New evidence suggests Dag Hammarskjöld’ s plane was shot down in Ndola

By the Guardian of UK

New evidence has emerged in one of the most enduring mysteries ofUnited Nations and African history, suggesting that the UN secretary general, Dag Hammarskjöld‘s plane was shot down over Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) 50 years ago, and the murder covered up by the British colonial authorities.

A British-run commission of inquiry blamed the 1961 crash on pilot error, and a later UN investigation largely rubber-stamped its findings. They ignored or downplayed witness testimony of villagers near the crash site which suggested foul play. The Guardian has talked to surviving witnesses who were never questioned by the official investigations and were too scared to come forward.

The residents on the western outskirts of the town of Ndola described Hammarskjöld’s DC6 being shot down by a second, smaller aircraft. They say the crash site was sealed off by Northern Rhodesian security forces the next morning, many hours before the wreckage was officially declared found, and they were ordered to leave the area.

The key witnesses were located and interviewed over the past three years by Göran Björkdahl, a Swedish aid worker based in Africa who made the investigation of the Hammarskjöld mystery a personal quest since discovering his father had a fragment of the crashed DC6.

“My father was in that part of Zambia in the 70s, and asking local people about what happened, and a man there, seeing that he was interested, gave him a piece of the plane. That was what got me started,” Björkdahl said. When he went to work in Africa himself, he went to the site and began to quiz the local people systematically on what they had seen.

The investigation led Björkdahl to previously unpublished telegrams – seen by the Guardian – from the days leading up to Hammarskjöld’s death on 17 September 1961, which illustrate US and British anger at an abortive UN military operation that the secretary-general ordered on behalf of the Congolese government against a rebellion backed by western mining companies and mercenaries in the mineral-rich Katanga region.

Hammarskjöld was flying to Ndola for peace talks with the Katanga leadership at a meeting that the British helped arrange. The fiercely independent Swedish diplomat had by then enraged almost all the major powers on the security council with his support for decolonisation but support from third world states meant his re-election as secretary-general would have been virtually guaranteed if he had lived until the general assembly vote due weeks later.

Björkdahl works for the Swedish international development agency, Sida, but his investigation was carried out in his own time, and his report does not represent the official views of his government. However, his report echoes the scepticism about the official verdict voiced by Swedish members of the commissions of enquiry.

Björkdahl’s concludes that:

• Hammarskjöld’s plane was almost certainly shot down by an unidentified second plane

• The actions of the British and Northern Rhodesian officials at the scene delayed the search for the missing plane

• The wreckage was found and sealed off by Northern Rhodesian troops and police long before its discovery was officially announced.

• The one survivor of the crash could have been saved but was allowed to die in a poorly equipped local hospital

• At the time of his death, Hammarskjöld suspected that British diplomats secretly supported the Katanga rebellion and had obstructed a bid to arrange a truce

• Days before his death, Hammarskjöld personally authorised a UN offensive on Katanga, codenamed Operation Morthor, despite the reservations of the UN legal adviser, to the fury of both the Americans and British.

The most compelling new evidence comes from eye-witnesses who had not previously been interviewed, mostly charcoal-makers from the forest around Ndola, now in their 70s and 80s.

Dickson Mbewe, now aged 84, was sitting outside his house in Chifubu compound west of Ndola with a group of friends on the night of the crash.

“We saw a plane fly over Chifubu but did not pay any attention to it the first time,” Mbewe told the Guardian. “When we saw it a second and third time, we thought that this plane was denied landing permission at the airport. Suddenly we saw another aircraft approach the bigger aircraft at greater speed and release fire which appeared as a bright light.”

“The plane on the top turned and went in another direction. We sensed the change in sound of the bigger plane. It went down and disappeared.”

In the morning at about 5am, Mbewe went to his charcoal kiln close to the crash site, where he found soldiers and policemen already dispersing people from the area. According to the official report, the wreckage was only discovered at 3pm that afternoon.

“There was a group of white soldiers carrying a body, two in front and two behind,” he said. “I heard people saying there was a man who was found alive and should be taken to hospital. Nobody was allowed to stay there.”

Mbewe never came forward with this information earlier because he was never asked to, he said. “The atmosphere was not peaceful, we were chased away. I was afraid to go to the police because they might put me in prison,” he said.

Another witness, Custon Chipoya, a 75-year-old charcoal-maker, also claims to have seen a second plane in the sky that night.

