Commission urges probe of plane crash that killed UN secretary general

Dag HammarskjöldBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
A commission of experts formed to examine the 1961 death of former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld has urged the reopening of an investigation into the airplane crash that killed him. Hammarskjöld died when the Douglas DC-6 transport aircraft that was carrying him crashed in the British-administered territory of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). He was on his way to Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga region to meet European-supported chieftains who in 1960 had seceded from the nationalist government of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Two subsequent investigations into the crash, conducted by the Rhodesian Board of Investigation and the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, failed to determine the precise cause of the crash. But an official United Nations Commission of Investigation, conducted in 1962, concluded that deliberate sabotage could not be ruled out as a likely cause of the tragedy. In 2011, a Swedish investigator argued in a report that Hammarskjöld’s plane had been “shot down by an unidentified second plane”. The investigator told The Guardian newspaper that British colonial authorities had deliberately left the sole surviving airplane passenger, American sergeant Harold Julian, to die of his injuries at a makeshift hospital in Northern Rhodesia. In 2012, the Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust appointed an international team of lawyers to study all available evidence and report to the United Nations. The team, called the Hammarskjöld Commission, is composed of a diplomat and three judges from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Sweden. On Monday, they held a press conference to present the findings of their investigation. Its conclusion is that the UN should reopen the 1962 probe into the plane crash, because “significant new evidence” has recently emerged. The Commission report suggests that American intelligence agencies, in particular the National Security Agency (NSA), may hold “crucial evidence” that could help clarify the causes of the crash. During Monday’s press conference, members of the Commission said they had reason to believe that the NSA, which conducts worldwide communications surveillance, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, were monitoring the radio communications of Hammarskjöld’s plane on the day of the fatal crash. They also said they believe that the NSA may have in its possession “authenticated recordings” of the plane’s “cockpit narrative”, which could provide “potentially conclusive evidence” of why the aircraft crashed. The Commission said that it filed several Freedom of Information requests with the US government, but that they had been rejected on grounds of national security. But it went on to say that appeals have been submitted, which might result in the release of a number of crucial files. The UN issued a response to the Hammarskjöld Commission’s report late on Monday, promising to study its findings in detail.

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