The terrible reality of an airplane tragedy hit home for Boeing workers Friday as the company acknowledged that three of its employees had died in the crash of a Turkish Airlines 737-800 jet in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

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The terrible reality of an airplane tragedy hit home for Boeing workers Friday as the company acknowledged that three of its employees had died in the crash of a Turkish Airlines 737-800 jet in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Four Seattle-area engineers working for Boeing’s defense division were traveling on Flight TK1951 from Istanbul, Turkey, where they had been supporting a defense program based on a military version of the 737.

Engineers Ronald Richey, of Duvall; John Salman, of Kent; and Ricky Wilson, of Clinton, Island County, died in the crash.

Michael Hemmer of Federal Way, a manager, remains hospitalized but was “much improved” Friday and is expected to recover, said Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx.

Tom McCarty, a defense-side engineer at Boeing, said this crash is doubly hard for those who work at the company.

“It’s painful when any airline crash occurs and it’s a Boeing plane,” McCarty said. “When we know our own team is on there, it’s particularly sad.”

Of the 135 people aboard, nine people were killed, including the Turkish Airlines pilot, co-pilot and a trainee pilot, along with a flight attendant.

Five of the dead are Turks and four are Americans. The fourth American who died has not been identified.

Sixty-three passengers remained hospitalized Friday, one in critical condition, said Mayor Theo Weterings of Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands.

Boeing flew members of two victims’ families to Europe on Thursday on a company jet. Among them was Salman’s wife, Rhonda, who is also a Boeing engineer.

The company made grief counselors available to co-workers who requested support.

Wilson’s wife, Terry, issued a statement through Boeing, requesting privacy and expressing thanks for the prayers and condolences offered by colleagues.

Boeing Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney in a statement Thursday called it a “very sad day for our company.”

The three who died were members of Boeing’s white-collar union, the Society of Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).

SPEEA President Cynthia Cole is a Boeing defense-unit engineer and knows Rhonda and John Salman. “Everybody I know says good things about John and Rhonda,” Cole said.

There is no clear indication of what caused the crash. The plane was delivered from Renton in January 2002.

In a statement, Turkish Airlines said the plane went through a routine maintenance Feb. 19 and had since flown a total of 52 hours.

The jet came down in a plowed field less than a mile from the runway as it came in to land on a calm, misty morning. The pilot’s conversation with the control tower just before the crash shows no sense of urgency.

Photos show the horizontal tail lying in the field some 90 yards behind the rest of the plane. The fuselage broke in three, with most damage at the front and at the tail. There was no fire.

Boeing has delivered almost 2,800 of the latest generation of 737s, which entered service in December 1997. Only two previous crashes have killed passengers.

In 2006, a 737-800 operated by GOL Airlines crashed in Brazil after colliding in midair with a private business jet, killing all 154 people on board. In 2007, a 737-800 operated by Kenya Airways crashed in bad weather soon after takeoff from Doula, Cameroon, killing all 114 people on board.

Turkish Airlines offered condolences and said the airline will make an immediate preliminary payment of $63,000 to relatives of the passengers and crew members who died in the crash.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.