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Investigation Into Hammarskjoeld Aircrash

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 16 November 1961

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1. The Federal Government of Rhodesia and Nyasaland appointed an Investigation Board, under the chairmanship of Lieut.-Colonel M. C. H. Barber, D.F.C., the Director of Civil Aviation, to investigate the cause and circumstances of the accident. Representatives from Sweden, the state of registry, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (I.C.A.O.) on behalf of the United Nations (U.N.), the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations (I.L.A.L.P.A.) and Transair, the operators of the aircraft, were invited to participate in the investigation.

2. The Investigation Board has been in continuous session since 18th September and is still in the process of collecting all the available evidence. Investigation up to the present date has established that the aircraft left Leopoldville with Mr. Hammarskjoeld's party at 1551 G.M.T. on Sunday, 17th September, 1961. A flight plan indicating the destination airfield as Luluaborg, with Leopoldville as alternate, was filed by the crew before departure. The true destination of Ndola and the route to be flown were kept secret from the aeronautical authorities for security reasons.

3. After clearing the Leopoldville tower frequency radio silence was maintained until the aircraft called Salisbury Flight Information Centre at 2002 G.M.T. and stated the place of departure was Leopoldville and the destination Ndola, with an estimated time of arrival of 2235 G.M.T. At 2035 G.M.T. the aircraft reported over Lake Tanganyika, indicating that it was not flying on the direct route from Leopoldville to Ndola.

4. Radio contact was made with Ndola Tower at 2135 G.M.T. During subsequent conversations weather and landing information, and descent clearance from 16,000 to 6,000 feet were given. The aircraft reported when it was overhead Ndola descending, with airport lights in sight. The altimeter setting was confirmed by the aircraft and at 2210 G.M.T. (0010 hours September 18, local time) the aircraft was requested to report reaching 6,000 feet. No such report and no further radio communication was received from the aircraft.

5. Eye witnesses saw the lights of the aircraft pass over Ndola airport on a westerly heading and disappear from view. The aircraft failed to land as expected. Overdue action was initiated but no general alarm was felt for the safety of the aircraft until the following morning, when it was established that the aircraft had not landed elsewhere.

6. The wreckage of the aircraft was located approximately nine miles from Ndola Airport on a bearing of 278 degrees true. Police arrived on the scene of the accident at 1545 hours local time. Only one of the occupants was found to be alive and he subsequently died.

7. Up to 14th October, 1961, the Investigation Board has established the following:

  • (a) The flight crew consisted of three qualified pilots with captain's rating on D.C.6 aircraft and a flight engineer.
  • (b) The pilot-in-command had not flown, prior to the departure from Leopoldville, for a period of at least 24 hours.
  • (c) Minor damage caused by one small-arms bullet during a previous flight was repaired before departure from Leopoldville.
  • (d) The aircraft took off with sufficient fuel for at least 13 hours' flying.
  • (e) The weather, as reported by Ndola Tower at 2137 G.M.T., was: surface wind of 7 knots from 120 degrees magnetic, visibility 5 to 10 miles with slight haze. There was no cloud and a quarter moon which set at 0017 hours local time.
  • (f) Damage to trees at the accident site indicated that the aircraft crashed on a heading of 120 degress magnetic at a shallow angle. The position of the wreckage was at a point where an aircraft making an instrument approach to runway 10 would be completing a procedure turn.
  • (g) The undercarriage was down and locked and the flaps were partially extended.
  • (h) Examination of the propellers and engines indicated that all engines were operating under some power at the time of impact.
  • (i) The aircraft was destroyed by impact and subsequently the wreckage was largely consumed by fire.
  • 8. In their preliminary report the medical team of pathologists stated:

    "All casualties, with the exception of the temporary survivor, were completely X-rayed with a view to determining the presence of any metallic fragments. Two bodies (No. 1 and 2) were thus found to have bullets, fragments of exploded cartridge cases and percussion caps in the skin, the subcutaneous tissues or the muscles. Two or three of the severely burnt bodies were found to have pieces of partially melted aircraft metal superficially sited on the charred remains. Bodies 1 and 2 were those of guards, with ammunition in their vicinity in the wreckage. In view of the relative lack of penetration and the presence of fragmented cartridge cases from which the percussion caps had exploded, we consider that these injuries have resulted from explosion of ammunition in the fire. With regard to the portions of fused alloy in superficial positions on the charred bodies, we are of the opinion that this has resulted from the incineration of bodies in the presence of aircraft wreckage, and in no way suggests an explosion." The final medical report is not yet available.

    9. Extensive investigation has so far failed to determine any positive cause of the accident.

    10. The Federal Government has announced that as soon as possible it will invite nominations to a public Commission of Enquiry, consisting of five members, set up in terms of Federal legislation, to enquire into the cause and circumstances of the crash. Nominations will be invited from the Swedish Government, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the Government of the United Kingdom. The General Assembly of the United Nations will also be invited to nominate a member of the Commission, which will be under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of the Federation.