“I saw a plane turning, it had clear lights and I could hear the roaring sound of the engine,” he said. “It wasn’t very high. In my opinion it was at the height that planes are when they are going to land.

“It came back a second time which made us look and the third time, when it was turning towards the airport, I saw a smaller airplane approaching behind the bigger one. The lighter aircraft, a smaller jet type of plane, was trailing behind and had a flash light. Then it released some fire onto the bigger plane below and went in the opposite direction.

“The bigger aircraft caught fire and started exploding, crashing towards us. We thought it was following us as it chopped off branches and tree trunks. We thought it was warfare so we ran away.”

Chipoya said he returned to the site the next morning at about 6am and found the area cordoned off by police and army officers. He didn’t mention what he had seen because: “It was impossible to talk to a police officer then. We just understood that we had to go away,” he said.

Safeli Mulenga, 83, also in Chifubu on the night of the crash, did not see a second plane but witnessed an explosion.

“I saw the plane circle twice,” he said. “The third time fire came from somewhere above the plane, it glowed so bright. It couldn’t have been the plane exploding because the fire was coming onto it,” he said.

There was no announcement for people to come forward with information following the crash, and the federal government didn’t want people to talk about it, he said. “There were some who witnessed the crash and they were taken away and imprisoned.”

John Ngongo, now 75, out in the bush with a friend to learn how to make charcoal on the night of the crash, did not see another plane but he definitely heard one, he said.

“Suddenly, we saw a plane with fire on one side coming towards us. It was on fire before it hit the trees. The plane was not alone. I heard another plane at high speed disappearing into the distance but I didn’t see it,” he said.

The only survivor among the 15 people on board the DC6 was Harold Julian, an American sergeant on Hammarskjöld’s security detail. The official report said he died of his injuries, but Mark Lowenthal, a doctor who helped treat Julian in Ndola, told Björkdahl he could have been saved.

“I look upon the episode as having been one of my most egregious professional failures in what has become a long career,” Lowenthal wrote in an email. “I must first ask why did the US authorities not at once set out to help/rescue one of their own? Why did I not think of this at the time? Why did I not try to contact US authorities to say, ‘Send urgently an aircraft to evacuate a US citizen on secondment to UN who is dying of kidney failure?'”

Julian was left in Ndola for five days. Before he died, he told police he had seen sparks in the sky and an explosion before the crash.

Björkdahl also raises questions about why the DC6 was made to circle outside Ndola. The official report claims there was no tape recorder in the air traffic control tower, despite the fact its equipment was new. The air traffic control report of the crash was not filed until 33 hours afterwards.

According to records of the events of the night, the British high commissioner to the Rhodesian and Nyasaland Federation, Cuthbert Alport, who was at the airport that evening, “suddenly said that he had heard that Hammarskjöld had changed his mind and intended to fly somewhere else. The airport manager therefore didn’t send out any emergency alert and everyone simply went to bed.”

Suspicion of British intentions is a recurring theme of the correspondence Björkdahl has examined from the days before Hammarskjöld’s death. Formally, the UK backed the UN mission, but privately the secretary-general and his aides believed British officials were obstructing peace moves, possibly as a result of mining interests and sympathies with the white colonists on the Katanga side. On the morning of 13 September, the separatist leader, Moise Tshombe, signalled that he was ready for a truce, but changed his mind after a one-hour meeting with the UK consul in Katanga, Denzil Dunnett.

There is no doubt that at the time of his death, Hammarskjöld‚ who had already alienated the Soviets, French and Belgians had also angered the Americans and the British with his decision to launch Operation Morthor against the rebel leaders and mercenaries in Katanga. The US secretary of state, Dean Rusk, told one of the secretary general’s aides that President Kennedy was “extremely upset” and was threatening to withdraw support from the UN. The UK , Rusk said, was “equally upset”.

At the end of his investigation, Björkdahl is still not sure who killed

The wreckage of Dag Hammarskjöld's plane near Ndola, now Zambia. Eyewitnesses claim they saw a second plane fire at the UN chief's plane. Photograph: TopFoto

Hammarskjöld, but he is fairly certain why he was killed: “It’s clear there were a lot of circumstances pointing to possible involvement by western powers.

“The motive was there – the threat to the west’s interests in Congo’s huge mineral deposits. And this was the time of black African liberation, and you had whites who were desperate to cling on.

Dag Hammarskjöld was trying to stick to the UN charter and the rules of international law. I have the impression from his telegrams and his private letters that he was disgusted by the behaviour of the big powers.”

