Sarin gas materials 'on crash plane'

THE EL AL Boeing 747 transport plane that crashed into two blocks of flats near Amsterdam in 1992, killing at least 43 residents, was carrying the raw materials of the deadly sarin nerve gas, it was alleged by a Dutch newspaper yesterday .

According to the authoritative NRC Handelsblad newspaper of Rotterdam, the plane was secretly carrying chemicals capable of making the gas from a chemicals plant in the US to the Israel Institute for Biological Research near Tel Aviv. The material was sufficient for the manufacture of 270 kilograms of sarin.

The Dutch government has always maintained that details of the cargo were unavailable. The newspaper obtained paperwork, which details the chemical under the "Skipper's declaration for dangerous goods".

Ron Manley, a United Nations chemical weapons expert in The Hague, said that the amount of chemicals suggested a use on a far greater scale than normal research purposes. Scientific research in European laboratories seldom used more than a few hundred grams per year. "It's a lot," said Mr Manley. "The amount of the material being transported could only be explained by the conducting of large-scale field experiments".

John Swanciger, the managing director of Solkatronic Chemicals Inc. of Pennsylvania, admitted that his company had occasionally supplied the Institute, which has been connected with the development of chemical weapons. Official investigations into the crash are known to have been hampered by the Israeli authorities.

Early reports by people at the crash scene of "mysterious men in white overalls" were ridiculed by the Israeli and Dutch authorities. But it was later admitted that the flight was carrying chemicals for military purposes, some of which are known to have seeped 20 metres into the subsoil. One of the flight's black box flight recorders is also said to have never been recovered.