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Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 19:52 GMT

World: Europe

Chemical plane crash inquiry

The plane devastated the apartment block

A long-awaited inquiry into the crash of an Israeli cargo jet into an Amsterdam apartment complex has opened in The Hague.

A Dutch parliamentary commission is trying to find out whether the crash six years ago was responsible for serious medical problems subsequently reported by rescue workers and local residents. It will also look into the cause of the disaster.

Stephen Fleay reports: "Serious health problems"
Israel admitted last year that the plane was carrying a chemical used to produce a deadly nerve gas. The inquiry will look at whether this or possibly radioactive substances contributed to the illnesses.

The commission, sitting in the upper house of parliament, plans to interview 75 people by the end of March.

[ image:  ]
Although the identity of those invited to appear has not been revealed, they are believed to include government ministers and deputies, rescue workers and representatives from Amsterdam-Schipol Airport.

Representatives of Israeli airline El Al may also be required to attend.

Black box never found

The El Al Boeing 747 crashed on 4 October 1992 shortly after take-off from Schipol Airport, killing 43 people, most of them on the ground.

[ image: Rescuers sift through the rubble of the apartment block]
Rescuers sift through the rubble of the apartment block
Despite Israeli admissions, the full contents of the jet have never been formally established and the cargo manifest has never been revealed.

The plane's black box was never found, prompting rumours that members of the Israeli secret service joined the rescue teams undercover to remove any sensitive material.

The appearance of men in white suits sifting through the wreckage added to the air of mystery surrounding the crash.

There have also been questions as to whether the rescue operation was correctly organised.

Israel said the cargo included 190 litres of dimethyl methylphosphonate, a chemical used for making sarin nerve gas, but which can also have innocent uses. The Israeli Government insists that the chemicals on board were non-toxic.

Doctors in the Biljmer suburb around the crash site said last year that up to 300 local residents could be suffering effects caused by the crash.

The parliamentary commission is made up of five deputies drawn from the ruling coalition and opposition parties.

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