Many thanks to Madame Rime, and to Maurin Picard for this interview and supporting the Hammarskjold investigation, and to David Glaser for promoting this blog and the life of Vlado Fabry – merci beaucoup to all who have contributed to this site!
Interview with Monique Rime Cégel
3 May 2020
– Monique Cégel, 83, was Vladimir Fabry’s secretary in Leopoldville in 1961
– She worked at the Hotel Le Royal between December 1960 and January 1962
– She knew Alice Lalande and Harold Julien very well
– She was working extra hours on 17 September 1961
– She typed Dag Hammarskjöld’s last message to Paul Henri Spaak, requesting Belgium to stop « van Riessenghem »
– She remembers there were serious doubts about UN communications being intercepted
– Vladimir Fabry did most of the research regarding Katanga mercenaries during the summer of 1961
– She remembers Dag Hammarskjöld’s collaborators tried to deter him from flying unescorted
– She does not think Sture Linnér was intended to fly along, as he had to stay in Leopoldville to liaise and work proper transmissions
– She flew to Ndola with Mahmoud Khiary on 19 September 1961 to type the ceasefire agreement with Moise Tshombe
– She saw the crash site right above her plane window prior to landing and was horrified
– She recalls smoldering debris and the « long line » of burnt forest
– She found a very hostile atmosphere in Northern Rhodesia
– She met a very disdainful Lord Alport
– She was not allowed to join Mahmoud Khiary at the hospital to visit Harold Julien
* * *
I was Vladimir Fabry’s secretary, at the Hotel Le Royal, Leopoldville (Congo).
I worked there for the UN mission in Congo from December 1960 to January 1962, as secretary detached from the Atomic Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
I kept working for the UN in Geneva until 1976, mostly through freelancing contracts. Then my husband and I moved to the city of Bulle.
I met my husband in 1961 in Congo!
He was a representative for major Swiss companies of the time, including Schindler and Vega, and was selling chemical products to the university of Lovanium.
I became a Swiss citizen, after getting married with him.
I was French (and I still am), and was born in Paris.
* Sunday 17 September 1961
At the Hotel Le Royal, we had an office adjacent to the one occupied by Sture Linnér.
On the day Dag Hammarskjöld took off from Leopoldville, that Sunday, I was not supposed to work.
But, as Fabry’s secretary, and since he only worked with me, they sent some military staff in a Jeep to pick me up and bring me back to Le Royal.
They found me sitting at a cafe terrace, since I believe they always kept an eye on us for safety.
I went back to my office and worked all afternoon, until the plane departed.
* Vladimir Fabry
That day, when I arrived at my office, Vladimir Fabry immediately requested to dictate some telegrams. I spent the whole afternoon doing that: typing messages, then bringing them to the « Chiffre » for them to be coded accordingly with the recipient’s identity.
By the time I was finished, they were getting ready to leave for the airport.
Before leaving, Vladimir Fabry was so thrilled.
Happy as a kid who was just offered a new toy.
Albeit a very reserved character, he was practically jumping on his feet.
He came into my office and said excitingly:
« Monique, I am leaving with the Secretary-General! I am trusting you with my car keys! »
He had to be very happy, for he would never have done such a thing otherwise.
His car was an official UN vehicle.
He told me I could use all the time during his absence.
God knows Leopoldville is a very large town, with great distances between the various locations.
I used the car until, of course, I handed it back to the UN, since Fabry never returned.
I remember seeing their cars leaving Le Royal in convoy.
I went through these events with an innocent mind as I could only partially grasp what was going.
I would mostly type messages dictated by Fabry, messages that were generally meant for New York.
The last message I typed from them was dictated by M. Hammarskjöld himself. The recipient was Paul-Henri Spaak.
(nota: the Belgian Foreign Minister)
But I cannot remember its content (nota: requesting Belgian assistance to put an end to the criminal deeds of a mercenary pilot named « van Riessenghem »).
I was so intimidated that I must have skipped two or three words he dictated.
I had never met Hammarskjöld and I was so young then (nota : she was 24).
I saw Dag Hammarskjöld every day between 13 and 17 September 1961, since he occupied Sture Linnér’s office.
* Can you recall Hammarskjöld’s state of mind?
I remember he was not very agreeable. He seemed really sad, not at all in a communicative mood. « You do this, this has to be done ». We were in the midst of a serious crisis with Katanga, obviously.
* Were there long sleepless nights at Le Royal?
I did not spend those ones with them, but I had a similar experience during the previous months. When you are assigned to someone high ranking, you did not count your days and your nights. With all the crises we went through, there were many sleepless nights at Le Royal.
* Harold Julien
I knew Harold Julien very well, as he was the Chief Security Officer in Leopoldville. Being M. Fabry’s secretary, I was granted the use of a car.
This in turn created some serious trouble, because we were taken hostage with a Swiss colleague of mine by Mobutu’s troops for 24 hours. The time was around end January or early February 1961.
They had spotted my car, I believe, due to the UN flags on it, and surrounded our house with two small armoured cars. There were rumors that the UN was bent on disarming the Congolese National Army. And we had been poorly inspired to move in a house across the street from Mobutu’s barracks along the river – a magnificent location, it was indeed.
Then the witchhunt began against all UN staff.
This is the only time in my life I was really scared.
I called the French embassy asking for their help, as I was a French citizen. Their answer was very … kind: « you work for the UN, hence you are no longer considered as a French citizen for us. There is nothing we can do for you ».
Since my colleague was Swiss, she called the Swiss embassy and they immediately answered. « Yes of course, we will come and rescue you ».
They arranged for a motorized convoy of Swiss people, with friends and colleagues of my future husband, led by the Red Cross delegate M. Olivet, who was killed another day.
(nota: Georges Olivet, 34, was killed in an ambulance on 12 December 1961, amidst heavy fighting in Elisabethville, Katanga)
They parlayed with Mobutu’s soldiers, who pretty quickly removed their blockade and let us go free.
* Saturday 16 September, Lord Lansdowne meets Dag Hammarskjöld. Did you get word of a stormy exchange?
No, I do not remember that gentleman.
I did not hear anything, although I was there that day and was working in the nearby room. If there had been loud voices, a shouting match,
I would have heard something.
But it does not mean it did not take place, as my memory could be failing me.
There were indeed many high ranking visitors in Sture Linnér’s office, and I did not always necessarily get a look at them.
* Did Dag Hammarskjöld’s collaborators try to deter him from flying unescorted?
That is true, since I remember I heard about it.
They did try to deter him.
There were rumors that they were « waiting » for him in Katanga. There were Tshombe’s two Fougas.
(nota: in September 1961, the UN still believed two remaining Fouga were operational, as there was actually only one left, « 93 », the other one bing grounded awaiting spare parts)
When we heard about the crash, we immediately thought: « Tshombe’s Fougas did it ».
Personnally, I just could not imagine such a thing: who would want to shoot down the UN Secretary General?
I really thought this was just an accident, at least until after I left Congo early 1962.
If I had known … I was so scared in the air. I could never have boarded a plane.
But since I had no clue of what happened, I departed very easily when told to, without any further stress.
* Was Sture Linnér supposed to join the mission and fly along with Dag Hammarskjöld, as he later commented?
I was not at Ndjili airport but I would be surprised if he was intending to fly with them. It was logical for him to stay in Leo and liaise. That would be surprising if true.
Alice Lalande, she had to be part of the travelling party, since she was in charge of sensitive equipments, these Enigma machines. Besides, the Secretary-General needed an assistant like her. In her daily job, Alice was handing over paperwork to all the secretaries. She was a perfectly bilingual Canadian.
* Did Dag Hammarskjöld know that UN communications were intercepted?
I do not know, but it was a serious question for everyone in Leopoldville.
I had worked for weeks with Vladimir Fabry on the issue of the « frightfuls », these mercenaries.
I made dozens of photocopies from these documents that had been somehow collected and that had to do with these mercenaries. Vladimir Fabry worked a great deal on this issue. We did an extensive research on these documents. I am sorry that I did not have enough political awareness, to show an interest in the content of these documents.
* Monday 18 September 1961
Personnally, I did not get word of the crash when I arrived at the office on the next day. The other secretaries were doing a funny face, which was a bit intriguing. I made it late to the office due my long working hours on Sunday. I thought there was a dreadful atmosphere, but nobody told me anything. They did not dare tell me what had happened, probably because I was working so closely with M. Fabry. I only found out the same evening when I came home and my future husband told me: « did you hear what happened to Hammarskjöld ? »
* The crash site
When Mahmoud Khiary took off for Ndola, I came along.
(nota: on Tuesday 19 September 1961, in order to negotiate a ceasefire with Moïse Tshombé, as it was theoretically the case for Dag Hammarskjöld two days earlier)
I boarded the plane with him. If I had known the crash was foul play, I would never have come along with Khiary. This was so sudden, that I did not have the time to bring any equipment, not even a typing machine, as Alice Lalande had done.
We departed for Ndola. Prior to landing, while flying low over the forest, we managed to see the crash site from up close
(nota: the whole area was forested back then)
This memory will stay with me forever.
We spotted the wreckage, these scattered debris of an aircraft, what was left of it. This long line of burnt forest. It was terrible. I am still emotional about it, as I speak. I happened to realize the people I knew so well were only charred remains by now.
Alice Lalande, to begin with, who was basically my boss.
The security officers, such as Harold Julien.
I remember Alice’s dress with the flowery design. It sent cold shivers down my spine when I realized the plane had crashed and burnt that way. I though My God, she must have burnt so quickly. It was terrifying.
* Ndola, 19 September 1961
When we arrived in Ndola, there was this man, Lord Alport, welcoming us – so to say – at the airport. He was very cold. An extremely disagreeable character, very full of himself and every inch a British aristocrat. Still he invited our delegation for lunch in his home. I was just a secretary sitting at the end of the table with the security officers, but I found him disdainful towards us .
(nota : Khiary was not particularly welcome, since Tshombe had notified Linnér he agreed to negotiate a ceasefire with anyone but Khiary, whom he deemed responsible for launching Operation Morthor on 13 September 1961 – which is at least partially true)
Our mission was not very welcome.
Then we headed for the actual ceasefire negotiations with Moïse Tshombe, but I did not directly take part in the negotiations. The British mission there lent me a typing machine, whose keyboards had none of the French accents, which made my task very dfficult. I did however type all the ceasefire documents.
We stayed two or three days in Ndola.
Mahmoud Khiary and the delegation visited Harold Julien in the hospital. I was not allowed to join them.
1961 was a terrible year in my life. Annus horribilis, as the Queen Mother would say.
There was my being taken hostage, then Hammarskjöld’s crash, then the murder of 13 Italian air crew.
(nota: massacred by the crowd who mistook them with Belgian paratroopers in Kindu on 11 or 12 November 1961)
One of them was 25 and a very good friend of mine.