Historians at the Foreign Office said they could not comment on Hammarskjöld’s death. British officials believe that at this late date no amount of research would conclusively prove or disprove what they see as conspiracy theories that have always surrounded the plane crash.

• This article was amended on 17 August 2011. It said that Hammarskjöld’s DC6 was described as being shot down by a second, smaller jet. This was changed to aircraft.

Source: the Guardian on UK


  • comment-avatar

    We are a gaggle of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with useful information to work on. You’ve done an impressive activity and our whole group can be grateful to you.

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    The kind of IMATURE politics being practiced today in zed is not different from what we are reading about the fate of an honest man.M.H.R.I.P.May God help and give us the spirit of seriousness that escorting old people to courts for wrongs they did not intend to do.

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    Mwamba 6 years

    Dr Obatala, Sata was already in Government working as a cop.

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    Unless if a small country was involved otherwise nothing will happen.They killed inocent people in Iraq,Afghanistan,Libya etc

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    Mimbulu 6 years

    Someone must also investigate the freak wind that occurs in that area.When the slave MOFU tree fell down on the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriage way,there was a steel bill board just across from where the tree was,that was mangled and bent by something at the area and I assume at the same that the tree fell down.The tree was in the area where the plane crashed and is the flight path for planes landing at Ndola.
    It may be true his plane was sot down,but can the expert investigate this wind in that area?

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    ReinaissanceMan 6 years

    If you do not care about history you will have to face up to the shame of being outwitted with old tactics. Wake up iwe Kadoli (a befitting name I must admit).

  • comment-avatar
    Kadoli 6 years


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    Chama 6 years

    Surely the one who sees beyond”GOD”will judge those muderers. Shame!

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    Mwambazi 6 years

    sad reading..what was the motive..?

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    The American sergeant,Harold Julian on Hammarskjöld’s security detail, was left to die without help from the US.Why? he could haved been saved.The US is well known to serve its citizen if in danger.Did the US want Julian to die with the UN Sec. General for coverup or what? Hope the real answer will be established in due course.

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    Phakeni Makowane 6 years

    It is now open knowledge that the States in tandem with the British have been using such methods for a very long time. They have openly told us of experiments where blacks have been used as guinea pigs. Its just how they operate. Its nothing personal, its just about the money; profits, profits, profits. They even do it to their own citizens. They may exterminate as many of our heroes as possible but a day will surely come when those behind the puppet strings will account for their evil deeds before a far superior force.

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    TC 6 years

    A very well written article!!

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    Elton 6 years

    While it is interesting to hear how richies can be a priority over a blood pool by 15 innocent souls.I thank God is not human like me and his grace continually abounds, otherwise i would brushed off everyone who disadvantage a human being, all i know is posterity and history will judge them harshly. This is the true vernom of colonialism, the episode of evil,a skeleton and clue mind of fate. It,s reality exposed after decade of top secrets, it therefore proves that nothing hidden that shall never be known. I would like to warn all politician who are stealing and those planning to,if you have been good continue,if you a person prone to temptation pliz leave,because if even all the zambia people will let free of your crimes, I follow you up and you will pay.

    People of zambia beware, this episode of colonialism has not yet ended it has just changed it face to neo colonialism. The ideals of colonialism and neo colonialism are the same but the difference is in strategy. Last time is was killing, torture,imprisonment, larbourers,slave trading all in the name of wealth. Neo colonialism uses the hand of our brothers to syphone wealth while we remain celebrating about investment,middle income nation,gross domestic product unfortunately mistaken for development.Gross domestic product is not development,the primary defination of deelopment is equal distribution wealth across the board,meaning education for everybody,health,roads,water and other social amenities. The question is do we have equal distribution of wealth? Do you know the greatest neo clonialst in zambia? the foreign investors(Maka maka machoncoli) these guys have benefited from copper more than zambian pipo,and copper is a non renewable resource,with a very violent environmental consequences,soon we will have ditches to show that we had once copper.We need investment yes,but let it pay equal to the task . I know our government has tried enough to ensure a status quo, but we need to iron this concerns, the direction taken is right but we need more effort to address this key issues and hope for a economically developed vibrant zambia.OUR HOPE, OUR PRAYER MAY GOD GIVE WISDOM TO OUR LEADERSHIP.For the Love of zambia.Beware neo colonialim is real.

