Toxic Turmoil

Part of the series The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping pp 85-99

The Chaotic Aftermath of an Airplane Crash in Amsterdam

A Second Disaster
  • Joris YzermansAffiliated withDivision Public Health, Department of General Practice, Academic Medical Center/University of Amsterdam
  • , Berthold P. R. GersonsAffiliated withde Meren Department of Psychiatry, Academic Medical Center/University of Amsterdam/de Meren

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At the time of the 1992 Bijlmermeer plane crash, no one would have dreamt that more than 6 years after the event, the entire country would be glued to the television to witness the demise of what could only be characterized as a chaotic aftermath of the disaster. In 1998, the Dutch Parliament decided to organize a Parliamentary inquiry to determine the causes and consequences of the crash and its possible ramifications for public health. An inquiry committee was appointed, exhaustive investigations were launched, and public hearings were broadcast on primetime national television. Half a million viewers followed the 6 weeks of “the Bijlmer Inquiry”—named after the Bijlmermeer district of Amsterdam—where the crash occurred. Front pages were filled with pictures and reports of breathtaking interrogations. The climax came when an air traffic controller testified that he had been instructed shortly after the crash to keep information about lethal substances that were possibly on board the cargo airplane “under his hat.” Although this statement was later proven to be false, rescue workers had not been warned at the time to take extra precautions. Since that day, the expression “keeping something under your hat” has become part of the everyday household vernacular. It captured the widespread conviction that information was deliberately being withheld.