El Al Flight 1862
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|Aftermath of the disaster.|
|Date||4 October 1992|
|Type||Engine separation, loss of control|
|Injuries||11 serious, 15 minor (on ground)|
|Fatalities||43 (4 on board, 39 on ground)|
|Stopover||Amsterdam Schiphol Airport Amsterdam, Netherlands|
|Destination||Ben Gurion Int’l Airport Tel Aviv, Israel|
On 4 October 1992, El Al Flight 1862, a Boeing 747 cargo plane of the Israeli airline El Al, crashed into the Groeneveen and Klein-Kruitberg flats in the Bijlmermeer (colloquially “Bijlmer”) neighbourhood (part of Amsterdam Zuidoost) of Amsterdam, Netherlands. A total of 43 people were killed, consisting of the plane’s crew of three and a non-revenue passenger in a jump seat, plus 39 persons on the ground. Many more were injured.
 Fatal flight
On 4 October 1992, the aircraft, a Boeing 747-258F, registration 4X-AXG, was traveling from New York to Tel Aviv and made a stopover at Schiphol. During the flight from New York to Schiphol, three issues were noted: fluctuations in the autopilot speed regulation, problems with the shortwave radio, and fluctuations in the voltage of engine number three.
The jet landed at Schiphol at 2:31 pm local time. New cargo was loaded into the plane; the cargo had been approved by customs authorities, but as was realized later, had not been physically inspected. The aircraft was refueled and the observed issues were repaired, at least provisionally. Captain Yitzhak Fuchs, First Officer Arnon Ohad, and Flight Engineer Gedalya Sofer crewed the aircraft. Anat Solomon, the only passenger on board, was traveling to Tel Aviv to marry an El Al employee.
 Departure from Schiphol
Flight 1862 was scheduled to depart at 5:30 PM, but the flight was delayed until 6:20 PM. At 6:22 PM, Flight 1862 departed from runway 01L on a northerly heading. Once airborne, the plane turned to the right in order to follow the Pampus departure route, aided by the Pampus VOR/DME navigation station. Soon after the turn, at 6:27 pm, above the Gooimeer, a lake near Amsterdam, a sharp bang was heard while the aircraft was climbing through 6500 feet. Engine number three separated from the right wing of the aircraft, damaged the wing flaps, and struck engine number four, which then also separated from the wing. The two engines fell away from the plane. They attracted the attention of some pleasure boaters who had been startled by the loud noise. The boaters notified the Netherlands Coastguard of two objects they had seen falling from the sky. Captain Fuchs made a mayday call to the control tower and indicated that he wanted to return to Schiphol. At 6:28:45 PM, the captain reported: “El Al 1862, lost number three and number four engine, number three and number four engine.”
ATC did not yet grasp the severity of the situation. In aviation, the word “lost” as Captain Fuchs used it generally means a loss of engine capacity. ATC therefore believed that two engines had merely stopped functioning, and did not know that they had broken off the wing. It is probable that the crew, too, did not know that the engines had fallen off the aircraft. The outboard engine on the wing of a 747 is visible from the cockpit only with some difficulty, and the inboard engine on the wing is not visible at all. Given the choices that the captain and crew made following the loss of engine power, the Dutch parliamentary inquiry commission that later studied the crash assumed that the crew did not know that both engines had broken away from the right wing.
 Emergency landing attempt
On the evening of 4 October 1992, the runway available for traffic at Schiphol was runway 06 (the Kaagbaan). However, Captain Fuchs requested runway 27 (the Buitenveldertbaan) for an emergency landing, even though that meant landing with a considerable tailwind.
The plane was too high and close in to land when it circled back to the airport. The captain was forced to continue circling Amsterdam until he could reduce his altitude to that required for a final approach to landing. During the second circle, the captain instructed the first officer to extend the wing flaps. The inboard trailing edge flaps extended, since they were powered by the number one hydraulic system, which was still functioning. However, the outboard trailing edge flaps did not extend, because they were powered by the number four hydraulic system, which failed when the number four engine was torn from the right wing. That partial flap condition meant that the plane would have a higher pitch attitude than normal, as the plane slowed down. The leading edge flaps (powered by the pneumatic system) extended on the left wing, but not on the right wing, because of the damage inflicted on that wing when the right engines were torn off. That differential configuration caused the left wing to generate significantly more lift than the damaged right wing, especially when the pitch attitude increased as the airspeed decreased. The increased lift on the left side increased the tendency to roll further to the right, both because the right outboard aileron was inoperative and because the captain elected to increase the thrust on the left engines in an attempt to reduce his very high sink rate. As the airspeed slowed, the ability of the remaining controls to counteract the right roll diminished. The Captain finally lost all ability to prevent the plane from rolling to the right. That roll continued until it reached 90 degrees, just before the impact with the apartment houses.