He had been at my wedding two weeks before, on 28 October 1961, along with Sture Linnér’s wife, whom I called Madame Linnér, of course, and also Jacques Poujoulat.
This day of September 1961, this Sunday the 17th. In my old age, I still cannot fathom what unfolded that day. It is still with me. It will stay with me until my last breath.
I was hesitant to share this here, because of the editorial choice of the word “suicide” to describe the death of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, but it is important because this was saved in a collection of other international papers by Olinka and Olga Fabry. The political cartoon, showing Moïse Tshombe collecting his money from the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga mines with the murders of Patrice Lumumba and Hammarskjold, is gruesome but on point. From our personal coin collection, not from the Fabry archive, I have also included scans of two coins from Katanga from 1961.
September 17, 2021, will be the 60th anniversary of the plane crash that killed our uncle Vlado, Dag Hammarskjold, and 14 of their brave colleagues while flying on a peace mission to Ndola, and we continue to wait for justice. For this reason, I am especially grateful to those who have no direct connection to the crash, who have made it their mission to help us uncover the truth with independent research and inquiry.
In July of this year, Joseph (Joe) Majerle III shared his own analysis of the crash with all the relatives, and it is an incredibly thoughtful and moving effort to support us. The points he makes deserve serious examination, and I want everyone to read it, so I am publishing it here in full – it offers a new perspective that was eye-opening for me, and lifted my spirits. Thank you, Joe!
AN ANALYSIS OF THE EVIDENCE CONTAINED IN RHODESIAN REPORT’S ANNEXES II AND III AN D THE U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY REPORT A/5069 PERTAINING TO THE CRASH OF DOUGLAS DC-6B SE-BDY S/N 43559 ON SEPTEMBER 17-18, 1961
By Joseph Majerle III
PREFACE I AM NOT a professional aircraft accident investigator. I am writing this account because after reading the reports of the crash, the professional aircraft accident investigators that were tasked with determining the facts of this tragedy, or for that matter, anyone else that has viewed the evidence contained in the above–mentioned files, have not come forward and pointed out the glaring misperceptions, dismissiveness of obvious real evidence, and inappropriate focus on irrelevancies that shaped the conclusions of the reports. In addition, there is at least one aspect that I can only describe as a deliberate inaccuracy that I consider to be of decisive importance. The Annex III and U.N. A/5069 reports, following the original Board report, did not effectively question the basic premises of the Investigating Board report as presumably would have been their purpose; which is why nearly 60 years after the crash this subject is still very unresolved for a surprising number of people.
I AM PRIMARILY, an aircraft mechanic. But, I earned a private pilot’s license and had begun commercial and instrument flight training before earning any of my mechanics ratings. Before I had any ratings at all, I had already built and flown my first airplane out of salvaged, crashed, repaired and new parts. At this point, I was already self-employed in the aircraft maintenance, salvage and rebuild business. I started salvaging airplanes from crash sites in 1974, studying whatever evidence was left at the scene in an effort to understand what and how the accident happened. With the advent of the Internet and the posting of Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident reports online, I have been able to read many reports going back to at least to the mid 1930’s because I was interested in learning what was known about particular incidents that I had heard about as a youngster, and for well into adulthood.
I decided to abandon thoughts of becoming a professional pilot because at the time there were probably ten newly qualified commercial and airline transport pilots competing for every available job opening, and operators had their pick of the best. In the maintenance field, however, it was the opposite story; at the flight school there was only one mechanic, recently licensed, and not very confident at all in his abilities. As an experienced, but not yet licensed mechanic, I assisted him in getting the flight school’s grounded aircraft operational again. For all intent and purpose, I have never been without work since.
I do not think it is inappropriate that I should be the person to write this report. What is required here is a broad-based, general knowledge of aviation, aircraft, their operations. I do not think an investigator has to have a DC-6 type rating to know how they are operated; provided one consults pilots with the rating to confirm what published documents like airplane flight manuals and Approved Type Certificate (A.T.C.) specifications say. Here in Alaska, it is very possible that we currently have the largest base of DC-6 experience operating, on a daily basis, in the world. I have known a great many DC-6 type rated pilots in my lifetime, to say nothing of having been related to one by marriage.
Any reader who wants to challenge what I state in this document is urged to consult with their own “expert(s)”. I do not claim to be an expert on any aspect of this; however every DC-6 expert that I consulted throughout this process confirmed readily what I thought to be the case when I presented them with the evidence. So that is why I think that it is time to reexamine what actually happened during the crash, as opposed to what most of the world thinks happened. Because, the two are very different.
It is not within my area of expertise to speculate on the “why” of what caused the precipitating action of this accident. I have read a number of reports and books over recent years that attempt to tackle that subject, but I have nothing to contribute to what other researchers, with apparent objective credibility, have amassed.
I am, however, bothered enough by the acceptance of the original Rhodesian premises by the world at large and former U.N. officials, and the effect these misconceptions have had on the descendants, relatives, and friends of the victims, crew and passengers, that I am submitting this document to whom it may concern.
PREMISES The Annex II report sets a number of premises that have gone unquestioned. They are, and I will attempt to order them in terms of occurring chronology, as follows:
That the aircraft crashed during the course of making a “normal instrument approach”.
That the aircraft was not on fire prior to its collision with the anthill on the ground.
That the crew could be faulted for not having transmitted a declaration of emergency during the approach.
That the crew could be faulted for the wreckage being found with the landing lights in the off position.
That the captain could be faulted for not having broadcast all of his intentions to the destination airport, especially in an area known to be hostile to U.N. personnel. These points, in addition to others, are where I will begin.
THE INSTRUMENT APPROACH Annex II, part 3, par. 12.6 “. . .hit trees and the ground at a shallow angle of 5 degrees or less, at what appears to have been normal approach speed, at an altitude of 4357 feet MER (?) with its undercarriage locked down, flaps partially extended, and with all four engines developing power and all the propellers in the normal pitch range, heading towards the Ndola radio beacon on a landing approach.”
There are four main parts of this statement to be addressed. They are to be considered in light of the aircrafts position in relation to the Ndola airport, which according to Annex II Part 1 par. 1 item 1.1 was “From Ndola aerodrome control tower 8.05 nautical miles on a true bearing 279 degrees.” 8.05 nautical miles is over 9.25 statute miles, from the airport at which it was intending to land.
01. “Normal approach speed” in my experience is based upon the aircraft’s stall speed, landing speed, and minimum control speed in multi-engine aircraft. It varies with combinations of all of the above and is normally calculated in percentages above the stall speed, which itself varies with differing weights, centers of gravity, bank angle, flap/high-lift device deployment, etc. In standard airport traffic area there is also a speed limit of 156 knots (180 mph.) Since the beginning of the age of the jumbo jets and the airports from which they operate, the speed restrictions have been raised because many of that class of aircraft have higher stall speeds than 156 knots (180 mph.), so for them, there is only the 250 knots (288 mph.) below 10,000 feet rule, which I believe applies to all airspace complying with ICAO rules.
Normal approach speed, at that stage of the approach, should have been 160 knots (184 mph.) or even more in this case, with this captain concerned about the possibility of armed, hostile aircraft in the general area. In consultation with a DC-6 captain, he said except in very unusual circumstances the standard instrument approach speed up to the final approach fix, which in this case was the Ndola NDB, 2.5 nautical miles, 2.875 statute miles from the runway end, would be 160 knots (184 mph.) Maximum flap extension speed is 139 knots (160 mph.)
The point that needs to be made here, and clearly with no ambiguity, is that there would have been no reason whatsoever in a normal instrument approach, especially in good weather conditions, to have had the aircraft slowed down to landing configuration while over 9 miles away from the airport. Standard procedure would be to begin deploying landing flaps and landing gear upon reaching the final approach fix, which in this case was the Ndola NDB (non directional beacon), approx. 3 miles from the runway, which is a fairly average distance for an NDB or a VOR (very high frequency omni-directional range) to be situated to a runway. That the aircraft was found configured for landing at the farthest point it was going to reach away from the airport during its instrument approach, means that the pilot would have had to slow-fly it throughout all of the rest of the approach procedure to a landing at the airport. There is absolutely nothing normal about that. This was the very first thing that struck me when I initially read the report. It is indicative, however, OF A LANDING ATTEMPT AT THE LOCATION WHERE IT CAME TO REST.
02. “. . .with its undercarriage locked down, flaps partially extended, . . .” The DC-6 series aircraft have a stall speed of approximately 80 knots (92 mph.), and consequently a lower approach speed than the jet airliners that replaced them beginning in the 1960’s. The closest replacement is the Boeing 737 series, which like the DC-6 have an approximately 30,000 lb. payload and were generally intended to operate from the same runways that the DC-series used. While the Boeing will neither take off or land and stop in as short a distance as a DC-6 due to its higher stall and approach speeds, the differences are not gigantic. For this project I consulted a Boeing 737 captain whose career spanned the 737-200 series thru the 900 series, and was told, again, that landing gear and landing flap settings were deployed upon reaching the final approach fix, which is generally approximately 3 miles from the end of the runway. This, in an aircraft with higher approach and landing speeds.
Wing flaps increase both lift and drag, and were originally developed to enable an aircraft to make steeper approaches to land without increasing speed that would need to be bled off during rollout after touchdown, in other words to shorten the landing to a stop distance. That they would also reduce the takeoff distance and improve the climb performance was a secondary consideration. Annex II part 10 par. 10.3.4.2 states that all indications were that the flaps were in the 30 degree position. I would estimate that this is approximately optimal for lift and slow flight which would be desirable for the lowest approach and landing speed based upon experience with numerous different types of aircraft; I have flown a number of different airplanes with flap deployment angles beyond 35 degrees and noticed that at angles much beyond 35 resulted in much higher drag components than lift components and engineering books generally support that observation based on wind tunnel testing. The higher angles of extension were generally useful only for bleeding off excess altitude quickly in situations where a pilot wanted to get a lot closer to the ground in a hurry. To my experience, 30 degrees was optimal landing flap in many, but not all, types. Again, it is indicative OF A LANDING ATTEMPT AT THE LOCATION WHERE IT CAME TO REST.
03. “. . .with all 4 engines developing power . . .” 10.1.4 states “. . . the four engines were broken from their mountings and severely damaged by impact and subsequent fire . . . .” Examination of photographs in the appendix reveals that engines #1, 2, and 3 had fallen to the ground after the aluminum nacelle structures melted away in the fire subsequent to coming to rest, and the straight steel tube struts of the actual engine mounts are still straight and attached to the engines. Furthermore, the above mentioned engines are all still in the approximate positions they would have occupied on the wing with only the #4 engine having detached in the crash sequence, and it is laying in probably very close proximity to where it was wrenched from the wing during the cartwheel arc.
