Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten
Born5 February 1927
Lisse, Netherlands
Died27 March 1977 (aged 50)
Cause of deathPlane crash
Alma materKLM
Years active1950–1977
Known forKLM's chief instructor, Tenerife airport disaster
Spouse(s)Henriëtte Veldhuyzen van Zanten-Segers (b. 1926)
ChildrenRon (b. 1951) and Mariëtte (b. 1953)

Jacob Louis Veldhuyzen van Zanten (5 February 1927 – 27 March 1977) (“the Gaaner”) was a Dutch aircraft captain and flight instructor. As captain of the KLM Boeing 747, he caused and died in the Tenerife airport disaster, the deadliest accident in aviation history.


Born in Lisse, Netherlands, Veldhuyzen van Zanten obtained his private pilot's licence on 21 June 1947, and his commercial pilot's licence on 18 April 1950. That year, he began working for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as a flight director, and in 1951, he commenced duty as a first officer on the Douglas DC-3.[1] He then obtained his Flight Radio Telephone Operator's Licence on 22 September 1952, Airline Transport Pilot's Licence on 19 October 1956, and Flight Navigator's Licence on 6 August 1963.

On 23 January 1971, Veldhuyzen van Zanten was type-rated on the Boeing 747. That same year, he, along with two of his colleagues, went to Seattle to take delivery of KLM’s first 747, the Mississippi (registered PH-BUA).[1] At the time of the disaster, he had 11,700 flight hours (1,545 of which were on the Boeing 747).[2] In addition to his duties as a regular airline pilot, he had been promoted to chief flight instructor for the Boeing 747.[3] At the time of his death, he was in charge of training all of KLM's pilots on this type of aircraft and the head of KLM's flight training department.[4]

Jan Bartelski, a KLM captain until 1978 and later president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, was a contemporary of Veldhuyzen van Zanten and knew him personally. In his book Disasters In The Air, he describes Veldhuyzen van Zanten as:

a serious and introverted individual but with an open-hearted and friendly disposition. He was a studious type and regarded as the company’s pilot expert on the Boeing 747 systems.

And adds that:

He believed in partnership, to the extent that he insisted on his first officers addressing him during flight as «Jaap» and not «Captain van Zanten».[3]

KLM captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten featuring in a 1977 advertisement for the airline
KLM captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten featuring in a 1977 advertisement for the airline

Shortly before the Tenerife airport disaster, in which he was involved, Veldhuyzen van Zanten was photographed for KLM's advertising campaign.[5] While this has been attributed to his high position within KLM, Jan Bartelski, for instance, argues that Veldhuyzen van Zanten was photographed simply because he was the only captain available (due to his responsibilities as a flight instructor) to KLM Public Relations, as others were away flying.[3]

When the news of the Tenerife disaster broke, the KLM executives looked for Veldhuyzen van Zanten to lead their investigation, only to realize that he had been involved in the accident.[6]

Veldhuyzen van Zanten lived in Sassenheim, Netherlands, with his wife and two children.[7]

Tenerife disaster and death

Main article: Tenerife airport disaster

A gravestone with Veldhuyzen van Zanten's name, Westgaarde Cemetery, Amsterdam.
A gravestone with Veldhuyzen van Zanten's name, Westgaarde Cemetery, Amsterdam.

The Tenerife airport disaster on 27 March 1977 was the collision of two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft on the runway of Los Rodeos Airport (now known as Tenerife North Airport) in Tenerife, Spain; killing 583 people, the crash is the deadliest accident in aviation history. All 248 passengers and crew aboard KLM flight 4805 were killed, as were 335 on Pan Am flight 1736 (61 survived).

In heavy fog on the airport's only runway, Veldhuyzen van Zanten took off without approval and crashed into the top of the Pan Am aircraft, which was backtaxiing in the opposite direction under the direction of air traffic control. The KLM's flight crew had been aware of Pan Am backtaxiing behind them, but believed that it had already cleared the runway - the dense fog prevented visual confirmation. Veldhuyzen van Zanten's actions were the result of a number of other factors, including communication difficulties with Air Traffic Control (accents, and non-standard phraseology); he was impatient and concerned about crew timing out when he received a departure clearance but not a take-off clearance yet, and the Control Tower assumed that the KLM 747 remained stationary on the runway as instructed.[8]

Aircraft type ratings

Veldhuyzen van Zanten was rated for the following aircraft:[2]


  1. ^ a b "Wie was Veldhuyzen van Zanten?" (in Dutch). Project Tenerife. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Part One of the Spanish Report" (PDF). Project Tenerife. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 June 2020. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Bartelski, Jan (2001). Disasters in the air: mysterious air disasters explained. Airlife. pp. ?. ISBN 978-1-84037-204-5.
  4. ^ Meisler, Stanley (30 March 1977). "'He Is Going to Kill Us,' Pan Am Pilot Exclaimed". Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
  5. ^ "KLM advert".
  6. ^ Smith, Patrick (6 April 2007). "A look back at the catastrophic chain of events that caused history's deadliest plane crash 30 years ago". Salon. Archived from the original on 10 October 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
  7. ^ Sterk, N. (22 March 1997). "Een handbreed gesteld". Reformatorisch Dagblad (in Dutch). p. B1. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  8. ^ Job, Macarthur (1994). Air Disaster Volume 1. Fyshwick, Australia: Aerospace Publications. p. 174. ISBN 1875671110.