By Given Chikeu-Ndola
ABOUT 62 years ago, the world was rocked by the news of a plane crash carrying Second United Nations (UN) Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold and 17 others that occurred shortly after midnight on 18 September 1961.
The incident happened just outside the Ndola Copperbelt Province capital of Zambia. Everyone was killed.
Born Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold in 1903, he was a Swedish economist and UN statesman in 1953. He served this seat until his untimely death in 1961.
Hammarskjold was on a mission attempting to broker peace between warring parties in Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
He was flying in a Douglas DC-6 aircraft along with other UN staff members, officials and was en route to Ndola to meet the Prime Minister of Katanga.
As the plane was preparing to land, it skimmed the tops of trees and finally crashed into the ground near an anthill where his body was found. The rescue team was only able to reach the site the following day.
But the circumstances around Hammarskjold’s death remain mysterious.
While investigators by the former colonial governments at the time blamed pilot error, others have claimed that it was shot down.
The crash site today is now a memorial to Hammarskjold and the others who perished. It is situated about 16 km west of Ndola City and is a United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre note-worthy across the world.
It consists of a garden with a cairn at the Centre, with shrubs and trees surrounding the outer circle.
The museum was constructed in 1981 and exhibits some of the remains of the plane crash, as well as materials portraying the life of Hammarskjold and the United Nations (UN) at the time.
Members of the combined band from the Zambia Air Force (ZAF), Zambian army, Zambia national service (ZNS) and Zambia police service performed a solemn musical piece – creating the backdrop – that marked the recent visit of (UN) Under Secretary General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre LaCroix.
LaCroix said Zambia deserves a pat on the back for having preserved the memory of Dag Hammarskjold and the plane crash site in such a dignified manner, adding that the gesture meant a lot to the UN.
“By honouring the memory of Dag Hammarskjold, we are paying tribute to the values and ideals this incredibly inspired leader carried with him,” he said.
After his death Dag Hammarskjold was awarded the 1961 Nobel Peace Prize, for which he had been nominated just before his untimely demise. He is one of four posthumous awardees.