At 6:35:25 PM, the first officer radioed to ATC: “Going down, 1862, going down, going down, copied, going down.” In the background, the captain was heard instructing the first officer in Hebrew to raise the flaps and lower the landing gear.
At 6:35 pm local time, the Boeing 747, in nearly a ninety-degree bank with its right wing pointing at the ground, plowed into two high-rise apartment complexes in the Bijlmermeer neighborhood, at the corner of a building where the Groeneveen complex met the Klein-Kruitberg complex. The building exploded into flames and partially collapsed inward, destroying dozens of apartments. The cockpit came to rest east of the flats, between the building and the viaduct of Amsterdam Metro Line 53.
During the last moments of the flight, the arrival traffic controllers made several desperate attempts to contact the aircraft. The Schiphol arrival controllers work from a closed building at Schiphol-East, not from the control tower. At 6:35:45 PM, however, the control tower reported to the arrival controllers: “Het is gebeurd” (lit., “It has happened”, but often meaning “It is over”). At that moment an enormous cloud of smoke was visible above Amsterdam from the control tower. El Al Flight 1862 disappeared from arrival control radar. The arrival controllers reported that the aircraft had last been located 1 mile west of Weesp. Immediately, emergency personnel were sent to Weesp.
At the time of the crash, two police officers were in the Bijlmermeer checking on a burglary report. They saw the aircraft plummet and immediately sounded an alarm. The first fire trucks and rescue services arrived within a few minutes of the crash. Nearby hospitals were advised to prepare for hundreds of casualties. The flats were partly inhabited by undocumented illegal immigrants, and the death toll would be difficult to estimate in the hours after the crash.
In the days immediately following the disaster, the bodies of the victims and the remains of the plane were recovered from the crash site. The remains of the plane were transported to Schiphol for analysis. The parts were not used by investigators to reconstruct the aircraft.
In the event of excessive loads on the Boeing 747 engines or engine pylons, the fuse pins holding the engine nacelle to the wing are designed to fracture cleanly, allowing the engine to fall away from the aircraft without damaging the wing or wing fuel tank. Airliners are generally designed to remain airworthy in the event of an engine failure, so that the plane can be landed safely. Damage to a wing or wing fuel tank can have disastrous consequences. The Netherlands Aviation Safety Board found, however, that the fuse pins had not failed properly, but instead had suffered metal fatigue prior to overload failure. The Safety Board pieced together a probable sequence of events for the loss of engine 3:
1. Gradual failure by fatigue and then overload failure of the inboard mid-spar fuse pin at the inboard thin-walled location.
2. Overload failure of the outer lug of the inboard mid-spar pylon fitting.
3. Overload failure of the outboard mid-spar fuse pin at the outboard thin-walled and fatigue-cracked location.
4. Overload failure of the outboard mid-spar fuse pin at the inboard thin-walled location.
This sequence of step-by-step failures caused the engine and pylon to break free, knocking outboard engine 4 and its pylon off the wing as well and inflicting serious damage on the leading edge of the right wing, including the control surfaces (flaps) that Captain Fuchs later tried to extend in flight.
Research indicated that the plane had only managed to maintain level flight at first due to its high air speed (280 knots). The damage to the right wing, resulting in reduced lift, had made it much more difficult to keep the plane level. At 280 knots (520 km/h), there was nevertheless sufficient lift on the right wing to keep the plane aloft. Once the plane had to reduce speed for landing, however, it was doomed; there was too little lift on the right wing to enable stable flight, and the plane banked sharply to the right without any chance of recovery.
The official probable causes were determined to be:
The design and certification of the B-747 pylon was found to be inadequate to provide the required level of safety. Furthermore the system to ensure structural integrity by inspection failed. This ultimately caused – probably initiated by fatigue in the inboard midspar fuse-pin – the no. 3 pylon and engine to separate from the wing in such a way that the no. 4 pylon and engine were torn off, part of the leading edge of the wing was damaged and the use of several systems was lost or limited. This subsequently left the flight crew with very limited control of the airplane. Because of the marginal controllability a safe landing became highly improbable, if not virtually impossible.