The second thing that struck me upon first viewing the wreckage plan is that almost the entire aircraft is still in one place.10.2.1 “The main wreckage was contained in an area approximately 60 feet by 90 feet . . . .”
The DC-6 is almost exactly 100 feet long with a 117’6” wingspan, which means after it came to rest and cooled down the whole of the main wreckage would fit within the same rectangle as its original size. The wreckage plan, as surveyed, indicates that the vast majority of its original parts ended up oriented in the approximate positions that they occupied prior to the crash. In other words, throughout the crash sequence, very little of the aircraft was displaced from itself until very close to the end of its movement. This indicates a low energy crash with a very slow speed impact, at least relative to even minimum flying speed, to say nothing of a 160 knot instrument approach speed. 160 knots (184 statute mph.) is a velocity of almost exactly 270 feet per second. The wreckage plan length of 760 ft. from first point of treetop contact to ground strike of the fuselage nose (10.1.1) is approximately one half of what I have observed to occur in unintentional controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) crashes during my time in this business. It is, however, in addition to viewing the appendix photographs of the site that were taken from the ground and from the air, completely consistent with the path of an aircraft with an 80 knot stall speed being intentionally landed.
Aircraft that are only capable of even 120 knots in unintentional CFIT crashes generally never resemble an airplane by the time all of the parts come to a stop, their propellers are almost never still attached to the engines, their landing gear are almost never anywhere near where they were originally attached, and their tail groups when broken off have usually broken the control cables in overload displaying a “broomstraw” effect. In this case, when the tailcone broke off in the cartwheel there wasn’t enough energy left to pull the cables apart. If I had to estimate the minimum speed required to disintegrate the nose section of the fuselage such as is displayed in the wreckage plan and what can be seen of the remains in the photographs, I would say that it would require at most only about 50 to 60 knots to do that kind of damage. It was explained to me in 1986 by a good friend that was a DC-6 captain at that time, that the 4-engine DC-series had a somewhat fragile nose landing gear structure but not unusually so compared to other makes in it’s class; but when they tore out of the fuselage it often did a lot of other damage and could possibly make the incident beyond economic repair. I saw an example of that just last fall (2020) where a DC-4 had its nose landing gear torn out in a ditch at barely more than walking speed; the damage extended through both sides of the factory break joint where the nose (flight deck, cockpit) section attaches to the forward fuselage section and the operator decided that it was beyond economical repair, according to a conversation with his director of maintenance. This should reflect no discredit on the part of the designers; from personal experience repairing nose landing gear damage on many different types of nosewheel type airplanes it is generally a fragile part of all of them.
04. “. . .and all the propellers in the normal pitch range, . . .” This statement stretches ambiguity beyond limits. The Hamilton Standard 43E60/6895A-8 propellers such as were installed on SE-BDY (of which I have owned several sets and still possess a crate full of hub and dome parts) has a normal pitch range of approximately 90 degrees from neutral for feathering and forward thrust and maybe 20 degrees aft of neutral for reverse thrust. 10.3.4.4 states: “Inspection of the propeller stop ring assemblies confirmed that the angular setting of all propellers was in the constant speed range.”
First, the stop rings do not determine the constant speed range; they are only the outer limits of the blade travel, at full feather and full reverse. The constant speed range is a function of the engine driven governor and the distributor valve assembly housed within the hub and dome and is sensed with electrical switches attached to the blades and actuated with an electric motor driven oil pump mounted on the engine reduction gear nose case immediately behind the propeller hub, with a rubber/spring lip seal interfacing the parting surfaces. The only way to determine the angular setting of the blades in this installation is to measure with a propeller protractor against the rotational axis.
Second, the constant speed range is also a function of the engine turning at a high enough RPM for the governor to supply enough boosted oil pressure to operate the distributor valve to keep the blades off of the low pitch stop, which in reversing propellers such as these is again a function of the distributor valve. But for the purposes of this analysis, that is not important.
Third, the photographic evidence, is what is important. The U.N. report appendix contains photographs with 16-digit letter/number codes, of which I saved fifteen to a file, beginning with S-0727-0004-01-00002, and following will be referencing the last two digits. I will reference the individual blades in clock face numbers, as viewed from the rear of the engine looking forward as is standard practice.
It is difficult to differentiate between engine#1 and engine#4 because there were fewer views of #4, but both could be identified by orientation with the wreckage plan. It is readily apparent that both of these had almost identical damage to their blades, except that the third blade on #4 is not visible. Photo 07 shows #4 with the 10 o’clock blade in standard reverse thrust position. The 2 o’clock blade has had its spring pack drives sheared in overload during the ground strike and has rotated on its pivot axis into an approximate reverse feather position, with its trailing edge forward instead of its leading edge when in standard feather mode. This indicates that its leading edge struck the ground hard enough to shear the spring packs while the leading edge of the blade was rotated aft of its plane of rotation, in other words while at a reverse thrust angle. With 2 of the 3 blades coming to rest in a reverse thrust angle, I think it’s safe to assume that the propeller was fully operating in the reverse thrust mode at time of impact.
The #1 engine is well represented in the photographs, with all blades visible. Photo 16 shows the 10 o’clock blade in standard reverse thrust position, spring packs intact. The 2 o’clock blade is in reverse feather position, spring packs sheared as per the same blade on the #4 engine, and the 6 o’clock blade is also in standard reverse thrust position, spring packs intact, but has bent aft throughout its length progressively to the tip which is common when rotation is coming to a stop while the engine and airframe behind it are still moving forward. That the propellers on engines #1 and #4 are far less damaged than the ones on #2 and #3 is partially due to the fact that they were mounted higher on the wings due to wing dihedral, and didn’t penetrate the ground as deeply when they struck.
Photo 07 shows #2 engine with its 2 o’clock blade rotated into a reverse feather position also, spring packs sheared. The broken off shank of what would be the 10 o’clock blade is in standard feather position, spring packs intact. What would be the 6 o’clock blade is not visible in this view, and I haven’t found any other photos showing it, but based on its proximity to the ground I think it’s reasonable to assume that it also was sheared off during its ground strike.
Photo 33 shows #3 engine, which reveals its 2 o’clock blade broken off at what I would estimate at most to be its 25” station, which is measured from the propeller shaft centerline. It is clearly in a standard reverse thrust position, spring packs intact. The 10 o’clock blade is broken off 1.5” to 2” outboard of the hub clamp halves, so close to its round shank section that its angular position is inconclusive. The 6 o’clock blade has broken off inside of the hub clamp halves through the blade bushing bore; it obviously fragmented into a number of pieces. As with all three of the other engine’s propellers, I think it is reasonable to assume that the #3 propeller was fully in the reverse thrust mode when the blades struck the ground. I would deduce from the condition of the #3 propeller that it was positioned to penetrate the ground the deepest and most solidly of the four. The #3 engine also received by far the most fire damage after coming to rest most likely due to its proximity to the most remaining fuel in the right hand wing. I will discuss this in more detail later.
I have thought long and hard about how to estimate how much power the engines were developing at the moment the propellers struck the ground, and it is a difficult question. The propeller blades were group 4, an early post-war development and were the strongest of all the Hamiltons ever built for piston engines, generally used only on the latest and most powerful post-war radial engines. I am not aware of any empirical strike strength tests, which is not to say that Hamilton Standard didn’t conduct any, I just haven’t heard about them. If I had to guess I would estimate that it would require a high-cruise manifold pressure setting to shear them off and break them through the blade bore bushing hole as is evident in the photos. The captain clearly had gotten the throttles well forward and was making a lot of reverse thrust before the nose landing gear collapsed and the nose and propellers hit the ground.
THE WRECKAGE PLAN The Annex II wreckage plan and the photographs of the descent path appear to show a deliberate, controlled descent with directional control maintained all the way to the anthill, as though it was intentional, and I am suggesting that it was.
I had difficulty scaling the exact measurements of where the small parts that were torn from the aircraft came to rest relative to the initial tree contact, and varying figures are given for the height of the anthill from 9 to 12 feet, which I would have thought would be consistent with the whole site having been charted by professional surveyors, but in reality this is not important.
What is important is to realize that only 760 feet from initial treetop contact the aircraft was rolling with all three landing gear on the ground, right side up, travelling in a straight line, directionally under control.
At some point not far from the anthill the left wing bottom skins were breached, presumably by a tree trunk, the top of which would have been broken off by the wing leading edge and spar(s), opening up one or more fuel bays and dumping their contacts to the ground in a concentrated area, which fueled the incinerated area shown at that location in the wreckage plan. As stated earlier, this would contribute to the reason that the #1 and #2 engines on the left side of the aircraft were less heavily fire damaged post-crash than the engines on the right side. However, the overall strength of the main wing box structure remained sufficiently adequate to retain its basic shape to provide the arm about which the entire aircraft would pivot upon striking close to the base of the anthill, leading edge down, and not be sheared off at that point. Obviously, the wing leading edge outboard of the engines is what actually contacted the anthill, and initiated the cartwheel, as both of the left hand engines stayed with the wing and came to rest close to their original positions on the wing.
At some point close to the anthill, (and somebody could probably do a better job of quantifying the actual measurement from the wreckage plan), but it is not marked as such, the nose landing gear structure was overloaded in the undisturbed forest terrain and collapsed. Which is to say that the oleo strut and its retraction/extension linkage was torn from its mounting structure and its broken pieces were spread along the ground from forward movement of the rest of the aircraft behind it. I looked long and hard in the wreckage plan to find the exact point where the nose gear departed, but could only find reference to a “steel shaft” alongside the base of the anthill, and couldn’t find it in the photos. Presumably, the “steel shaft” was the nose strut piston tube, which is a steel tube approximately 5” in diameter, and it was about where I would have expected it to be in this case. Other associated parts of the nose gear system were a little farther along the path, again where I would have expected them to be. I could find no reference to where the nosewheel and tire came to rest, which is important from the standpoint of knowing how long it was on the ground before failing, which was in some measure the fate sealer for the crew and passengers. I did find reference to an unidentified portion of wheel rim on the right hand side of the path and well before the anthill, but whether it was from the nosewheel or one of the dual main wheels may never be known. Photo 19 shows one of the main landing gear assemblies with the remains of both tires and wheels in place and another photo shows the same for the other MLG, so it is certain that all of the main wheel tires stayed in place throughout. While on the subject of the main landing gear, the DC-6 MLG units retract forward into their nacelle bays, and their retraction/extension links for normal operation on the ground loads the links in tension, which for metallic structures allows them to be at their strongest, especially in terms of retaining their shape when loaded. The photos show that the links had failed in compression and had bent, which would be expected to happen upon the main wheels striking the ground while traveling backwards during the cartwheel, and partially retracting back into their nacelle bays. But, effectively, they stayed in place throughout the crash, again indicative of a relatively low speed occurrence.
