1961 Ndola Transair Sweden DC-6 crash

Coordinates: 12°58′31″S 28°31′22″E / 12.97528°S 28.52278°E / -12.97528; 28.52278
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

1961 Ndola Transair Sweden DC-6 crash
A four-engined aircraft on the ground
A DC-6 similar to the accident aircraft
Date18 September 1961
SummaryCrashed to the ground for disputed reasons: pilot error or external attack[1][2][3][4]
Site15 km (9.3 mi) W of Ndola Airport (NLA) Zambia
12°58′31″S 28°31′22″E / 12.97528°S 28.52278°E / -12.97528; 28.52278
Aircraft typeDouglas DC-6B
Aircraft nameAlbertina
OperatorTransair Sweden for the United Nations
Flight originElisabethville Airport Congo
StopoverLéopoldville-N'Djili Airport (FIH/FZAA), Congo
DestinationNdola Airport (NLA/FLND), Northern Rhodesia
Survivors0 (initially, 1)[a]

On 18 September 1961, a DC-6 passenger aircraft of Transair Sweden, operating for the United Nations, crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia). The crash resulted in the deaths of all people on board, including Dag Hammarskjöld, the second secretary-general of the United Nations, and 15 others. Hammarskjöld had been en route to ceasefire negotiations with Moïse Tshombe during the Congo Crisis. Three official inquiries failed to conclusively determine the cause. Some historians and military experts have criticized the official inquiries, pointing to evidence of foul play that had been omitted from the inquiries.

Hammarskjöld's death caused a succession crisis at the United Nations[7] when the Security Council was tasked with selecting his successor.[8]

Aircraft and crew

The aircraft was a Douglas DC-6B, c/n 43559/251, registered in Sweden as SE-BDY, first flown in 1952 and powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-2800 18-cylinder radial piston engines.[9] It was flown by captain Per Hallonquist (35), first officer Lars Litton (29) and flight engineer Nils Göran Wilhelmsson.[10]

UN special report

A special report issued by the United Nations stated that a bright flash in the sky was seen at approximately 01:00[10] that resulted in the initiation of search-and-rescue operations. Initial indications that the crash might not have been an accident led to multiple official inquiries and persistent speculation that the secretary-general was assassinated.[11]

Official inquiry

Dag Hammarskjöld, 1950s

Following the death of Hammarskjöld, there were three inquiries into the circumstances that led to the crash: the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry and the United Nations Commission of Investigation.[6]

The Rhodesian Board of Investigation investigated between 19 September 1961 and 2 November 1961[6] under the command of Lt. Colonel M.C.B. Barber. The Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir John Clayden, held hearings from 16 to 29 January 1962 without United Nations oversight. The subsequent United Nations Commission of Investigation held a series of hearings in 1962 and depended partly upon the testimony from the previous Rhodesian inquiries.[6] Five "eminent persons" were assigned by the new secretary-general to the UN commission. The members of the commission unanimously elected Nepalese diplomat Rishikesh Shah to head an inquiry.[6]

The three official inquiries failed to conclusively determine the cause. The Rhodesian Board of Investigation sent 180 men to search a six-square-kilometer area of the last sector of the aircraft's flight path, but no evidence of a bomb, surface-to-air missile or hijacking was found.[12] The official report stated that two of the dead Swedish bodyguards had suffered multiple bullet wounds. However, medical examination performed by the initial Rhodesian Board of Investigation and reported in the UN official report indicated that the wounds were superficial and that the bullets showed no signs of rifling. The report concluded that cartridges had exploded in the fire in proximity to the bodyguards.[6] The Rhodesian board concluded that the pilot flew too low and struck trees, thereby bringing the aircraft to the ground.[13]

Previous accounts of a bright flash in the sky were dismissed as having occurred too late in the evening to have caused the crash. The UN report speculated that these flashes may have been caused by secondary explosions after the crash. Sergeant Harold Julien, who initially survived the crash but died five days later,[5] indicated that there was a series of explosions that preceded the crash.[6][14] The official inquiry found that the statements of witnesses who talked with Julien before he died in hospital five days after the crash[15] were inconsistent.

