Thinking of the events still gives me goosebumps, it's still terrifying after 44 years. When it happened, I had just turned seven years, and I still remember the front page of the next day's (Dutch) news paper: it showed the picture of the burning PanAm wreck, with survivors running away from it, towards the photographer.
Air disasters are always terrifying, but most are rather one-dimensional: they have a terrorist attack, a technical malfunction or pilot error as a single source. This one, however, had so many different contributing factors, so many layers, 'what-ifs' and possible escapes that it borders on the unbelievable. And still, it happened, and it went terribly wrong. It could have been an ancient Greek drama, if not for the fact that aircraft didn't exist yet in the days of Sophocles and Euripides. The fact that both planes were not supposed to be at Tenerife at all, the fog, the KLM crew's decision to refuel, the radio heterodyne at that decisive moment, the fact that the local fire brigad, having arrived at the KLM 747, initially didn't realize that there was a second wreck a few hundred meters further down the runway, it is all hair-raising.
[The two planes, probably just an hour before the incident. Photographed by a local from Tenerife. Talk about hair-raising...]
Also, the role of the KLM captain could be a Greek tragedy on its own.
Very sad indeed. I can't help but reflect on TFS departures, many of which take you directly over TFN.
A tragic example of CRM disasters and the toxic masculinity that still risks lives to this day.
It's not toxic masculinity. Just being an arrogant jerk. The WN captain who insulted the FO and then crashed the plane at LGA was a female.
Sorry but this doesn't help.
J. Veldhuyzen van Zanten may perhaps have had quite some self confidence, but I don't believe he was anything like you describe him. He was a very, very experienced pilot, with a very long career at KLM that took him from the DC3, via DC4, -6, -7 and -8 to the left seat of the 747. He was not only the company's chief pilot, but also the chief instructor. If he were really such a bully, they wouldn't have appointed him as the chief instructor, that would make no sense. Just having good flying skills are not enough in that job, you must have well-developed human skills as well. Many apprentices described him later as 'empathic' and a really friendly guy. I don't say he didn't make a big mistake, but I trust he decision to start the takeoff run was taken in good faith. Also, as noted above, F-O Meurs had been a captain on the DC8 before, he was not someone that Veldhuyzen van Zanten could just 'bark off'. They must have honestly believed that the PA was clear - but should have verified that of course, believing is not enough.
It is a well-known fact that the KLM board immediately tried to contact Veldhuyzen van Zanten when they first heard about the crash, they wanted him to lead the investigation. He was their most trusted pilot.
But indeed, it is indeed really tragic that of all airline pilots
, it was precisely
this super-experienced, high-profile, highly valued poster-boy chief pilot that made this incomprehensible error. As I said, a plot for a Greek tragedy in itself.