“External attack” may have caused crash that killed UN secretary general in 1961

Dag HammarskjöldA deliberate attack by another aircraft may have caused the plane crash that killed the United Nations Secretary General in 1961, according to a report commissioned by the intergovernmental organization. On September 17, 1961, a Douglas DC-6 transport aircraft carrying United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in the British-administered territory of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The crash killed everyone onboard. At the time of his death, Hammarskjöld was flying to the 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. Ironically, Lumumba had been assassinated in a Western-backed coup exactly eight months before Hammarskjöld’s death.

Three successive investigations into the crash, conducted by the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation, pointed to “pilot error” as the most likely cause of the tragedy. However, research carried out in recent years, including by the Hammarskjöld Commission, which was composed of a diplomat and three judges from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Sweden, has shown that the crash could have been the result of deliberate actions. In February of this year, following a recommendation by a UN-appointed three-member expert panel, the organization tasked Mohamed Chande Othman, a former Tanzanian chief justice, to research the topic in depth. Othman reportedly delivered his final report to the UN Secretary General António Guterres in August. However, it has not yet been made public.

On Tuesday, however, British newspaper The Guardian said it had seen an executive summary of Othman’s report. According to the paper, the report gives credence to the testimony of several local witnesses, who claimed that they saw another aircraft flying near the plane that was carrying Hammarskjöld, and that there were “flashes in the [night] sky” shortly before one of the planes crashed. The report also revives a controversial account given by a French diplomat at the time, Claude de Kemoularia. Kemoularia, who served as Hammarskjöld’s personal assistant from 1957 until his death, claimed that the UN secretary general’s plane was shot down. The diplomat said that a Belgian pilot, identified only as Beukels, who was working as a contractor for Congo’s Katanga rebels, told him that he tried to fire shots as a warning at the UN plane, but accidentally clipped one of its wings, causing it to crash. According to The Guardian, Othman’s report concludes that “it appears possible that an external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash, whether by way of direct attack or by causing a momentary distraction of the pilots”.

The paper also says that the Othman report calls for the declassification of documents on the 1961 crash, which are stored in Belgian, British, Canadian and German government archives. Othman claims that he has confirmed the existence of radio traffic transcripts that were intercepted on the night of the crash by British, Rhodesian and American military and intelligence agencies. Additionally, both Britain and the United States had intelligence officers and agents on the ground in the area during the time of the crash. The report argues that these operatives may have filed crucial reports from Northern Rhodesia following the crash, according to The Guardian.

Editor’s note: We are grateful to African politics and DR Congo expert Professor Herbert F. Weiss, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at City University of New York and Senior Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, for helping to ensure the factual accuracy of this report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 September 2017 | Permalink

2 Responses to “External attack” may have caused crash that killed UN secretary general in 1961

  1. victorrosez says:

    The de Kemoularia story is a setup or a cover up. The Albertina has been shot down indeed but not by the pilot suggested by Claude de Kemoularia but by a Fouga Magister (KAT 93) which was waiting on a runway on the road to Kasumbalesa until another plane, a Dornier 28, navigating in the south boot of Katanga, very near to Ndola would give the exact position of the Albertina. That Dornier 28 from Munich arrived in Katanga already at the en of August 1961. The Pilot of the Fouga Magister was Jan Van Risseghem, a Belgian Pilot.

  2. Vervoort Karel says:

    Absolutely false statement of Victor Rosez. The sole and first Do 28 to arrive in Katanga was at Brazzaville on 20 September, when Van Risseghem was checked out on this aircraft. Van Risseghem departed on 21 September for Kolwezi, where he arrived on 22 September. The sole Fouga available in Katanga/Kolwezi airfield, Kat 93 was absolutely technically unable to do any interception at night over N’Dola, could not even reach that point due to very limited range/radius of action of that TRAINER aircraft. Even in the pure trainer configuration that was not possible, let alone armed and heavier thus. Whoever says so, has a second agenda, namely to hide the fact that it was a crew error, of a Swedish crew from a Swedish company, with a Swedish registered aircraft, transporting the Swedish UN Secretary General. Then it is hard for them and the UN to admit that it was a stupid CFIT accident, proven by all material indications. The Swedish Government should start to investigate to trace the Swedish airline documents to find there to why they wanted to hide these facts. A very disturbing contribution to this CFIT accident was the fact that this crew had nearly no sleep within the last 48 hours, was overtired, in a night VFR approach to an unknown airfield and nearly no experience with African flying these days.

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