The report states that there were three separate delays that violated established search-and-rescue procedures. The first delayed the initial alarm of a possible plane in trouble; the second delayed the "distress" alarm, which indicates that communications with surrounding airports indicate that a missing plane has not landed elsewhere; and the third delayed the eventual search-and-rescue operation and the discovery of the plane wreckage nearby. The medical examiner's report was inconclusive; one report said that Hammarskjöld had died on impact but another stated that he might have survived had rescue operations not been delayed.[6] The report also concluded that the probability of Sgt. Julien surviving the crash would have been "infinitely" better had the rescue operations had been quicker.[6]

On 16 March 2015, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon appointed members to an independent panel of experts to examine new information. The panel was led by Mohamed Chande Othman (the Chief Justice of Tanzania) and also included Kerryn Macaulay (Australia's representative to ICAO) and Henrik Larsen (a ballistics expert from the Danish National Police). The report was delivered to the secretary-general on 12 June 2015.[16] The panel's 99-page report, released on 6 July 2015, assigned "moderate" value to nine new eyewitness accounts and transcripts of radio transmissions. Those accounts suggested that Hammarskjöld's plane was already on fire as it landed and that other jet aircraft and intelligence agents were nearby.[17]

Alternative theories

Despite the multiple official inquiries that failed to find evidence of assassination or other forms of foul play, several people have continued to advance theories involving hostile interests.[11] At the time of Hammarskjöld's death, the Central Intelligence Agency and other Western agencies were actively involved in the political situation in the Congo,[11] which culminated in Belgian and American support for the secession of Katanga and the assassination of former prime minister Patrice Lumumba. The Belgian government had a vested interest in maintaining its control over much of the country's copper industry during the Congolese transition from colonial rule to independence. Concerns about the nationalisation of the copper industry could have provided a financial incentive to remove either Lumumba or Hammarskjöld.[11]

The official inquiry has come under scrutiny and criticism from some historians who claim that some of the official determinations were issued in order to deflect attention on the assassination angle[11][18] and that evidence of assassination was dismissed.[6] Critics have assailed the conclusion that the bullet wounds found in some victims could have been caused by ammunition exploding in a fire, as some expert tests have determined that exploding bullets could not break the surface of the skin.[11][6] Major C. F. Westell, a ballistics authority, said, "I can certainly describe as sheer nonsense the statement that cartridges of machine guns or pistols detonated in a fire can penetrate a human body."[19] He based his statement on a large-scale experiment that had been conducted to determine whether military fire brigades would be in danger working near munitions depots. Other experts conducted and filmed tests showing that bullets heated to the point of explosion did not achieve sufficient velocity to penetrate the containers in which they were stored.[19]

The day after the crash, former U.S. president Harry Truman commented that Hammarskjöld "was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said 'when they killed him'."[20]

On 19 August 1998, archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), stated that recently uncovered letters had implicated MI5, the CIA and South African intelligence services in the crash.[21] One TRC letter said that a bomb in the aircraft's wheel bay was set to detonate when the wheels descended for landing. However, Tutu's commission were unable to investigate the truth of the letters or the allegations that South African or Western intelligence agencies played a role in the crash. The British Foreign Office suggested that the letters may have been created as means of Soviet misinformation or disinformation.[22]

In a 2005 interview, Norwegian army major general Bjørn Egge, who had been the first UN officer to see Hammarskjöld's body, claimed that Hammarskjöld had a hole in his forehead and that the hole was subsequently airbrushed from postmortem photos. Egge believed that Hammarskjöld had been thrown from the plane and that grass and leaves in his hands might indicate that he had survived the crash and tried to scramble away from the wreckage. However, Egge did not claim that the hole in Hammarskjöld's head was the result of a gunshot wound.[23]

In a speech to the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2009, Muammar Gaddafi demanded that Libyan UNGA president Ali Treki launch an investigation into crash as well as the death of Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba, who was overthrown in 1960 and murdered the following year.[24]

According to numerous witnesses interviewed by Swedish aid worker Göran Björkdahl in the 2000s, Hammarskjöld's plane was downed by another aircraft. Björkdahl reviewed previously unavailable archive documents and internal UN communications and believed that the plane was intentionally downed for the benefit of mining companies such as Union Minière.[25][26][27]

In 2011, the book Who Killed Hammarskjold? by Susan Williams[28] outlined several doubts about the accidental nature of the crash. It led to the formation of an independent, unofficial commission headed by the British jurist Stephen Sedley in 2012 to determine whether there was new evidence that would justify the UN reopening its 1962 inquiry. The Sedley commission's report was presented on 9 September 2013 at the Peace Palace in The Hague.[29] It recommended that the UN reopen its inquiry "pursuant to General Assembly resolution 1759 (XVII) of 26 October 1962."[30] In March 2015, Mohamed Chande Othman was appointed to support the UN's ongoing Hammarskjöld Commission.[31]

