Tuesday marks 30 years since the Bijlmermeer disaster, when an El Al cargo plane crashed into a block of flats in an area of social housing southeast of Amsterdam, killing at least 43 people.
At the time, the Bijlmermeer was viewed by many as a ‘no go area’ and its problems of social deprivation and crime were largely ignored. The real death toll itself remains open to question because the area was lived in by a large number of undocumented migrants.
Yet even though crash and its aftermath focused both political and media attention on the district, leading to its ongoing rejuvenation, the scars still run deep.
Ghanese born Mama Betty told the NRC she was drinking with friends when they heard a loud boom. ‘The gallery was full of people screaming and running for the stairs,’ she said. ‘You heard every language mixed up together: Dutch, Papiamento, Sranang, Ghanese.’
The plane had crashed less than 100 metres from her front door. Betty says she stood and watched as people escaped from the burning building. ‘People were throwing their children into the little canal next to it because that was the only way to get out,’ she said.
Several events and exhibitions have been organized to mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster, including a five part television series about the crash and the aftermath, including speculation about the cargo and mysterious men in white suits.
Special exhibitions have been curated at the Amsterdam Museum and Imagine IC in Zuidoost, in which the memories and experiences of people who lived through the crash are central.
Broadcaster Omroep Zwart has produced a television documentary Een gat in mijn heart (a hole in my heart) which looks at the experiences of 30 children who were caught up in disaster.
The crash took place early on Sunday evening, October 4, 1992. The plane, with a crew of three and one passenger, had requested to make an emergency landing after two of its engines broke off and a wing was damaged shortly after take-off.
It circled over Amsterdam to reduce altitude but the crew lost control of the aircraft and it hit the high rise complex, exploding into a fireball.
The flats were demolished and a memorial near the crash site lists the names of the victims, close to a tree that survived the disaster, which is known as ‘the tree that saw it all’ (de boom die alles zag).
Every year, a public memorial is held to mark the disaster and no planes fly over the area for one hour out of respect for the victims.
‘When October 4 approaches, I pray for the families of those who were affected,’ Betty said. ‘And I think of my neighbour who lost her three children. One of her daughters borrowed sunflower oil from me that afternoon. It was the last time I saw her.’
Tuesday evening’s remembrance ceremony will be broadcast live on NOS television.
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