of flats in Bijlmermeer, a suburb of Amsterdam. The impact of the aircraft formed a very large crater in the nine-story buildings; followed by a violent fire.
At 18:40 hours the first fire engines arrived at the disaster area where the situation was chaotic. Some 50 flats had been destroyed and many others were burning. People, who had been unable to leave on foot from the buildings, were ready to jump or had already jumped. Fuel had also been spread out over surrounding area and was burning. Parts of the aircraft, in connection with the crash, had been jettisoned up to three hundred meters from the crash site causing further damages and fires to other blocks or flats. All available rescue resources were called to the scene of the accident. Arrivals were delayed due to the narrow access routes.
Since the building was so large, the disaster site was divided into two separate areas. Rescue operations concentrated initially on saving survivors. Significant numbers of medical staff had been called to the site since the rescue personnel expected large numbers of severe injuries.
A central co-ordination group at the Amsterdam Town Hall had activated the Amsterdam Municipal Disaster Plan and sent the deputy head of the fire department to assume overall responsibility for the rescue operation at Bijlmermeer. Three special vehicles from Schiphol Airport were sent to extinguish the fire in the aircraft and on the surrounding ground. After the initial rescue operation was completed,the fire-fighting inside the buildings was begun. With only 18 injured people found during the initial rescue operation, all flats in the buildings were thoroughly and repeated searched. No further victims were found.
Later, the disaster area was divided into four operative areas. Some 450 persons took part in the operation - 250 of them belonging to the fire brigade. Most of the fires were already under control two hours after the crash.
At first, radio- and telecommunications were problematic but after the arrival of supplementary equipment satisfactory communications were maintained at the accident site. However, numerous problems with external communications continued.
Initially, it was estimated that approximately 250 residents of the building would be found dead and several hundreds severely injured. When relatively few victims were found, the site commander met with the critique that the rescue operation was not proceeding rapidly enough. He was forced to explain why more victims had not been found.
In Amsterdam, there were three doctors trained to command a medical disaster situation and one of these three was always on duty. Also, all larger hospitals were prepared to send medical teams to local disaster sites. Very often there was a co-operation where one hospital sent a medical team to the site, while another acted as the receiving hospital for the majority of the victims. The two university hospitals of Amsterdam, Academisch Medisch Centrum (AMC) and Free University Hospital (FUH) worked in that way during the Bijlmermeer disaster.
At 19:00 hours, FUH was contacted to send trauma-team to Bijlmermeer. Upon arrival a military tent was set up in which they provided medical care to the victims. Totally 33 injured were treated on site. Of these, 28 were transported to AMC, four to FUH and one burn victim to Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis (OLVG) in the eastern part of Amsterdam. Only nine of the 28 transported to AMC were admitted, five with burns and four with injuries to their extremities.
AMC, the receiving hospital, was helped to estimate the severity of the skin burns and lung injuries by two doctors from Rote Kruis Ziekenhuis, a local burn clinic. Three patients from AMC and one from OLVG were eventually transferred to Rote Kruis Ziekenhuis.
The medical part of the rescue operation was accomplished without any major problems. There were sufficient rescue vehicles and medical personnel. The number of persons with somatic injuries was much lower than expected according to the disaster plans so the acute medical care on-site was finished within two hours of the crash. The bodies of people killed in the crash were taken to a hangar at the Schiphol Airport to be identified.
During the first week following the disaster, the work at the site was concentrated on making the building safer for people investigating the accident or searching for further victims. There was no certain count of the people who may have been in the area at the time of crash due to both the possibility of absent residents and the high number of illegal immigrants living in Bijlmermeer. As mentioned previously, the number of expected deaths was about 250 but in all only 43 persons' deaths were certified to have been caused by the crash. Total cremations caused by extremely high temperatures during explosions may have been the cause of more deaths but this remains unknown.
Shelters were arranged for the inhabitants who had lost their homes. Other persons, not necessarily exposed to the disaster, arrived at the shelters trying to get social and economic help. Almost 1500 people had experienced the disaster, on-lookers as well as rescue workers included. The need for psychological and social aid was very high.

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