As stated above, shortly after landing with all three landing gear on the ground, close to the anthill, at probably the worst possible location and time, with all four engines evenly at fairly high power settings in reverse thrust in what would have been a desperate attempt to slow the momentum of the aircraft and get it stopped, (but what is in reality standard operating procedure), the nose landing gear collapsed, instantly dropping the nose section of the belly and fuselage to the ground, pivoting on the main wheel axles. When this happened, the propeller blades began contacting the ground, bending and breaking them off, and the wing leading edge from end to end rotated downwards, drastically lowering in height. As the fuselage nose belly skins, stringers, formers etc. began crushing and tearing away it allowed the wing leading edge to get even closer to the ground, until the left side contacted the anthill nearer the base than the top, which initiated the cartwheel. Had the nose gear remain in place, there is at least a chance that a relatively level wing might have been able to ride up and over it and the aircraft’s momentum to remain linear, and with even a few more seconds of reverse thrust as braking action, the survival odds would have increased dramatically.. The noted fragment of wheel rim found along the glide path, if from the single nosewheel, and if large enough to have allowed the tire to depart from the wheel, I think in this terrain would have guaranteed the failure of the nose gear assembly.
I think a further word here about center of gravity is appropriate. SE-BDY as it departed Leopoldville was handicapped with a forward C.G. (center of gravity), with little or no aft cabin load. The DC-6, as with all large airliners, was designed to carry its nominal 15-ton payload distributed throughout the cabin from end to end and as with most aircraft have the load approximately centered on the wing, since that is what is supporting everything. In this case, with the passengers and their gear in the forward part of the cabin, the C.G. would have been well toward its forward limit, known as nose heavy. This means that the pilot, under any circumstance, would have a harder time holding the nose off the ground with the elevators than if there was weight in the fuselage behind the main wheels assisting him with the balance.
I have flown airplanes with only the pilots in the front seats and nothing in the aft cabin where the nosewheel could not be held off the runway whatsoever upon landing. With power at idle, when the main wheels touched the nosewheel slammed to the runway instantly because the C.G. was well forward of the mains. At least three different DC-6 pilots I have known over the years have told me that they much preferred flying them with a somewhat aft C.G. because of the better balance. In this case however, I think it could be listed as a contributing factor to the deadliness because after getting the main wheels to the ground, with the propellers in reverse and no accelerated air flow over the elevators, the captain was unlikely to have been able to keep the nosewheel from slamming to the ground immediately and beginning the sequence of breakup of the forward fuselage structure.
ABOUT THOSE ALTIMETERS . . . There are numerous references throughout the reports about the barometric altimeters, three each, forming one of the major premises upon which the reports conclusions are based. So many, in fact, that I am not going to bother referencing them here. The Board (Annex II) and the Commission (Annex III) both spared no expense to prove beyond any shadow of doubt that the their Air Traffic Control (ATC) had properly informed the crew of the altimeter setting and that Transair had properly maintained their instruments and aircraft, as well, and that there should be no discredit reflected upon the servants of and the country hosting the visitors. If those visiting aircrews could not pay attention to their altimeters and keep from flying into the ground while executing an otherwise exemplary instrument approach it was not the host’s fault.. There is one very major problem with this.
There were four altimeters installed in this aircraft. The fourth altimeter was an “AVQ-10 Receiver Transmitter (Radar) “, per Annex II Par. 6.2 Page 15, line 3. That, and a reference on the “Enlarged Portion of Wreckage Plan” to a “Radio Altimeter” on the extreme left hand side of the page are the only times throughout all of the original reports that its existence was ever mentioned. And it was decisively important.
Mankind had long awaited a means to know exactly how far the ground was below you and how far away an obstacle was in front of you while making instrument approaches. Barometric pressure gauge instruments were reliable but didn’t give you all the information you really wanted and needed for making truly blind instrument approaches. With the WWII British development of the cavity magnetron, which made radar small enough to be carried aboard aircraft, it was a short step away to build an accurate radar altimeter. The DC-6 was among the very first of the postwar civil aircraft to be fitted with them. By then, airlines couldn’t afford not to have them. And all of the pilots that I have ever known use them when they have them during instrument approaches especially when near the ground. They tell me that they are a very reassuring and confidence-building device.
It is inconceivable that captain Hallonquist was not using the radar altimeter, if he needed an altimeter at all, throughout the portion of the instrument approach that the aircraft completed. Barometric altimeters are fine for flight where there are large safe heights above ground level and sufficiently accurate for keeping airplanes at known levels relative to each other but when you start getting close to the ground in conditions of poor or no visibility the radar altimeter is what is going to tell you where the ground or a solid object is in front of you.
I mentioned above about needing an altimeter at all. In the USA, in order to qualify for a private pilot certificate, a student must accomplish a certain number of landings and fly a certain number of hours at night during official after-sunset periods, (night time). This must be accomplished visually, under official VFR (visual flight rules) conditions. I am fairly certain that the rules to qualify for airman certificates in Sweden or the UK would be pretty similar, and in fact for all ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) countries. Without access to his logbooks, it’s a foregone conclusion to assume that with over 7800 flight hours captain Hallonquist was competent and comfortable with night VFR landings. On the night in question, the weather 38 minutes before the crash, per Annex II chap. 5 par.5.3 page 14, the visibility was 5 to 10 miles with slight smoke haze, with ceiling not given, but presumably nil cloud cover from the last prior routine weather observation, 3-1/2 hours before. So there is no reason to assume that the crew couldn’t see where the ground was.
Prior to the advent of aircraft with auto-land capability, which was probably not until at least the mid-1970’s and to my knowledge didn’t come into service until the early 1980’s, all, at least all civilian airplane landings were made visually by the human pilot. Even instrument landings were made visually, even when the approaches were made coupled to an autopilot. If at some minimum height above the ground at some certain distance from the end of the runway, and these numbers varied with different airports and with differently equipped aircraft, the pilot could not see the end of the runway to land the approach was called missed, power was applied and the aircraft climbed away to either try the approach again or proceed to an alternate airport where the weather was hopefully better. But all landings required the pilot, at some point, to see the runway visually. And the pilot was only using the altimeter to know where to not descend below. To this day, the vast majority of airplane landings worldwide are still done this way.
Upon reaching Ndola, the aircraft established communications with the tower informing them that they had the airport in sight. At that point the captain could have made a VFR landing within the airport traffic area (ATA) without following the instrument approach procedure. Transair company policy was that if the crew was unfamiliar with an airport, and captain Hallonquist had never been to Ndola before, an instrument approach was to be made. The captain could have ignored this but he was obviously the type of person that would rather follow the rules and go by the book than ever have to explain in the future why he did not. I fully understand this philosophy, it is how I’ve tried to live my own life. It can be well imagined that for an instant it crossed his mind that he could just set up and land while he was right there, but he knew that an instrument approach was just a few minutes more, no big deal, we can see the ground, no appreciable weather. In other words, he didn’t really need an altimeter to tell him where the ground was. He could see the ground. And the radar altimeter told him exactly how high above the ground he was.
THE PRECIPITATING EVENT To my observation, in the study of aircraft accidents throughout the course of my life, there is almost always a precipitating event that sets off a chain of actions, reactions, counteractions, etc. that results in the crashed aircraft somewhere on the surface of earth. In this case, it is known from Annex II that the captain communicated to Ndola tower that all was well and within minutes the aircraft was being incinerated with its own wing fuel and that fifteen of the sixteen occupants lives had ended, and that the last would succumb in less than a week. That person, Sgt. Harold Julien, was the only eyewitness to the crash.
To my experience, eyewitness testimony is considered evidence in a court of law, at least in this country. I am unfamiliar with Rhodesian law in the 1960’s, but in the USA in the 1960’s Sgt. Julien’s statements would have been considered evidence in a crash investigation. Since there is no other actual evidence to the contrary, and testimony of ground observers about the airport over-flight and entry to the instrument approach procedure are insufficiently conclusive to determine externally what the precipitating event was, it seems logical to me that Sgt. Julien’s statements, as brief as they are, are the only thing that can be considered as evidence in a search for the cause of the chain of events leading to the crash.
In the UN Commission report, par. 129., Senior Inspector Allen testified to the U.N. Commission that he spoke with Sgt. Julien and asked him three questions; 1. “What happened? He said: ‘It blew up’.” 2. “Was this over the runway? And he said ‘Yes’. “ 3. “What happened then? And he replied: ‘There was great speed—great speed’.” “It blew up—” “—over the runway.”
I have read all three of these reports several times and still don’t understand the reluctance of the investigators, including the U.N. and the Swedish observers, to not make those six words the central point, the number one item on the list of where to begin to find the truth about what happened. Especially from the standpoint of determining whether or not there is fault to be assigned to the flight crew.
Assuming Sgt. Julien was belted into any seat in the forward cabin, looking out the side window on whichever side he was sitting on, he may or may not have had a view of the lighted runway and the town of Ndola but it is likely that the captain would have informed the passengers that they had arrived overhead Ndola and would be setting up to land there. It would have been the last thing he could identify location-wise and anywhere in that vicinity for him would be “over the runway”. I don’t know if Inspector Allen was deliberately trying to trip him up or why he asked him if it was over the runway when he knew that the aircraft had overflown the runway and not blown up there, but, it seems to me, it was an unusual question to ask a person in Sgt. Julien’s condition. What I am getting at here is that Sgt. Julien knew where the runway was and that the aircraft had blown up. They sound like lucid answers to me, and not as though he was thinking about horses or submarines, for example.
In my view, in light of all of the data and evidence of all of the pages of all of the reports and the information displayed in all of the images of all of the photographs in the U.N. file, the only thing I can see that qualifies as a precipitating event is Sgt. Julien’s: “It blew up”. And he was the only one left that was there when it happened.
Airplanes have been blowing up for a long time, in fact for almost as long as they’ve been in existence. There is a lot of video of it happening; I can think of footage that I’ve seen going back to the 1920’s. And I’ve been on-scene to ones within seconds to minutes after the explosion. I’ve salvaged wrecks after the fact, and studied the effects of explosions on structures and materials.
To my experience and observation, on metallic structures, if some event ignites the fuel vapors, it is the vapors that explode and the still-liquid fuel then burns, but the explosive event is by then over. During the explosion some weak area in or near a seam will give way and tear open, leaving, in effect, a chimney from which the burning fuel would exhaust. In aluminum stressed-skin wet wing or bladder tank explosions, there is usually a torn section of skin along a rib or a stringer or even a spar, (weakened because of the drilled holes for rivets) that has opened up and from which the the fire burned upward out. I have never seen an example where the fire burned downward; only upward. Presumably, because heat rises.