 Official victim count
Fifteen hundred (1500) people were considered missing immediately after the crash. The Dutch government originally estimated a death toll of over 200. In the end, the official death toll on the ground stood at 39, considerably lower than expected. The plane carried only the flight crew and one non-revenue passenger, thus the total number of deaths is 43. At the time of the crash many potential victims were not at home, possibly due to the pleasant weather on the evening of the crash. Twenty-six victims were located. Eleven of these had been taken to the hospital.
Rumors have persisted that the actual ground victim count must have been higher than 39. At very high temperatures such as those encountered after the crash of a jet loaded with fuel, about 1,100 °C (2,010 °F), bodies can be completely incinerated. Additionally, the apartment complexes where the El Al flight crashed contained many undocumented residents, illegal immigrants to the Netherlands. The Dutch parliamentary inquiry commission concluded during the investigation that the number of located bodies was more or less commensurate with the final number of missing persons, and that therefore there were no reasons to suspect that the actual ground death toll was higher than 39.
 Health issues
Mental health care was available after the crash to all affected residents and service personnel. After about a year, however, numbers of residents and service personnel began approaching doctors with physical health complaints, which the affected patients blamed on the El Al crash. Insomnia, chronic respiratory infections, general pain and discomfort, impotence, flatulence, and bowel complaints were all reported. 67% of the affected patients were found to be infected with Mycoplasma, and suffered from symptoms similar to the Gulf War Syndrome or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-like symptoms.
Dutch officials from government departments of transport and of public health asserted that at the time of the crash it was understood that there were no health risks from any cargo on the plane; Els Borst, minister of public health, stated that “geen extreem giftige, zeer gevaarlijke of radioactieve stoffen” (“no extremely toxic, very dangerous, or radioactive materials”) had been on board the plane. However, in October 1993, the nuclear energy research foundation Laka reported that the tail of the plane contained 282 kilograms (620 lb) of depleted uranium as trim weight, as did all Boeing 747s at the time; this was not known during the rescue and recovery process.
It was suggested that studies be undertaken on the symptoms of the affected survivors and service personnel, but for several years these suggestions were ignored on the basis that there was no practical reason to believe in any link between the health complaints of the survivors and the Bijlmer crash site.
The first studies on the symptoms reported by survivors, performed by the Academisch Medisch Centrum, began in May 1998. The AMC eventually concluded that up to a dozen cases of auto-immune disorders among the survivors could be directly attributed to the crash, and health notices were distributed to doctors throughout the Netherlands requesting that extra attention be paid to symptoms of auto-immune disorder, particularly if the patient had a link with the Bijlmer crash site. Another study, performed by the Rijks Instituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieuhygiene, concluded that although toxic products had been released at the time of the crash, the added risks of cancer were small, approximately one or two additional cases per ten thousand exposed persons. The RIVM also concluded that the chances of uranium poisoning were minimal.
 Cargo concerns
Soon after the disaster it was announced that the El Al Boeing 747 had contained fruit, perfumes, and computer components. Dutch Minister Hanja Maij-Weggen asserted that she was certain that the plane contained no military cargo.
In September 1993, the media reported that the El Al Boeing contained dangerous cargo. Some portion of the cargo proved to be Israeli national defense materials. It was also reported that a third of the cargo had not been physically inspected and that the cargo listings had not been checked.
The survivors’ health complaints following the crash increased the number of questions about the cargo.
In 1998 it was publicly revealed that 190 liters of dimethyl methylphosphonate, a CWC schedule 2 chemical which can be used for the synthesis of Sarin nerve gas, had been included in the cargo. Israel stated that the material was non-toxic, was to have been used to test filters that protect against chemical weapons, and that it had been clearly listed on the cargo manifest in accordance with international regulations. The Dutch foreign ministry confirmed that it had already known about the presence of chemicals on the plane. The shipment was from a U.S. chemical plant to the Israel Institute for Biological Research under a U.S. Department of Commerce license.
 Alterations to Boeing aircraft
After the crash investigation, Boeing issued a service directive regarding the faulty fuse pins on Boeing 747 aircraft. The 747s had their engines taken off and examined for cracks in the fuse pins. If cracks were present, the fuse pins were replaced.