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    Mina 6 years


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    Sad reading, Great discovery. Let the law take its course on the US and UK so fairness of law can be achieved and Dag’s family can duely be compensated.

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    I will use strong language 4 de first time.Anyone who support America,Britain,France,Germany and Italy is the most ignorant idiot,fool and blood sucker. 1. They say u have no right 2 kill yo pipo,but only them can kill u. 2. They say the world population is too high and shud be reduced starting with Africans,thru vacinations. Gadaffi cut the busines with the West worth $400 bilion per year 4 de African satelite and financed one himself 4 Africa,hence this hatred 4 Gadafi 4rom the evil West.

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    Chanda Chimba The Thug 6 years

    @ Chunkie Charlie proof that Darwinism is a fallacy otherwise your mother (poor woman) should have smoothered you at birth! Don’t cheapen this great article with your lunancy. Africa has been blessed with good leaders with foresight like Patrice Lumumba, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Kenneth Kaunda and Nelson Mandela to name a few. Read about these before shouting praises for Mugabe and Gaddafi fool.

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    DR OBATALA 6 years

    was sata in government then? What was his role?

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    buffalo 6 years

    Interesting information.Would be interested to hear reaction from British Foreign office to these allegations.

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    Imprisonment of obatala 6 years


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    Comrade Dennis 6 years

    Nice article.I don’t trust U.S.A neither do I trust UK because of their double standards.

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    Kanere (Colonel) 6 years

    The British and Americans could do anything to satisfy their interest without shame. They can use force/illegality in the name of democracy or purporting to be protecting the citizens of nation against tyrants when they really want to get what they want. Zambians should watch out, these people don’t love us Africans they are just interested in our resources.

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    Drewman 6 years

    Excellent article! Its a shame to see childish comments though, can’t you clowns take your nonsense to other stories? Very annoying!

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    Paul Thera 6 years

    Its true the plane was shot down cos the one who was alive was not taken straight to the hospital. Good report

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    dee 6 years

    We ar blessd as ZAMBIA and NO USA or UK wil chang that becz what a man cn do with a small brain, God knws hw 2 kp us undr control… Let us whethr MMD, PF, UPND or any other party supporter cme 2gthr n pray that GOD owaz hs HIS hand upon ZAMBIA.. Lord watch over us, Amen.

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    My Opinion 6 years

    @joeking…walipena ala wansekesha. u r right its good to laugh

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    joeking 6 years

    hope sata was no where near the crash site, hh was definitely under 5yrs at the time, sata was already older than hh’s current age, were cud alabi have been? Gwanda ? If sata sees this article am sure 2mro s post headline will be. “Rb neglected daghamashoed”- say sata . Lol its gud to laugh samtyms wether ndiwe wa chechi, satanisti or wandalama.

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    joeking 6 years

    hope sata was no where near the crash site, hh was definitely under 5yrs at the time, sata was already older than hh’s current age, were cud alabi have been? Gwanda ? If sata sees this article am sure 2mro s post headline will be. “Rb neglected daghamashoed”- say sata . Lol its gud to laugh samtyms wether ndiwe wa chechi, satanisti or wandalama

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    Ma rabbish.

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    Chanda Chimba The Thug 6 years

    @ Chunky Charlie…. Gadaffi deserves it and they should even intesify the air assault! The next should be Mugabe and Omar Bashir in Zimbabwe and Sudan followed by the lunatics in Somalia.

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    Chanda Chimba The Thug 6 years

    Excellent article and it goes without saying that Congo is too rich for the West to stomach and Dag went the way of the elected leader of Congo. @Mrs. Mulenga F. I am amazed at idiot cadre Zambians like you trying to bring your cheap politics in every situation….. don’t you have some rally you should be dancing at to the turn of nafuti nafuti alabi or some other shit like that?

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    The USA and BRITAIN who are preaching democracy to zambia should never be trusted.We know of their plans to effect regime change by supporting a political party which believes in violence.shame on you.

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    Rubbish,i no des stupid un shit,they want2find a way2stil our copper watelse can we say.idiots

  • comment-avatar
    Mwisia 6 years


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    Adapt or Die!!!!! 6 years

    These capitalists’ apetite to have it all will never cease amazing me. If this article is true, it makes very sad reading. Don’t we have living Zambians who could have been working for the colonial masters in Northern Rhodesia at the time? If we do, what would be their comment on this article? If by any chance such people traversed the corridors of the colonial masters’ power, did they hear or suspect anything regarding that plane crash?