In viewing video of air combat, of which many hours exist of footage of most of the combatant countries back to at least WWII, when an airplane being shot at catches fire and smoke begins trailing behind, it is subtle but noticeable that the flames are still burning upward and the smoke is trailing slightly upward.
Another thing that struck me when I was standing near a burning airplane at night, while the fire department was trying to extinguish it with water, which was rather ineffective, was how brightly a gasoline fire lit up the sky in the dark.
As stated earlier, aircraft fuel tanks have been blowing up resulting in the destruction of the aircraft for a long time, for a number of reasons. The incendiary (tracer) bullet was developed during WWI to ignite the hydrogen gas in enemy airships and observation balloons, and was very effective, not only for that purpose but also to ignite the fuel in airplane fuel tanks. As TWA 800 proved in 1996, chafing electrical wiring after arcing long enough could blow a hole through an aluminum alloy sheet and ignite fuel vapors that would explode the tank so violently that it initiated an inflight breakup. About two weeks after that, right here in Alaska an engine failure on a DC-6 led to a chain of events that resulted in ignition of one of the wing fuel tanks which was left to burn long enough to result in the wing folding up and an inflight breakup. Electrostatic discharge (ESD)(static electricity) igniting empty or only partially full fuel tanks was known to have damaged or destroyed (I am going by memory here) about 25 civilian turbojet airliners and comparable heavy military aircraft (bombers, tankers, transports) combined since the introduction of the jet age. For that reason, after an airliner lands at an airport and taxis to its gate and shuts down, along with chocking the wheels a ground cable is attached to a fitting in the structure to remove the static charge it has built up while flying through the air. An airline line mechanic colleague tells me that he has measured as much as 50 volts upon making that connection.
But ESD is unlikely to have been the cause of the explosion that SE-BDY experienced. However, the explosion that Sgt. Julien described is most likely to have been the precipitating event that caused captain Hallonquist to make the decision to get the airplane on the ground, now, immediately if not sooner.
FORCED LANDINGS Forced landings have happened throughout history for nearly countless reasons, but several of the reasons account for the vast majority of the occurrences. Topping the list would be engine failure; if your engine fails you have no choice but to put it down wherever you happen to be. That would be in the involuntary forced landing category. In the voluntary forced landing category, and some statistical database could prove me wrong, but to my experience inflight fire would be at the top. I have before me a list of seven airplanes that I had some thread of connection to in some form or other that were force landed by their pilots into whatever terrain was below them at that moment because it was the only chance they had to stay alive. One of the seven, the aforementioned DC-6, technically doesn’t qualify as an attempted forced landing, because of the captain’s indecision, but all of them resulted in aircraft that never flew again, and in five of the seven all survived, but with some minor injuries. In the other two, there were no survivors. The incidents I am referring to here all occurred in Alaska since 1977, and it is likely that there have been others that never came to my attention. All seven of them were due to inflight fires. One of the seven was a new customer of mine, but the aircraft was one I had never and was destined to never work on.
After almost five months of examining these three reports, the conclusion I would draw is that the case of SE-BDY fits into the category of a voluntary attempted forced landing due to an inflight explosion and fire that was successful until its final seconds, and then an unseen and un-seeable solid object ended its chance for a successful termination.
THE LAST ACTIONS I will attempt to re-create the final minutes of the flight of SE-BDY based on the information in the reports, as I would visualize it to have to have occurred. I want to remind the reader that the largest airplane that I have ever steered through the sky was a DC-3, which is for all practical purposes not all that different from a DC-6. The ancillary control systems in the DC-6 were substantially different in being mostly electrical relay controlled, it had two more engines, and there were more systems in general such as anti-detonant injection (water/methanol) for the engines, reversing propellers, BMEP gauges for fine-tuning engine power and fuel mixture, etc.; it is a considerably more complex machine. But for the purposes of understanding what actions were taken and their results, it would have been basically as follows:
01. The aircraft has descended from the east toward Ndola from its reported maximum cruise altitude of 16,000 ft. and establishes communications with the control tower. It has just flown a long trip, far out of its way to avoid aircraft hostile to U.N. personnel and has avoided radio transmissions as much as possible to avoid detection. The captain states his intentions to enter the NDB instrument approach and is told to report reaching 6000 ft. There are no further communications with the tower.
02. It is likely that at last communication with the tower that the aircraft was already at 6000 ft., based on airport personnel statements and the extreme likelihood that the captain already had the Ndola approach plate in front of him, and had based his descent rate into Ndola to arrive near the minimum descent altitude (MDA) for the area.
03. The aircraft turns onto the outbound course leg and airspeed adjusted to at least 160 knots indicated airspeed. The Ndola approach plate in the U.N. report appendix gave times for approaches at 180 and 200 knots in addition; there is no way to ever know what speed was actually used. My best guess is that it would have been 160 knots.
04. At some point approximately but probably more than half way on the outbound leg course the precipitating event occurs. There is a bang, a flash of light, and then a constant partial illumination of the night sky on the left side of the aircraft.
05. The captain looks out the left cabin window and sees a section of the upper wing skin torn open upwards, with bright yellow flames billowing rearward behind that area. It is possible that he can feel some diminished lift component from the spoiler-effect of the damaged wing skin on that side, and may have moved the aileron trim to compensate.
06. Seeing this, the captain realizes quickly that they cannot expect the wing to last long enough for them to make it the three or more minutes it would take to get back to the Ndola runway; that they probably have only some number of seconds to live. He determines that he is going to land the airplane onto the ground in front of him, whatever that looks like, before the airplane breaks up. He is not going to waste the time it takes to inform Ndola tower of the situation; flight crews generally never do. Investigators wish they would.
07. With his right hand he reaches up and pulls the throttles back; with his left he holds some back pressure on the elevators and with his right hand then starts trimming the elevators nose up. Airspeed begins to decrease, heading toward flap extension speed.
08. The captain has already told the first officer and flight engineer his intentions; they are assisting him in the other physical actions necessary to configure the aircraft for slow flight and landing. It’s possible that the first officer is also assisting him in holding pressure on the ailerons to keep the wings level.
09. The aircraft is slowing down into flap extension range, beginning to descend, the captain is trimming the nose up on and off, waiting to get down to landing gear extension speed, for a large drag component to bleed off the excess altitude. The captain is nominally staying on the turn-back arc of the instrument approach.
10. The aircraft has slowed enough for landing flap angle, then landing gear speed is reached and the captain calls for gear down.
11. With the aircraft slowed well down, in an effort to speed the descent and get rid of the excess altitude, the captain pushes the nose down with the elevators. The wind noise increases, and with the nose down attitude the occupants get a sense of “great speed”, but in reality the DC-6’s landing profile is comparatively steeply nose down in normal conditions, opposite that of jet airliners, that land steeply nose up. The large double-slotted wing flaps, and modest wing loading allow for impressively steep descents at comparatively low airspeeds.
12. Seeing and sensing the proximity to the treetops, the captain begins putting back pressure on the control column, judging the round-out with the experience of 1445 hours in DC-6’s, and rolls out of the procedure turn onto the return course to the NDB. He is possibly helped in his depth perception sight picture by some of the small campfires that the local charcoal makers have burning sprinkled around the general area. He probably doesn’t need landing lights; they are useful for illuminating reflective objects and lighter colored areas/objects, but can be only distracting if there is nothing light to reflect.
13. Having leveled off just above the treetops, the captain retards the throttles to idle and holds back pressure on the elevators and adds more nose up trim to relieve the pressure, bleeding off more speed toward the stall. It is possible that the thought occurs to him for a few thousandths of a second that if he makes it through this, in the future he will insist on having some ballast in the tail on these otherwise fairly empty charter trips. Now would be a good time to be a bit tail-heavy.
14. The aircraft is gently settling, the treetops are beginning to brush the belly, the propellers are chopping off twigs, there are probably some unfamiliar sounds resulting from this.
15. The ever-increasingly sized tree branches are clattering off the sides of the fuselage from the propellers now, the sounds of tree trunks snapping off beneath the belly and wings can be heard clearly. A somewhat larger tree trunk contacts the left wing leading edge a little inboard of the tip rib and shears through the light skin, stringers, etc. and the wing tip falls away to the ground. That left wing just can’t be held up quite level, but the aircraft is still traveling straight, into a little darker darkness.
16. The captain throws the propeller switches into the reverse thrust position as a group with his right hand and when the propellers start translating he reaches for the throttles and begins advancing them forward.
17. The aircraft is halfway or more to the ground and the trees are breaking off lower and lower. The manifold pressures are coming well up and the engines are roaring, the propellers are chopping off ever-increasing sizes of limbs and trunks. The reverse thrust in addition to the arresting effect of the bending and breaking trees are having an effect; the aircraft is well below stall speed now. Landing gear doors are being battered and tearing off, as well as pieces of wing skin, wing flap skin, and possibly horizontal stabilizer leading edge skin.
18. The aircraft has made it to the ground; all three landing gear are on the forest floor. The burning left wing has not had enough time to shed molten sections of skin yet, due to the occurrence at pattern height and the captain’s immediate decision to get the airplane on the ground.
19. The left wing pushes over a larger tree, probably just outboard of the main wheels that doesn’t surrender easily and tears a sizeable hole through the bottom wing skins, instantly dumping a significant quantity of already burning fuel onto the ground.
20. Some or all of the flight deck crew could possibly, for some very small fraction of a second, think that this might turn out OK. They are on the ground, upright, still largely in one piece, all still strapped into their seats, uninjured.
21. The aircraft at this time is effectively a 38-ton bulldozer, mowing down trees on a forest floor that has probably been undisturbed for centuries, if not millennia; I don’t know the history of that area. Except that it’s not built like a bulldozer, and I doubt that one has ever been built that would move at whatever speed it was going at this moment on its own. The nose landing gear at this time cannot withstand the combination of ground roughness, imposed weight, speed, possibly flat or even missing tire, and/or other unknown factors, and collapses, tearing out and further weakening the surrounding structure. The forward fuselage and nose section have pushed the nose gear down to its collapse, and relieved of its resistance continue to plunge downward, crushing and tearing the light aluminum structure to pieces as the forward shifting center of gravity exacerbates the situation even further, as it is effectively standing what originally was a 100 ft. long fuselage on its end.
22. Immediately after this, with the nose section disintegrating, the wing leading edges rotated downward, and well powered-up engines and propellers slicing the ground, the left wing leading edge contacts near the base of the anthill, and the 38 ton mass with still considerable momentum rotates around it, side-loading the second fuselage section that attaches presumably to the front spar section of the wing, ultimately severing it.
I don’t think I need to go any farther with this; I assume the reader knows the rest of the story.