In April 2014, the Guardian published evidence implicating military pilot Jan van Risseghem, who was Moise Tshombe's pilot in Katanga. The article claimed that American NSA employee Charles Southall, working at the NSA listening station in Cyprus in 1961 shortly after midnight on the night of the crash, heard an intercept of a pilot's commentary in the air over Ndola, 5,300 km (3,300 mi)[32] away. Southall recalled the pilot saying: "I see a transport plane coming low. All the lights are on. I'm going down to make a run on it. Yes, it is the Transair DC-6. It's the plane," adding that the pilot's voice was "cool and professional." Southall then heard the sound of gunfire and the pilot exclaiming: "I've hit it. There are flames! It's going down. It's crashing!" Based on Katangese Air Force records, a Fouga CM.170 Magister was the aircraft most likely involved, and the website Belgian Wings claims that van Risseghem piloted Magisters for the KAF in 1961.[33][34] Another article was published by The Guardian in January 2019 repeating the allegations against van Risseghem and citing further evidence uncovered by the producers of the documentary Cold Case Hammarskjöld, including refutations of van Risseghem's alibi that he was not flying at the time of the crash.[35][36][37]

In December 2018, the German freelance historian Torben Gülstorff published an article in the Lobster magazine arguing that a German Dornier DO-28A may have been used for the attack. The plane was delivered to Katanga by end of August 1961 and would have been technically capable of accomplishing the shootdown.[38]


Hammarskjöld's grave in Uppsala
Grave in Mount Jerome, Dublin of Sgt Frank Eivers, an Irish Army soldier who was also on the plane.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Crash Site Memorial is under consideration for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A press release issued by the prime minister of the Republic of the Congo stated that "... in order to pay a tribute to this great man, now vanished from the scene, and to his colleagues, all of whom have fallen victim to the shameless intrigues of the great financial Powers of the West... the Government has decided to proclaim Tuesday, 19 September 1961, a day of national mourning."[10]

In popular culture

The crash was featured by the Canadian documentary series Mayday in a Season 15, Episode 5 titled "Deadly Mission"[39] and Air Crash Investigation Special Report in a Season 3, Episode 3 titled "VIP on Board."

The crash is featured in the 2016 film The Siege of Jadotville, where it is shot down by an F-4 Phantom fighter jet.[40]


  1. ^ All 16 occupants died as a result of the accident. Sergeant Harold Julien was found alive but died about five days later from his injuries.[5] Reports differed as to whether Hammarskjöld or other occupants died immediately upon impact or might have survived had rescue operations not been delayed.[6]


