The Amsterdam Disaster: 'I saw it explode in a sea of fire'

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The Independent Online
BY THE eerie illumination of helicopter-borne lights, rescuers searched the flaming rubble of apartment buildings last night.

Police struggled to keep back onlookers and people desperate for news of relatives and friends. In chaotic scenes, paramedics treated people on the ground. The asphalt of streets near by was molten like a flow of lava. 'After the crash, the fire spread at an incredible speed, from apartment to apartment, like a chain reaction,' a witness said.

A woman described leaping from a second-floor window with her three-year-old son and her daughter, aged six. All escaped unhurt. 'I had just come home from church,' Ruth Atucehene, an immigrant from Ghana, said. 'I didn't see anything. I just heard a loud noise and the flat was on fire. I took my little son and jumped from the window. My daughter jumped with us.'

The jet gouged a canyon six flats wide and five floors deep in one building in the low-income housing project. 'It crashed right into the building . . . it exploded into one huge sea of fire,' Mark van der Linden, a resident, said. Dozens jumped from windows to escape the inferno, Dutch radio reported. Municipal authorities made an emergency call for blood donors.

Mrs Van Heijnswou, who lives near the block of flats that was hit, said she heard the plane fly over before it crashed. 'I thought it was making a hell of a noise, so I went over to the window to have a look and I saw a very large plane flying very low. I expected it to come down between the two flats nearest to mine, it was flying so low.

'I saw it begin to turn a bit, and then, suddenly, I saw fire coming out of the tail, just a small flame. Then it tilted, coming right on end, and then there was an enormous explosion.

'Then I went outside to see what had happened. I called on my neighbour first, I was so upset. Walking up to the flat, I could see big palls of thick smoke.'

A distraught mother said: 'We watched and boom] Fire everywhere. I'm looking for my children, I don't know where they are.'