For the aircraft to have been found as described and photographed in the reports, it would have had to happen generally as I have described. A type-rated DC-6 captain could certainly provide more and better detail of the specifics of operations and actions, and a mechanic with a lot of DC-6 experience could provide more and better detail of how things worked in this case, and here in Alaska there is and has been a lot of DC-6 experience, but to my knowledge none have researched this case and come forward with their observations. I suspect that most who are currently alive are unaware of it. I don’t think I had heard of it until maybe ten years ago at the most. But, those who were aware of it at the time, even as children, have kept the account of the crash alive, and rightfully so, as it is an injustice to the memory of those whose lives were cut short.
In my view, the flight crew did everything right. I can’t see a single place where I wouldn’t have done the same thing in that situation. I can’t imagine that approach through the trees and the touchdown on the forest floor to have been accomplished more skillfully by anyone I’ve ever heard of, Eric Brown or Bob Hoover, anybody. I can only hope that I would instantly swallow my fear and act decisively in a similar situation, as this captain and crew did. They are as shining an example to all that it can be done, as others I have known and have heard of have done, as there is.
To me, it is really, and I mean really, obvious what happened there.
I have written this for the offspring, the relatives, and friends of the victims, in hopes that the dark cloud of implication that has surrounded this crew, completely unreasonably I believe, for some six decades now, can finally be lifted.
Joseph (Joe) Majerle III Anchorage, Alaska July 2021
“My clock radio clicked on. The morning news bulletin announced that United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane was missing.
It was Sept. 18, 1961. I was 16.
Over the next hours, my mother and sisters and I learned that Mr. Hammarskjöld, accompanied by Dad and 14 others, had flown from Leopoldville, in the Congo, to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia); that the plane, a DC-6, had not landed at Ndola, its destination; that an unexplained 15 hours went by after the airliner passed over the Ndola airport and before its wreckage was found lying not far from the runway; that all on board save one were dead.
My father, Heinrich A. Wieschhoff, was one of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s political advisers. Their party was headed for talks with the head of the breakaway Congo province of Katanga in hopes of quieting the fighting that had broken out between UN peacekeeping troops and the largely mercenary-led forces backing Katanga’s secession. It was a dramatic moment in the history of this mineral-rich country — a year after it gained independence from Belgium and quickly became embroiled in a violent quagmire involving the interests of not only Belgium but also France, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States.
Days after the crash, we learned that the sole survivor had died. Now there was no one to shed light on what had occurred. My family’s experience was lived in one wrenching way or another by the families of the 15 other victims. The particulars were different; the pain was the same — and only worsened because no one could tell us why the plane had gone down.
From the outset, there were legitimate concerns about the possibility of foul play. Within months of the crash, three inquests were held in rapid succession. The report of a UN commission, relying to a large degree on groundwork done by the-then Rhodesian Federation, was inconclusive, as was a report by the federal civil aviation body. The report of a commission empaneled by the Federation arrived, by a curious turn of logic, at the convenient conclusion that the event was an accident.
At first we assumed the UN would be vigilant in looking for new clues and dogged in running them to ground, and for years that seemed to be the case. Dad’s UN associates fielded our questions about the results of the original investigations and new allegations of wrongdoing promptly and graciously.
Once those associates left the UN, however, I gradually began having doubts that anyone in a leadership position cared much, if at all. One exception was Jan Eliasson, the deputy secretary-general under Ban Ki-moon, who was seemingly alone in advocating a serious look at the death of his idol and fellow Swede, Mr. Hammarskjöld.
The UN’s public posture toward Mr. Hammarskjöld drips with veneration — naturally. Yet when it comes to actually unraveling the circumstances of his death, a certain callousness prevails, despite high-sounding pronouncements to the contrary. In my experience, concern about the other 15 victims is even lower.
One byproduct of this indifference has been a coming together of nearly all the families of the deceased. Partly as a result, I have sensed that the UN is paying more attention to their interests, at least in its public comments. Privately, I still encounter telltale signs that the organization views the search for answers as a housekeeping matter.
For instance, when a group of the relatives sent the UN Secretariat a copy of a letter thanking the UN members sponsoring a recent resolution bearing on the crash, the response was a form letter from the public inquiries team stating that “the matter you raise is one of domestic jurisdiction, and does not fall within the competence of the United Nations.”
In 2011, the inquiry hit a turning point. Susan Williams, who had no prior connection to the crash, published “Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa.” A sobering probe of information that the three post-crash inquests did not have, or had but failed to consider properly, it presented the UN with a chance to dig deep.
Dr. Williams, a historian and senior research fellow at the University of London, did not identify a likely cause of the disaster, but she did present a number of startling claims, including that US intelligence services allegedly eavesdropped as an unidentified plane attacked Mr. Hammarskjöld’s during its landing approach.
The book sparked hope that the UN would finally give the crash its due. First, however, a group of private citizens established a pro bono commission of four jurists to evaluate her findings. In 2013, they determined that significant new evidence could justify reopening the UN’s original investigation.
The stage was set, at long last, to bring this unhappy affair to a definitive close. Unfortunately, instead of insisting that further exploration be unlinked from the agendas of individual member states, and Secretary-General Ban be given a free hand to deal with the crash as he saw fit, the office of the secretary-general solicited the views of certain members of the Security Council. Predictably, influential members signaled their lack of enthusiasm for a full-fledged re-opening of the investigation.
In other words, the UN ducked — in my view, avoiding discomfiting questions about the roles of Belgium, France, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Britain and the US in events related to the crash, and possibly about the UN’s own handling of its original investigation and subsequent new evidence as well.
What followed was five years (and counting) of a piecemeal, woefully ineffective process fashioned to give the impression of rigor. Through resolutions organized by Sweden, the General Assembly first relegated the crash to a “panel of experts” for yet another assessment of new information (2014), then to an “eminent person,” the former chief justice of Tanzania, Mohamed Chande Othman, for follow-up (2016).
The resolutions asked member states to search their archives for relevant material and to declassify sensitive records, namely intelligence and military files. But genuine cooperation from the key players has been slow and halting. Russia and the US, as of a recent date, failed to comply fully with the General Assembly’s resolutions, and South Africa and Britain appeared bent on frustrating the process altogether. To my knowledge, the UN has rarely generated information on its own, so that leaves Chief Justice Othman to rely heavily on private sources.
As far as I am aware, the Secretariat has not engaged at a high level with recalcitrant member states to get them to adhere to the General Assembly resolutions. It has done little to publicize the activities of the chief justice. It has been slow to fully declassify its own archives and still refuses to release some documents.
In their Dag Hammarskjöld Lectures, in Uppsala, Sweden (Mr. Hammarskjöld’s home base), Secretaries-General Ban and António Guterres each mentioned the search for the truth about the crash but at the tail end of their presentations, almost as an afterthought. Instead of taking a meaningful stand, they repeated the hollow refrain: the UN was doing all it could do to find answers and member states should comply with the call to declassify relevant records.
Equally revealingly is the fact that in 2017, Secretary-General Guterres’s office sought to end the Judge Othman probe. Thanks to Sweden’s insistence, the General Assembly renewed his appointment. Did the secretary-general tip his hand last year when, rather than appear in person before the General Assembly, he sent a subordinate to present Judge Othman’s interim report?
His findings were impressive, especially considering his meager support. For his current engagement of about 15 months, Judge Othman has only himself and an assistant, working part time and in different countries, on a budget so small that nearly a third will go toward translating his reports into the UN’s official languages.
The opportunity presented by Dr. Williams and the jurists’ commission still stands. And we may learn more from Judge Othman’s final report, due this summer. I worry, though, that unless that report or a new sense of purpose by the UN can pry the facts out of Britain, the US and other key states, what happened and why will once again fade unanswered into the past.”
Our grandfather Pavel “Tata/Tatusko” Fabry, sharing his love of photography with his son, Vladimir “Vlado” Fabry; circa 1920s.
Baby Vlado held by unidentified person, with “Maminka”, our grandmother Olga Fabry-Palka. Vlado was born on 23 November 1920, in Liptovský svätý mikuláš, Czechoslovakia.
Baby Vlado – those ears!
Vlado having a nap.
Vlado’s only sibling, sister Olga “Olinka”, arrives home; she was born 5 October 1927, in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Their mother, Olga Fabry-Palka, on far right, dressed in black; brother Vlado is on the left, wearing knee socks and black buckled shoes. This photo, and the rest that follow, show the home our family built in Bratislava – it was seized by the Communists in the coup d’état of 1948, handed over as a gift to Russia, and has ever since been occupied as their embassy. You can see recent photos of our home by searching for “Russian Embassy Bratislava”.
Olinka and Vlado with a nanny.
Maminka, Vlado and Olinka playing in the garden.
Olinka with Tatusko.
Admiring the long stemmed roses that Maminka planted.
This photo, and the two following, were taken around 1930.
Olinka with a friend, Maminka in background.
Mother and daughter, so happy!
These two photos are undated, but it looks like Vlado got what he wanted for his birthday! I’m so glad that these photos were saved, but some of them have curled from improper storage. The American Library Association(ALA) website has advice here, for those of you wondering how to safely flatten your old photos.
Bambi! This was Vlado and Olinka’s pet deer – Olinka told us the story about their deer, that it jumped the fence and crashed the neighbor’s wedding party, eating all the cake – and then the police were chasing it all over town!
Olinka and friend.
Pavel Fabry very likely colorized these photos with his set of Caran d’Ache pencils, some of which we are still using! Dated July 1927.
Vlado and his sister had pretty much the same haircut for a while, but this is Vlado on the stairs.
Marked on back “rodina Fabry v Bratislava” – Fabry family in Bratislava. I recognize Olga Fabry-Palka and her mother, but I am unable to identify the others at this time. The next few photos, showing guests visiting the house, are unmarked – help with identification is appreciated!
Here is one of Vlado, the hat and beard don’t disguise!
Pavel, Vlado, Olga, and Olinka, and a chocolate cake, in the dining room.
Vlado with unidentified guests, waiting for cake!
The family all together!
There are more photos, but first, here are important documents which tell the story of our family and home in Bratislava:
Drafts of Pavel Fabry’s Curriculum Vitae, 11 September 1952, printed here:
“Pavel Svetozar FABRY, LLD, was born on January 14th, 1891 of an old family of industrialists and businessmen. After graduating in business administration, he studied law, attaining the degree of Doctor of Law; passed the bar examinations; and successfully completed the examinations required to qualify for judgeship.
During World-War-I, Mr. Fabry served as officer in an artillery division as well as in the service of the Army’s Judge Advocate-General. He became the first Secretary of the Provisional National Council established to prepare the liberation of Slovakia and the orderly transfer of its administration to the Czechoslovak Government. After the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, he was appointed Prefect (chief Government official) for the Eastern part of Slovakia.
