‘Going Down 3/8’ Pilot Calls as Stricken Plane Crashes With AM-Netherlands-Crash, Bjt
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Yitzhak Fuchs, captain of El Al Flight 1862, was just three months from retirement as he throttled the jumbo jet into the cool evening sky for a trip to Israel.
The Boeing 747-200 cargo jet was loaded with tons of textiles and electronics goods as well as the fuel it needed for Sunday’s 4 1/2 -hour flight to Tel Aviv.
Just six minutes in the air, Fuchs realized something was terribly wrong.
The jet had climbed slowly from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and banked to the east when Fuchs, a 28-year veteran of the airline, radioed a distress signal. His inner right-wing engine was on fire 18 miles west of the airport.
At an apartment complex about 10 miles away, families unaware of the disaster unfolding were finishing up dinner, watching television or taking walks on a cool, tranquil evening around sundown.
Circling, Fuchs told the tower he would try to jettison fuel to lighten the plane and make it back to the nearest runway.
The less weight, the better chance of landing the plane. But aviation analysts say Fuchs may not have had time to dump enough fuel.
″You have a desperate decision to make because you do need to lighten the airplane,″ British Capt. Ian Frow, a senior Boeing pilot, told BBC-TV.
Six minutes after the message by Fuchs, the other starboard engine ignited, and within two minutes both flaming engines broke loose.
The plane yawed out of control, hurtling downward. The 60-year-old captain sent his last desperate Mayday call.
″Going down 3/8 Going down 3/8″ were his last words.
The plane, carrying 114 tons of cargo, crashed into a crowded apartment complex in the suburb of Bijlmermeer, about 10 miles from the airport, at 6:36 p.m.
It punched a massive hole in the middle of the 10-story, two-wing complex and set off an inferno. As many as 250 people were feared dead. Fuchs and the three others on the jet perished.
Johanna and Jan Kok, who lived in the apartment complex, were eating dinner when the plane plowed into the twin towers.
″Everything flew up to the ceiling, bookcases fell over,″ Johanna Kok said. ″I thought an airplane was coming through my roof.″
″I was so scared I couldn’t think, I just grabbed my coat and ran.″
The Koks were able to race down a stairwell. Other residents jumped from windows.
Molly Maulabaks, who lives in a neighboring block, said a woman dropped a baby from the fourth or fifth story to a rescuer, who took it to an ambulance.
″I saw fire everywhere. Down below, in front and to both sides,″ said Maulabaks.
Throughout the night, swarms of onlookers and anguished relatives crowded police barriers. Survivors huddled in shock at shelters set up at sporting arenas and civic halls.
Fuchs, who began working for the airline in 1964 and has helped train young pilots, had been planning to retire in three months.
On the plane with him were 1st Officer Arnon Ohad, 36, a former Israeli Air Force pilot; flight engineer Gedalya Sofer, 61, who worked for El Al for 42 years; and Anat Solomon, a passenger whose husband is an airline security officer in Amsterdam.
The plane stopped at Schiphol en route from New York to Tel Aviv, but the airline said a new crew was put on in Amsterdam.
Experts from Israel, America and Holland were investigating the crash. The flight and voice recorders were still missing Monday.
Officials said the crash was not the result of a terrorist attack. Sabotage was not ruled out, but officials asserted that all indications pointed to an accident or technical malfunction.
Aviation analysts said the jet was designed to run on one engine, but that wing damage could have made that difficult. They said debris from the first blown engine likely damaged the second.