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The Day the World lost its Colour

The Republic of Suriname is a small country in the North-East of South America. Formerly known as Dutch Guinea, it was a Dutch colony until 1954, and the cultural, social, and economic ties between the two countries remain close,

Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard. Edgar Davids , Clarence Seedorf, and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbank are but a few of the illustrious names of Dutch football, who were either born in Suriname, or owe their ethnic origins to the country.

Like immigrants in many countries, people from Surinamese origins tended to be congregated into the poorer neighbourhoods of Dutch cities and  section of them became marginalised.

In 1986  a Dutch social worker decided to do something about this with a  series of programmes aimed at underprivileged children living in some of these districts in Amsterdam. Finding that they responded to positive role models, he organised an exhibition game between a group of professional footballers of Surinamese origins playing in Dutch football and the domestic champions of Suriname.

So successful was the first match that further games were organised, and the Dutch footballers were organised under the team mane “The Colourful 11”.

In June 1989, another match was organised, although some of the Dutch clubs were unwilling to release some of the bigger names for the trip. So, it was mainly a collection of 18 less well-known figures who boarded the scheduled airline from Amsterdam to Suriname on 7th June 1989.

(Two others who had defied their clubs and decided to make the journey anyway, were fortunate enough to decide to make the journey under their own steam, and took an earlier flight).  

The flight was uneventful until the plane began its final approach to Paramaribo-Zanderij airport in Suriname.

That was when the second engine struck a tree, and then the right wing collided with another. The plane flipped over and crashed into the ground upside down, killing most of those on board instantly.

In all 176 out of 187 passengers were killed, including 15 players. Three survived, but were severely injured. Two never played football again, whilst striker Radijn de Haan was forced to retire early because of complications arising from the crash.

A subsequently inquiry blamed pilot error which was attributed to poor training and a lack of judgment.  It was found that the flight crew had relied on inaccurate navigation systems and they had ignored cockpit warnings of an impending crash.

It was also discovered that the captain was too old to operate as captain, and that he had not been certified to fly that type of plane.

The crash was a national tragedy for Suriname, not just because of the footballers who died, but also due to the fact that many of the victims were Surinamese living in the Netherlands. Nearly everybody had family or friends living in the “Motherland”, and there were many left grieving as a result.

Today, the crash is remembered by a monument at the Rusthof Cemetery in Paramaribo, depicting four aircraft engines, with the names of the victims inscribed on them.

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