Ban calls for new probe into 1961 plane crash of UN chief

United Nations, July 7 (IANS) There is sufficient reason to investigate if the aircraft carrying then UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold on an African peace mission in 1961 was shot down by another plane, killing all aboard, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon has said.

A panel, which Ban Ki-moon set up in March to examine new allegations regarding the crash, near Ndola in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, of the Swedish-operated Douglas DC6 carrying Hammarskjold and 15 others, recently sent its finding to the secretary-general.

On Monday, he sent the report to the 193-member UN General Assembly along with his recommendations to investigate some of the allegations further, Xinhua news agency reported.

However, Ban said on Monday the panel determined Hammarskjold was not assassinated after surviving the crash and that there was no hijacking or sabotage. The panel found Hammarskjold and 14 other passengers died on the night of September 17-18, 1961, crash of the propeller-driven aircraft, registered as SE-BDY, and the 16th victim died five days later.

Hammarskjold, the second UN secretary-general, was trying to negotiate a ceasefire involving secessionists from Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The panel assigned moderate probative value” to “new information relevant to the hypothesis of an aerial attack or other interference as a possible cause or causes of the crash”, Ban said in his letter to General Assembly President Sam Kutesa.

“Nine new eyewitness accounts that they observed more than one aircraft in the air at the same time as SE-BDY made its approach to Ndola, and that any additional aircraft were jets, or that SE-BDY was on fire before it impacted the ground or that it was fired upon or otherwise actively engaged by other aircraft present,” he said.

There were also claims two persons hearing alleged intercepts or reading transcripts of intercepts of radio transmissions relating to a possible aerial or ground attack on SE-BDY and there was additional information that has emerged on the air capability of the provincial government of Katanga province in 1961 and its use of foreign military and paramilitary personnel, the secretary-general said.

Additionally, the panel also found “moderate probative value” to allegations encrypted communications from the Hammarskjold aircraft were intercepted and that crew fatigue could have been “a contributing factor to the crash”, he said.

The report also said new information it considered “calls into question the official account of the time of discovery of the crash site and the behaviour of various officials and local authorities”.

“It is my view that a further inquiry or investigation would be necessary to finally establish the facts,” Ban said, urging member states “to disclose, declassify or otherwise allow privileged access to information that they may have in their possession related to the circumstances and conditions resulting in the deaths of the passengers of SE-BDY”.

He urged “any relevant records that remain classified more than 50 years after the fact, are declassified or otherwise made available for review… by any eminent person or persons whom the Assembly may wish to entrust with this mandate”.

“I consider this our solemn duty to my illustrious and distinguished predecessor, Dag Hammarskjold, to the other members of the party accompanying him and to their families,” Ban said.

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