When the Communist armies of the Hungarian Government of Bela Kun attacked Slovakia in 1919, Mr. Fabry was named High Commissioner Plenipotentiary for the defense of Eastern Slovakia. In this function he was entrusted with the co-ordination of the civil administration with the military actions of the Czechoslovak Army and of the Allied Military Command of General Mittelhauser. His determined and successful effort to prevent Eastern Slovakia to fall under the domination of Communist Armies – the victorious results of which contributed to the fall of the Communist regime in Hungary – drew on Mr. Fabry the wrath of the Communist leaders; they declared him the “mortal enemy of the people”, led violent press campaigns against him and attacked him overtly and covertly continually and at every opportunity.
After the consolidation of the administrative and political situation of Slovakia, Mr. Fabry left the Government service and returned to his private practice as barrister. He specialized in corporation law and his assistance was instrumental in the founding and expansion of a number of industrial enterprises. He became Chairman or one of the Directors of Trade Associations of several industrial sectors, particularly those concerned with the production of sugar, alcohol, malt and beer. He was elected Chairman of the Economic Committee of the Federation of Industries, and played the leading role in several other organizations. He also was accredited as Counsel to the International Arbitration Tribunal in Paris.
Among civic functions, Mr. Fabry devoted his services particularly to Church, acting as Inspector (lay-head) of his local parish and as member of the Executive Committee of the Lutheran Church of Czechoslovakia. His appointment as delegate to the World Council of Churches’ meeting in Amsterdam in 1948 prompted his arrest by the Communist Government.
Although Mr. Fabry never stood for political office nor for any political party function, he was well known for his democratic and liberal convictions, and for the defense of these principles whenever his activities gave him the opportunity to do so. He earned himself a reputation in this respect which brought him the enmity of the adversaries of democracy from both the right and the left. He became one of the first Slovaks to be sent to a concentration camp following the establishment of a Pro-German fascist regime in 1939. His release could later be arranged and he was able to take active part in the underground resistance movement against the occupant; for this activity the German secret police (Gestapo) ordered his pursuit and execution in 1945, but he was able to escape the death sentence. In spite of his resistance record (or perhaps because of it), Mr. Fabry was among those arrested by the Russian Army, on the instigation of the Communist Party which could not forget his anti-Communist activities dating back all the way to 1919. Due to pressure of public opinion Mr. Fabry’s imprisonment at that time was very short; but when Communist seized power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, they did not miss the opportunity to settle accounts with him. He was removed from all his offices, his property was confiscated, he was imprisoned and subjected to a third degree cross-examination taking six months. No confessions of an admission which could have served as a basis for the formulation of an accusation could, however, be elicited from Mr. Fabry, and he managed to escape from the prison hospital where he was recovering from injuries inflicted during the examination. He succeeded to reach Switzerland in January 1949, where he has continued in his economic activities as member of the Board of Directors, and later President, of an enterprise for the development of new technologies in the field of bottling and food conservation. He was also active in assisting refugees and was appointed as member of the Czechoslovak National Council-in-exile.”
And this, from the September 25, 1961 Congressional Record: “Extension of Remarks of Hon. William W. Scranton of Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives”:
“Mr. SCRANTON. Mr. Speaker, in the tragic air crash in which the world lost the life of Dag Hammarskjold, we also suffered the loss of the life of Dr. Vladimir Fabry, the legal adviser to the United Nations operations in the Congo.
In the following statement by John C. Sciranka, a prominent American Slovak journalist, many of Dr. Fabry’s and his esteemed father’s attributes and good deeds are described. Dr. Fabry’s death is a great loss not only for all Slovaks, but for the whole free world.
Mr Sciranka’s statement follows:
Governor Fabry (Dr. Fabry’s father) was born in Turciansky sv. Martin, known as the cultural center of Slovakia. The Communists dropped the prefix svaty (saint) and call the city only Martin.
The late assistant to Secretary General Hammarskjold, Dr. Vladimir Fabry, inherited his legal talents from his father who studied law in the law school at Banska Stavnica, Budapest, and Berlin. The old Governor before the creation of Czechoslovakia fought for the rights of the Slovak nation during the Austro-Hungarian regime and was imprisoned on several occasions. His first experience as an agitator for Slovak independence proved costly during his student days when he was arrested for advocating freedom for his nation. Later the military officials arrested him on August 7, 1914, for advocating a higher institute of education for the Slovakian youth in Moravia. This act kept him away from the front and held him back as clerk of the Bratislava court.
He was well equipped to aid the founders of the first Republic of Czechoslovakia, which was created on American soil under the guidance and aid of the late President Woodrow Wilson. After the creation of the new republic he was made Governor (zupan) of the County of Saris, from which came the first Slovak pioneers to this city and county. Here he was confronted with the notorious Communist Bela Kun, who made desperate efforts to get control of Czechoslovakia. This successful career of elder Governor Fabry was followed by elevation as federal commissioner of the city of Kosice in eastern Slovakia.
But soon he resigned this post and opened a law office in Bratislava, with a branch office in Paris and Switzerland. The Governor’s experience at the international court gave a good start to his son Vladimir, who followed in the footsteps of his father. During World War II the elder Fabry was imprisoned by the Nazi regime and young Vladimir was an underground resistance fighter.
Dr. Vladimir Fabry, 40-year-old legal adviser to Secretary Dag Hammarskjold with the United Nations operation in Congo, who perished in the air tragedy, was born in Liptovsky Svaty Mikulas Slovakia. He received his doctor’s degree in law and political science from the Slovak University in Bratislava in 1942 and was admitted to the bar the following year. He was called to the United Nations Secretariat in 1946 by his famous countryman and statesman, Dr. Ivan Kerno, who died last winter in New York City after a successful career as international lawyer and diplomat and who served with the United Nations since its inception. Dr. Vladimir Fabry helped to organize postwar Czechoslovakia. His family left the country after the Communist putsch in February 1948. His sister Olga is also in the service of the United Nations in New York City [as a Librarian.-T]. His father, the former Governor, died during a visit to Berlin before his 70th birthday, which the family was planning to celebrate on January 14, 1961, in Geneva.
Before going to the Congo in February, Dr. Fabry had been for a year and a half the legal and political adviser with the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East. In 1948, he was appointed legal officer with the Security Council’s Good Offices Committee on the Indonesian question. He later helped prepare legal studies for a Jordan Valley development proposal. He also participated in the organization of the International Atomic Energy Agency. After serving with the staff that conducted the United Nations Togaland plebiscite in 1956, he was detailed to the Suez Canal clearance operation, winning a commendation for his service.
Dr. Vladimir Fabry became a U.S. citizen 2 years ago. He was proud of his Slovak heritage, considering the fact that his father served his clerkship with such famous Slovak statesmen as Paul Mudron, Andrew Halasa, Jan Vanovic, and Jan Rumann, who played important roles in modern Slovak history.
American Slovaks mourn his tragic death and they find consolation only in the fact that he worked with, and died for the preservation of world peace and democracy with such great a leader as the late Dag Hammarskjold.”
The C.V. of Pavel Fabry from 17 December 1955, which I translated a while back; the letterhead on this first page is from the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, Geneva.
This is the C.V. of our grandmother Olga Fabry, which I have not yet translated. The following statement was made on her behalf, from 30 November 1956:
“I, Samuel Bellus, of 339 East 58th Street, New York 22, New York, hereby state and depose as follows:
That this statement is being prepared by me at the request of Mrs. Olga Viera Fabry, nee Palka, who formerly resided in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, but since 1948 has become a political refugee and at present resides at 14, Chemin Thury, Geneva, Switzerland;
That I have known personally the said Mrs. Olga Viera Fabry and other members of her family and have maintained a close association with them since the year 1938, and that I had opportunity to observe directly, or obtain first hand information on, the events hereinafter referred to, relating to the persecution which Mrs. Olga Viera Fabry and the members of her family had to suffer at the hands of exponents of the Nazi regime;
That in connection with repeated arrests of her husband, the said Mrs. Fabry has been during the years 1939 – 1944 on several occasions subject to interrogations, examinations and searches, which were carried out in a brutal and inhumane manner by members of the police and of the “Sicherheitsdienst” with the object of terrorizing and humiliating her;
That on a certain night on or about November 1940 Mrs. Fabry, together with other members of her family, was forcibly expelled and deported under police escort from her residence at 4 Haffner Street, Bratislava, where she was forced to leave behind all her personal belongings except one small suitcase with clothing;
That on or about January 1941 Mrs. Fabry was ordered to proceed to Bratislava and to wait in front of the entrance to her residence for further instructions, which latter order was repeated for several days in succession with the object of exposing Mrs. Fabry to the discomforts of standing long hours without protection from the intense cold weather and subjecting her to the shame of making a public show of her distress; and that during that time humiliating and derisive comments were made about her situation in public broadcasts;
That the constant fear, nervous tension and worry and the recurring shocks caused by the arrests and deportations to unknown destinations of her husband by exponents of the Nazi regime had seriously affected the health and well-being of Mrs. Fabry during the years 1939 – 1944, so that on several such occasions of increased strain she had to be placed under medical care to prevent a complete nervous breakdown; and
That the facts stated herein are true to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
The first page of Pavel’s C.V., 1955.
This is my translation of the last three pages of Pavel’s C.V., pages 11-13, with photos included to compare and help improve the translation:
“After the Persecution Today
“As the so-called Russian Liberation Army in Slovakia – consuming (raubend) more than liberating – invaded our city, I was immediately arrested and led into the basement of the NKVD, where I found quite a few others arrested. The public, especially the workers in awareness that I freed from deportation a few days before, chose to stand up and with the deputation of workers demanded the immediate release from liability. But the commander of the NKVD also had the deputation arrested and had me lead them into the cellar. The workers union had accumulated in front of the Villa and vigorously demanded the release from liability, whereupon the commander turned to the High command in Kosice, whereupon we were released – seven and a few, but the rest were to be deported to Siberia. The NKVD commander later said I was arrested on the basis of the request of the Hungarian Communists, because I, as High Commissioner in 1919, acted so harshly (so schroff) against the troops of Bela Kun. And he said that if I was released now, I would not be spared Siberia.
The public had reacted sharply. I immediately became an honorary citizen of the circle and an honorary member of the National Committee, elected unanimously, and I was given the two highest honors.
The spontaneous demonstrations of the public gave me the strength to forcefully intervene against many attacks, and also to help my fellow Germans and give confirmation that they behaved decently during the Hitler era, and to stifle all individual personal attacks of vengeance in the bud. As I have already mentioned, I was able to help the internees that they not go to the Soviet zone, as was planned, but were sent to West Germany and Austria. I was a daily visitor to collection centers and in prisons, to help where help was justified.”
“My parlous state of health has not allowed me to carry my work further. The law firm I have has only a limited representation of associates, and these are only my best performing workers.
