Galway remembers victims of 1958 KLM air disaster

THE NINETY-NINE victims of an air disaster that occurred off the coast of Connemara 50 years ago this week were remembered at…

THE NINETY-NINE victims of an air disaster that occurred off the coast of Connemara 50 years ago this week were remembered at a special ceremony in Galway city yesterday evening.

Ninety-one passengers - including a 14-month old baby girl - and eight crew members perished when a KLM aircraft travelling from Amsterdam to New York crashed into the ocean 100 miles (161km) off the Galway coast on August 14th, 1958.

The incident sparked a major search-and-rescue effort by organisations across the western seaboard, but only 34 bodies were recovered from the sea following three days of intensive searches.

The majority of those recovered were not identified and their remains were interred in Bohermore cemetery in Galway in the largest funeral the city has seen.


Galway City Council hosted yesterday's commemoration to remember all those who lost their lives in the crash and to pay tribute to the organisations that helped in the effort to recover the bodies of victims following the accident.

The Mayor of Galway city, Cllr Padraig Conneely, said the incident had deeply affected the citizens of Galway, many of whom can remember standing on the docks as the boats returned with the remains of the victims.

"This event had a huge impact on the citizens of a much smaller Galway at the time and indeed of the people of Ireland. Indeed, the fact that we are here today 50 years after this tragedy speaks volumes about the enduring influence of the KLM air crash on the people of Galway.

"Galway experienced unforgettable scenes as the bodies of the victims were brought into the city and buried in this cemetery. This burial place will forever be remembered by the people of Galway for such a great tragedy and such a great loss of life."

Representatives from a number of institutions and organisations who helped in the operation to recover the victims were present for the commemoration, including a number of retired nurses and members of the Order of Malta, Red Cross, lifeboat, ambulance and fire brigade services.

Addressing the gathering, Bernd Surem of KLM quoted from the official report written by the Irish manager of the airline at the time, who concluded his report on August 20th, 1958, with a tribute to the people of Galway.

"I must make mention of the wonderful assistance and co-operation so freely given by the people of Galway in this whole tragic affair.

"Their generous effort has made the work of the accident crew so very much easier and it is difficult to mention the names of individuals from the town where virtually everyone was worthy of mention," he wrote.

In a re-enactment of the burial ceremony 50 years ago, representatives from six religious denominations recited short prayers at yesterday's service, following which wreaths were laid on the mass grave of the unidentified victims and on the grave of baby Bernadette de Kock Van Leeuwen, which lies nearby.

Dutch ambassador to Ireland Robert Engels thanked the city council for its initiative in commemorating the tragedy, which he referred to as "a calamity that lives on in the daily lives of the families of the victims".