Speech by Mr. Jan Groenewoud
(surviving relative and president of the Foundation
Relatives Victims Tenerife)
March 26th 1977. I was twenty years old. I was sitting on the sofa
with my grandmother, aged 86, my youngest sister, and a good friend.
were watching TV. The Dutch football team was playing a match. My
parents would be leaving the next day for a short holiday in
sun-drenched Las Palmas with my sister Tini and my eldest sister
Marijke and her family. Seven people in all. As they left, my father
turned one last time with a look in his eyes that I will never
forget. He probably would have liked me to have gone with them.
I was allowed to stay
at home and look after things, on the condition that I behaved
myself. That same evening, there was a phone call. An uncle, my
father’s brother, rang to tell me to switch on the television
because a special News bulletin was on. A bit later, a neighbour
called to say the same thing. The bulletin was about an air crash
involving two 747 Jumbos, one belonging to KLM, the other to Pan Am.
It had happened in Tenerife. All of a sudden, everything went dark,
almost black, as if the earth under our feet had completely caved
in. All we could do was breathe.
Together with what
was left of the family: brothers, their wives, uncles and aunts,
cousins, we sat in the living room. Totally devastated. All of us
numb with disbelief, grief and shock. From one moment to the next, I
was an adult. I had to fend for myself. Choice had nothing to do
with it. I had to make my own way in the world, like it or not. My
grandmother set a wonderful example in these difficult days and gave
me a lot of strength. My grandmother’s faith strengthened her
determination to go on living, to support the rest of the family and
to give them new confidence in a very uncertain future.
Days, months, years
have passed, but now, even thirty years later, I still feel and
think about that loss every single day. But the past thirty years
have also had a good side; for, I am now the proud father of a son
and a daughter. I am grateful to my friends and family, but also to
my faith for all the love and support I have received in the past
years. Without that, I would not be here today.
I used to ask myself
why it fell so silent after the accident and why there was no
commemoration. The years went by and we still had not come together
to pay tribute to the victims of the events of March 1977. It was in
the summer of 2001, when I was going through a rough patch, that I
realized that I had an old wound that was desperately in need of
care and attention. It was then that I sought professional help for
the first time.
In November of the
same year I realized that I should take the initiative and organize
a commemoration. Five years ago, two of my friends and I established
a Foundation to help the loved ones of the victims of this tragic
accident to come to terms with their feelings. This led to the first
commemorative service, in Amsterdam, five years ago.
Today, thirty years
to the date, we have come together again in large numbers in the
Auditorio de Tenerife in Santa Cruz to pay our respects to the
victims of the tragic plane crash of 27 March 1977. This afternoon,
we shall witness the unveiling of the memorial monument on the Mesa
Mota. A monument to be proud of. A monument which honours the
victims. A special and deeply meaningful gathering of families,
friends, survivors, participants and emergency workers from America,
Tenerife and the Netherlands.
are here with each other and for each other. Together we must try to
take another small step in coming to terms with this horrendous