After the Communist coup performed by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister [Valerian] Zorin for the Communists, the time is broken up with invoices to settle for my work against Communism as High Commissioner in 1919. And on the instructions of the insulted Mátyás Rákosi I was first of all relieved of all my functions and representatives, and subjected to all possible harassment, interrogations, etc. When I went to the delegation, as elected President of the Financial and Economic Committee of the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, in Amsterdam, and was asked for my passport, I was arrested on the pretext of excessive imaginary charges. My whole fortune was taken, all accounts were confiscated and my Villa locked with furnishings, clothes, supplies, and everything, since it was the Consul-General of Russia; and on the same evening I was arrested as a “National Gift”, the nation was taken over, and in the night the Russians transferred the land register.
And so, my health still shattered by the persecution these Nazi monsters caused, they transferred me to the locked section of the hospital to make interrogations there. After seven months detention [In another document it says only 6 months, which I will include here, after this testimony.-T] the workers and employees of some companies succeeded to liberate me in the night on January 21-22, 1949, and led me to a kamion near the border. I had foreseen that the police would know about my escape during the night, and that’s why I escaped (uberschreitete ?) to the Hungarian border with Austria, and again by the Austrian border, since I was immediately searched with many dogs.
I managed with the help of my friends to leave the Soviet zone disguised, and made it to Switzerland where I anticipated my wife and daughter. [I have an audio recording of Olga Fabry, Pavel’s daughter, where she says that her father escaped from the prison hospital dressed as a nun, and made it across the Swiss border by train, hiding inside a beer barrel.-T]
The Swiss authorities immediately received me as a political refugee and assured me of asylum, and issued all the necessary travel documents.”
“To this day I am constantly witness to the most amiable concessions by the Swiss authorities.
In my description of illness, my activity in Switzerland is already cited.
Accustomed to the work of life, and since my health no longer permits regular employment, I have adopted the assistance of refugees. Since Geneva was the center of the most important refugee organizations, I was flooded with requests by the refugees of Western Europe.
I took part on the board of the Refugee Committee in Zurich and Austria, after most refugees came from Slovakia to Austria, and I had to check very carefully if there were any refugees that had been disguised. I was then elected as President of the Refugee Committee, but on the advice of the doctors treating me I had to adjust this activity, because through this work my health did not improve. Nevertheless, I succeeded in helping assist 1200 refugees in the decisive path of new existence.
Otherwise, I remain active in the Church organizations. All this human activity I naturally consider to be honorary work, and for this and for travel I never asked for a centime.
Since I am more than 62 years old, all my attempts to find international employment failed, because regulations prohibit taking on an employee at my age. It was the same case with domestic institutions.
My profession as a lawyer I can exercise nowhere, since at my age nostrification of law diplomas was not permitted. To start a business or involvement I lacked the necessary capital – since I have lost everything after my arrests by the Communists, what had remained from the persecution.
And so I expect at least the compensation for my damages in accordance with the provisions applicable to political refugees.”
Credentials for Pavel Fabry to attend the First Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam, as a representative of the Evangelical church in Slovakia, signed by the bishop of the general church, dated 22 March 1948.
This is a photocopy of a photostatic copy, a statement written by the General Secretary and the Assistant General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, dated 25 March 1948:
“To whom it may concern: This is to certify that Dr. Pavel FABRY, Czechoslovakian, born 14.1.1891[14 January] at Turčiansky Sv Martin, has been appointed as participant in the First General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, to be held in Amsterdam, Holland, from August 22nd to September 4th 1948.
We shall appreciate any courtesy on the part of Dutch and other consular authorities shown to participants in order to facilitate their coming to Amsterdam.”
From what I am able to translate, these next two documents seem to be asking Pavel to ‘voluntarily’ give up a lot of money or else, dated 1 March and 1 April 1948:
Attacks against Pavel Fabry were made in the communist newspaper PRAVDA, all clippings are from 1948, one is dated by hand 26th of August:
“[…]We had Czech visitors a few days ago, a Mr. and Mrs. Debnar [sp?] from Bratislava, and we were deeply distressed to hear from him that Mr. Fabry had been taken off to a camp. Very, very much sympathy to you all[…]”
This is a letter from Vlado to Constantin Stavropoulos, written while he was on assignment for the United Nations in Indonesia, dated 10 October 1948. Vlado was asking for help in getting another assignment, so he could be closer to his family who needed him. I am appreciating more and more the emotional strain Vlado was under while writing this. Trygve Lie was the Secretary-General of the United Nations at this time.
“It’s more than a month now, that I received your cable that there is a possibility of an assigment for me in the Palestine commision, and that you will write me more about it – but I didn’t hear about the assignment anything since. The news which here and there trickle through from Paris or Geneva are not too good. They seem to indicate that I am not welcome there, not only as official, but not even as a visitor and that I should wander around or hide myself as a criminal. It looks as if the administration of my department /and from what they say, the administration of the whole organization as well/ would consider me as an outcast, who in addition to his other sins adds a really unforgivable one – that he behaves and expects treatment as if he would not be an outcast /at least that is what I understood from a letter written to my mother, that I should have voluntarily resigned a long time ago/. Excuse my bitterness – but I am simply not able to understand the attitude which is still taken against me – neither from the legal point of view of my rights and obligations under my existing contract, neither from a moral and ethical point of view which an organization representing such high aims to the outside must surely have towards itself. Sometimes I am [wondering], if the best would not be to let it come to a showdown and have it over once and for ever – it really is getting and obsession under which I have to live and to work all the time, specially since the UN employment means not only mine, but also my mothers and sisters /and maybe my fathers/ security and status. But exactly this consideration of my family’s dependence on it make me cautious and give me patience to try to get along without too much push. But, on the other hand, my cautiousness and fear to risk too much put me in the position of a beggar for favour, which is ipso facto a very bad one -/people who don’t care, or at least don’t show that they care, achieve things so much easier/- and which in addition I do not know how to act properly.[…]”
“Vladimir Fabry, killed in the plane crash that claimed the life of Dag Hammarskjold yesterday in Northern Rhodesia, visited Spokane three years ago.
Fabry, U.S. legal adviser to the United Nations in the Congo is a close friend of Teckla M Carlson, N1727 Atlantic, and he and his sister, Olga, also a UN employee, were her house guests in 1958.
A travel agent, Mrs. Carlson first met Fabry in 1949 at Geneva after he had succeeded in having his father released from a concentration camp. The Spokane woman said they have exchanged letters since that time.”
Vaclav Havel, 17 November 1989, honoring Jan Opletal and others who died in the Prague protests of 1939. This was the start of the Velvet Revolution, which ended on 29 December 1989 with Vaclav Havel elected as President of Czechoslovakia, the end of 41 years of Communist rule.
Before continuing with the next documents and photos from 1990 to 2002, here is a copy of a letter dated 14 April 1948, from Dr. Ivan Kerno, who was Assistant to the Secretary-General Trygve Lie at the United Nations, and head of the legal department, giving his commendation of Vlado’s work. Dr. Kerno was instrumental in Vlado getting his position at the U.N., and was a good friend to the family.
Dr. Kerno’s son, Ivan, who was also a lawyer, would later help Vlado’s sister Olga in 1990, as they were both seeking restitution, and needed someone to investigate the status of their houses in Prague and Bratislava. This fax from Prague is addressed to Mr. Krno, dated 20 November 1990, from lawyer Dr. Jaroslav Sodomka. Dr. Sodomka writes that the Fabry house was “taken in 1951-52[the dates are handwritten over an area that looks whited-out] and later donated to the USSR (1955)[the date and parentheses are also handwritten over a whited-out area].”
“[…]As for Mrs. Burgett I shall also get the remaining extracts; here the problem is clear, be it under the small restitution law or under the rehabilitation law, the house will not be restituted as it became property of the USSR and the Czechoslovak government – probably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – will have to provide the compensation.”
In response to this fax, Ivan Kerno writes to Sodomka, 7 December 1990:
“[…]please do not take any action with the authorities in connection with her house. She wants a restitution of her house, namely, to receive possession of the house, and is not interested in receiving a monetary compensation.
I have read in the New York Times this morning that the Czechoslovakian government has announced that it will compensate persons who have been politically persecuted or jailed under the former regime. This is a clear indication that the present government considers the actions of the former Communist government to have been illegal. It is also a definite precedent for the restitution of family homes which were illegally taken by the previous government and handed over to a foreign government.[…]”
This map shows our property in Bratislava, outlined in red:
From 3 January 1991, Sodomka once again writes to confirm that the house was confiscated in 1951, and donated to USSR in 1955:
“[…]As for your client Fabry, I think that it would be appropriate to address the demand for the restitution directly to the Chairman of the Slovak Government as it was the Slovak Government which has donated the house in 1955 to the USSR Government. This matter also is not touched by the small Restitution Law, the confiscation took place already in 1951 but I think that it would be appropriate to start to speak already now with the Slovak Government.[…]”
Olga Fabry returned to Czechoslovakia with her husband in June 1992, for the first time since her exile, to see the house. This next letter is dated 27 April 1992, and is addressed to Consul General Mr. Vladimir Michajlovic Polakov, Russian Consulate General, Bratislava:
I would like to request an appointment with you on June 17th or 18th 1992 whichever would be convenient.
I plan to be in Bratislava at that time and would like to discuss with you matters pertaining to the villa that my parents built, where I was born and grew up and which now houses your Consulate.
I would greatly appreciate it if you would be kind enough to let me know in writing when I can see you. Thank you.
Olga Burgett nee Fabry”
This is an undated letter from the Russian embassy in Bratislava(our house), the postal cancellation is hard to decipher but appears to be from June 5 1992, and there is a written note to “HOLD Away or on Vacation”. This may have arrived while Olga and her husband were already in Czechoslovakia – finding this waiting back home in New York, I can only imagine how she must have felt! This contradicts what Lawyer Sodomka told her, but it confirms Pavel’s testimony: the house was taken in 1948.
“Dear Mrs. Burgett,
With reference to your letter dated 27.04.1992 we inform you that at your request you have the opportunity to survey the villa while your stay in Bratislava. But we attract your attention to the fact that all the matters, pertaining to the right of property for the villa you should discuss with C.S.F.R. Foreign Office. Since 1948 the villa is the property of the Russian Federation and houses now Gen. cosulate[sic] of Russia.
Secretary of the Gen. consulate of Russia in Bratislava
These photos were taken in June 1992, during Olga’s visit. The roses Maminka planted were still growing strong.
These two are undated, unmarked.
Lastly, the most recent photos I have, dated 25 July 2002, and the roses were still blooming.
When you search for images of the “Russian Embassy Bratislava”, you see the roses have all been removed now, and there is a new tiered fountain, but if you can ignore the flag of Russia and the gilded emblem of the federation hanging off the balustrade, it still looks like our house!
And now, because love is the reason I tell this story for my family, I leave you with my favorite photos of Pavel and Olga Fabry, who did so much good out of love!