The world has yet to receive an answer as to why the plane with UN chief Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in the Congo 60 years ago. The solution seems more distant than ever.
Everyone on board lost their lives when the plane with Hammarskjöld and his team crashed on the night of September 18, 1961. There has been much speculation since then. Was the Swede killed by rebels and mercenaries who collaborated with Western intelligence and mining companies, or did the pilot make a mistake that caused the plane to crash?
After lengthy investigations, the British newspaper The Observer concluded that both the British and American authorities had a lot to answer for.
In 2019 came the documentary “Cold Case Hammarskjöld”, which targeted a Belgian mercenary pilot linked to British intelligence.
Refused to be dictated
The tragedy occurred when the DC-6 Albertina aircraft was heading to Ndola in the then British colony of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
Hammarskjöld was going to negotiate a ceasefire with Moise Tshombe, the leader of the Katanga state, who wanted the Congo to secede after the country had liberated itself from colonial Belgium three months earlier.
The Cold War was then at its most tense, and the lively and dynamic UN chief was determined to ensure that the UN remained independent and was not dictated by the United States, Russia, or the former colonial powers.
The great powers followed the journey closely because the Katanga region was enormously rich in minerals, such as copper, cobalt, and uranium.
So did foreign mining companies, who feared they had less room for maneuver in an independent Congo. The result was that the Tshombe government had mining companies, Belgium, and European mercenaries behind it when Hammarskjöld was on its way to ending the armed conflict.
When the plane’s disappearance with Hammarskjöld was reported early in the morning, it became clear that none of the nearby airports had had radio contact with the plane.
After a search operation lasting several hours, the remains were found in the forest about 12 kilometers from the Ndola airport. A total of 17 people lost their lives. However, one of them, an American UN officer, survived a few days and managed to say that there had been a powerful explosion on board followed by several small blows.
Rumors of sabotage were quickly dismissed and initial investigations concluded that the plane crashed because the pilot had made a mistake.
The case was re-investigated in the 1990s. Later, two former UN representatives in Katanga said they were convinced the plane crashed because it was fired from two planes contracted by “European industrial companies” that “controlled Katanga.”
Another turning point came in 1998 when a truth commission was established in South Africa after apartheid. Documents were found that could indicate that South African, British and American authorities were involved in the assassination plot against Hammarskjöld. The operation was codenamed “How is Celeste?” “.
But the original documents found during the Truth Commission’s work have since disappeared, and the London Foreign Office has denied the allegations.
In 2015, the UN accepted the theory that the plane was shot down based on an investigation by independent experts. At the same time, the UN requested that the investigation continue. South Korean Ban Ki-moon was then UN Secretary General and urged all UN member states to share whatever information they might have. The hope was that there would be audio recordings from the cockpit, as well as radio messages that the American intelligence organization NSA is said to have had in 1961.
But in 2019, Ban announced that the call had not resulted in further information on the case.
American and British procrastination
The Observer newspaper has also made extensive attempts to find out what happened. But journalists experienced that both the United States and the United Kingdom delayed the release of information.
However, the newspaper obtained a report from Mohamed Chande Othman, a former Tanzanian Supreme Court judge who was asked by the UN to review the case. Othman suspected that the United States and the United Kingdom were deliberately delaying the case to withhold important and previously unknown information.
According to the newspaper, the Belgian pilot suspected of shooting down the plane did not know that Hammarskjöld was on board. He later confessed to a friend, who made sure to record the conversation.
The investigation continues
Meanwhile, French journalist Maurin Picard has concluded that foreign mercenaries who supported Katanga were responsible for Hammarskjöld’s death. The allegations were published in the book he wrote about the case in 2019.
The UN has expanded its investigation and hopes there will be new leads when the case documents are downgraded and released.
Hammarskjöld’s family will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his death with a ceremony in Sweden on Saturday. His son Peder asks the governments in question to be honest.
– Some countries of the UN investigation have not emerged, such as Belgium and the United States. We would appreciate more transparency. It has been a long time since he died, says Peder Hammarskjöld.