Dutch put Boeing death-toll at 120

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The estimated death-toll from the Amsterdam jet crash was revised to 120 last night, less than half the number first feared dead, writes Steve Boggan.

Ed van Thijn, the Mayor of Amsterdam, disclosed the new figures at the end of a three-day investigation by a team of detectives who examined hundreds of reports of missing people. The authorities have published three lists comprising details of nine bodies recovered and identified; 48 reports of people missing and sighted in the area before the crash; and 63 others simply reported as missing in the area.

'There was a bit of a panic at first and initially there was talk of 500 deaths,' said Hubert Wenthagen, a spokesman for the city of Amsterdam. 'As recently as three days ago we thought it could have been up to 300, but now we are satisfied it will be no more than 120, possibly less. It isn't that we made mistakes. We were simply acting on the reports and observations of other people.'

Amsterdam police said 51 bodies had been recovered, but some medical experts said yesterday that many others were likely to have been vaporised when the El Al Boeing 747-200F cargo plane exploded.

The news came as investigators into the disaster were told that the tape in the flight data-recorder was too badly damaged to be decoded at the Air Accident Investigation Branch at Farnborough, Hampshire. The Dutch Civil Aviation Authority said it had sent the 'black-box' recorder to the National Transportation Bureau in Washington, which has more sophisticated equipment than its British counterpart.