The Amsterdam Disaster: Jet's excellent safety record ends in flames

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The Independent Online
The Boeing 747 is the workhorse of the skies for both passengers and cargo. There are about 800 of the four-engined planes, in 15 versions according to age and type of use, in service around the world.

The safety record has generally been excellent although the sheer size of the plane, which can carry up to 650 people, means that it has been involved in many of the world's worst air disasters.

Last night's crash is likely to become the most deadly ever in terms of people killed on the ground. In Britain's worst ever disaster, 11 people in Lockerbie in Scotland were killed on the ground when a bomb exploded on a Pan Am 747 in December 1988 also killing all 259 on board.

The plane which crashed last night was a 747-200F 'full freighter' type which has windows only on the upper deck and is used only for cargo. There are about 70 of this version, capable of carrying 200,000lbs of cargo, in use across the world. The ill-fated plane was one of two cargo 747s owned by El Al.

Schiphol is the airline's main European cargo hub and the plane was used generally for flights between Tel Aviv, Amsterdam and the United States. El Al also owns seven passenger 747s. The plane was 13 years old, having been delivered to El Al in March 1979.

Boeing first introduced the 747 airliner into service in 1970 and since then 22 have been lost in accidents, terrorist incidents and fires. Six were lost as a result of terrorist and military operation, including most recently the ill- fated British Airways flight which landed in Kuwait after the Iraqis had invaded and was subsequently burnt out. Another five have been destroyed in fires or other accidents on the ground or in the hangar. Eleven have been lost in accidents, the most recent being a China Airlines Boeing 747-200 which crashed in Taiwan last December.

The aircraft's American manufacturers claim that none of these accidents was due to structural causes. However, Boeing paid damages to many of the victims of an accident in Japan in 1985 when all but four of the 524 people on board were killed in the worst accident involving only one aircraft. The plane had lost part of its tail when a rear bulkhead collapsed, causing the loss of steering, and the craft hit a mountain after several hours of aimless flight.

The world's worst air disaster occurred when a total of 583 people were killed when a KLM Boeing 747 and a Pan Am 747 crashed into each other in fog at Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands in March 1977.

The 747, popularly known as the jumbo jet, revolutionised air travel, enabling more than 650 people to travel on a single plane at a speed of just over 600mph. Boeing executives were tentative about launching the plane because they feared that supersonic travel would become the norm. However, it has been an enormous success and is still in production. The aircraft was built to a high safety standard. All main systems in the aircraft are in triplicate and the main frame is arranged to absorb stress if a part of it fails.

The crash in Amsterdam is the third major air disaster in just over a week. Last Monday, 167 people were killed when a Pakistani Airlines Airbus 300 hit a hillside as it came in to land at Kathmandu in Nepal.

And two days earlier, up to 163 people died when a Nigerian Air Force Hercules C-130 plunged into a swamp about three minutes after leaving Lagos international airport.