 Communication recording between ground control and El AL 1862 flight crew
CONTROLLER: Turn right heading two six zero, field eh… behind you, eh…. in your – to the west, eh ….distance one eight miles
El Al 1862: Roger, we have fire on engine number three, we have fire on engine number three
CONTROLLER: Roger, heading two seven zero for downwind
El Al 1862: Two seven zero downwind
El Al 1862: El Al one eight six two, lost number three and number four engine, number three and number four engine
CONTROLLER: Roger, one eight six two
CONTROLLER: El Al one eight six two, continue descent one thousand five hundred feet…one thousand five hundred
El Al 1862: Fifteen hundred, and we have a controlling problem
CONTROLLER: You have a controlling problem as well, roger
El Al 1862: [In the background, in Hebrew] – Raise all the flaps, all the flaps raise
El Al 1862: [In the background, in Hebrew] – Lower the gear
El Al 1862: Going down…eh…one eight six two, going down, going down, copied going down
 See also
- List of notable accidents and incidents on commercial aircraft
- China Airlines Flight 358 – 29 December 1991 – engines and leading edge slats loss on one wing during takeoff.
- American Airlines Flight 191 – 25 May 1979 – engine and leading edge slats loss on one wing during takeoff.
- Air safety
- ^ Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- ^ “Two engines separate from the right wing and result in loss of control and crash of Boeing 747 freighter” (PDF). flightsafety.org. http://www.flightsafety.org/ap/ap_jan96.pdf.
- ^ a b “El Al Flight 1862” (PDF). Nederlands Aviation Safety Board. http://verkeerenwaterstaat.nl/kennisplein/uploaded/MIN/2005-07/39448/ElAl_flight_1862.pdf.
- ^ Uijt de Haag P.A. and Smetsers R.C. and Witlox H.W. and Krus H.W. and Eisenga A.H. (28 August 2000). “Evaluating the risk from depleted uranium after the Boeing 747-258F crash in Amsterdam, 1992” (PDF). Journal of Hazardous Materials 76 (1): 39–58. doi:10.1016/S0304-3894(00)00183-7. http://www.rivm.nl/bibliotheek/digitaaldepot/risico_uranium_bijlmerramp.pdf. Retrieved 2007-05-16.
- ^ Henk van der Keur (May 1999). “Uranium Pollution from the Amsterdam 1992 Plane Crash“. Laka Foundation. http://www.ratical.org/radiation/dhap/dhap997.html. Retrieved 2007-05-16.
- ^ “Israel says El Al crash chemical ‘non-toxic’“. BBC. 1998-10-02. http://web.archive.org/web/20030818042548/http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/185199.stm. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
- ^ “Israel says El Al crash chemical ‘non-toxic’“. BBC. 2 October 1998. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/185199.stm. Retrieved 2006-07-02.
- ^ Greenberg, Joel (1998-10-02). “Nerve-Gas Element Was in El Al Plane Lost in 1992 Crash“. New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E04E5D91538F931A35753C1A96E958260&pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- ^ Architectour.net – Boeing 747 El Al / Bijlmer Memorial [ Memoriale alle vittime di un disastro aereo ]
- ^ http://www.mrld.net/pdfs/descombes.pdf
 Further reading
- Theo Bean, Een gat in mijn hart: een boek gebaseerd op tekeningen en teksten van kinderen na de vliegramp in de Bijlmermeer van 4 oktober 1992. Zwolle: Waanders, 1993.
- Vincent Dekker, Going down, going down: De ware toedracht van de Bijlmerramp. Amsterdam: Pandora, 1999.
- Een beladen vlucht: eindrapport Bijlmer enquête. Sdu Uitgevers, 1999.
- Pierre Heijboer, Doemvlucht: de verzwegen geheimen van de Bijlmerramp. Utrecht: Het Spectrum, 2002.
- R. J. H. Wanhill and A. Oldersma, Fatigue and Fracture in an Aircraft Engine Pylon, Nationaal Lucht- en Ruimtevaartlaboratorium (NLR TP 96719).
- This event is featured on the National Geographic Channel show Seconds From Disaster.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: El Al Flight 1862|
- Corrosion Doctors’ entry on El Al Flight 1862
- Photographs of the disaster on AirDisaster.com
- Google Maps view of site
- Pre-disaster photos from Airliners.net
- Air Traffic Control recording
- Air Traffic Control transcript
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