  1. ^ "Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the report of the Eminent Person relating to the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him". United Nations. 25 October 2017. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  2. ^ "What Really Happened to Dag Hammarskjold's Plane". 15 February 2022.
  3. ^ ""Air Crash Investigation" Deadly Mission (TV Episode 2016) - IMDb". IMDb.
  4. ^ "Experts solve 50-year-old mystery behind UN chief's plane crash". Toronto Star. 14 September 2011.
  5. ^ a b Lauria, Joe (19 May 2014). "U.N. Considers Reopening Probe into 1961 Crash that Killed Dag Hammarskjöld". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 12 May 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k United Nations General Assembly Session 17 Report of the Commission of investigation into the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Mr Dag Hammarskjold and members of the party accompanying him. A/5069 24 April 1962. Retrieved 21 November 2008.(direct link: "A/5069". Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 24 March 2010.)
  7. ^ Halberstam, David (19 September 1961). "Hammarskjold Dies In African Air Crash; Kennedy Going To U. N. In Succession Crisis". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021.
  8. ^ Hamilton, Thomas J. (23 September 1961). "Interim U.N. Head is Urged by Rusk; His Timing Scored". The New York Times. p. 1.
  9. ^ "Airliners.net".
  10. ^ a b c "Special Report on the Fatal Flight of the Secretary-General's Aircraft" (PDF). United Nations. 19 September 1961. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 October 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2009.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Hollington, Kris (August 2008). Wolves, Jackals and Foxes. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-0-312-37899-8.
  12. ^ Job, Macarthur (2001). Air Disaster Volume 4. Vol. 4. Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd. p. 142. ISBN 1-875671-48-X.
  13. ^ "Hammarskjold dies in plane crash". History.com. 9 February 2010. Archived from the original on 15 April 2019.
  14. ^ "1961: UN Secretary General killed in air crash". BBC News. 18 November 1961. Archived from the original on 10 January 2021. Retrieved 16 January 2009.
  15. ^ page 36 "The Spectator" 29 October 2011
  16. ^ "Ban receives report probing new information on Dag Hammarskjöld's death". UN News Centre. United Nations. 12 June 2015. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  17. ^ "Panel: Possible Aerial Attack on Hammarskjold Plane in 1961". The New York Times. Associated Press. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  18. ^ Hughes, Matthew (9 August 2001). "The Man Who Killed Hammarskjöld?". London Review of Books. 23 (15): 33–34. Archived from the original on 19 February 2018. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  19. ^ a b Gavshon, Arthur (1962). The Mysterious Death of Dag Hammarskjold. New York: Walker and Company. p. 58.
  20. ^ Doward, Jamie (13 December 2014). "Spy messages could finally solve mystery of UN chief's death crash". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  21. ^ "Notes for Media Briefing By Archbishop" – by Desmond Tutu, Chairperson of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission – 19 August 1998 – "Speeches". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  22. ^ "UN assassination plot denied". BBC News. 19 August 1998. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  23. ^ Guhnfeldt, Cato (1 January 1970). "Så hull i pannen" [The holes in the forehead] (in Norwegian). Aftenposten.no. Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  24. ^ "Gaddafi's address to UN General Assembly". 23 September 2009. Archived from the original on 29 November 2017.
  25. ^ "Dag Hammarskjöld: evidence suggests UN chief's plane was shot down". The Guardian. 17 August 2011. Archived from the original on 11 February 2021. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  26. ^ Björkdahl, Göran (17 August 2011). "I have no doubt Dag Hammarskjöld's plane was brought down". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 26 March 2021.
  27. ^ Borger, Julian (16 September 2011). "Call for new inquiry following emergence of new evidence". Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 March 2021. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
  28. ^ Susan Williams: Who Killed Hammarskjöld?: The UN, the Cold War, and White Supremacy in Africa. London: Hurst. First edition 2011, 2nd edition with an additional chapter co-authored with Henning Melber and David Wardrop, December 2016.
  29. ^ Goldstone, Richard J. "Hammarskjold Commission Presents Report on Secretary-General's Death to the United Nations. International Judicial Monitor, Summer 2013 Issue". Archived from the original on 15 November 2020. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  30. ^ "Dag Hammarskjold death: UN 'should reopen inquiry'". BBC News. 9 September 2013. Archived from the original on 26 January 2021.
  31. ^ "Background". The Hammarskjöld Commission. Archived from the original on 7 November 2020.
  32. ^ "Distance from Ndola, Zambia to Nicosia, Cyprus".
  33. ^ Borger, Julian (17 August 2011). "Dag Hammarskjöld: evidence suggests UN chief's plane was shot down". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 11 February 2021. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  34. ^ Borger, Julian (4 April 2014). "Dag Hammarskjöld's plane may have been shot down, ambassador warned". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
  35. ^ Graham-Harrison, Emma; Rocksen, Andreas; Brügger, Mads (12 January 2019). "RAF veteran 'admitted 1961 killing of UN secretary general'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  36. ^ Mikkonen, Minttu (13 January 2019). "Tuore dokumentti väittää ratkaisseensa yhden kylmän sodan ajan suurimmista arvoituksista: Palkkasoturi tunnusti ampuneensa alas YK:n pääsihteerin Dag Hammarskjöldin" [A new documentary claims one of the biggest puzzles of the Cold War era has been solved: A mercenary confessed to having shot down UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld]. Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  37. ^ "Cold Case Hammarskjöld". sundance.org. Sundance Institute. Archived from the original on 9 April 2021. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  38. ^ Gülstorff, Torben (Winter 2018). "German links to the Hammarskjöld case. Making the case for another possible murder weapon" (PDF). Lobster. 76. Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 January 2021.
  39. ^ Mayday - Air Crash Investigation (S01-S22), retrieved 20 January 2024
  40. ^ "28th Galway Film Fleadh – July 2016". Galway Film Fleadh. Archived from the original on 23 November 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2016.

External links