Wednesday, April 6, 2011

MONUC Plane Crash in Kinshasa

Flying on a UN plane from Entebbe to Goma in 2006
I've gotten a couple of emails from worried people in the USA, who have seen news of a plane crash here in Kinshasa.  What's jarring, at least for the ex-pats, is that it was a UN plane, which we all consider to be "safe".

Lots of the commercial airlines here use extremely old planes, and there is constant fear that they will just fall out of the sky or erupt full of crocodiles or maybe just slowly fall into pieces and one will be left, cartoon-style, sitting in one's seat all by itself as it careens along through the sky with no more plane around it.

But the MONUC flights are supposed to be better than that.  Crocodile-free, even.  I've flown with the UN over ten times already, and even though the planes were laughably dated -- the plane in the above photo had wood-paneling and ancient, faded orange shag carpeting -- I figured that the UN wouldn't be using it if it weren't in good shape.

UN Copter over Goma
One of the scariest flights I've ever taken was actually on a UN helicopter from Goma to Bukavu, across Lake Kivu.  It was me, Willi, and a host of Indian Army guys, and when the copter shook so violently that it felt like each of the bolts would shimmy from its hole and we would explode in a shower of aluminum over the lake, even THEY looked nervous.  But still the pretense of safety persisted.

Lots of aid workers fly around DRC with UN flights sometimes several times in a single month.  I think the recent crash will make everyone wary for a while, and will certainly make MONUC stricter about adhering to weather advisories.  I actually filmed the storm that downed this plane, and that can be watched here.

Mendes Masudi, in front, at a TL2 Workshop in Kindu
In the interim, it's important to mourn the people who died on the flight -- 32 of the 33 people onboard (29 passengers, 4 staff). Names haven't been released to most people, but Terese discovered that an advocate of TL2 was among the dead.

From Terese's blog:

As vice-governor he was our strongest ally in the provincial government. He pushed hard to get the first no-hunting season established. He wanted six months with no hunting and no bushmeat in the market. Finally a three month season became law.
It was his staunch support that gave credibility to the case for conservation of Maniema’s rich Lomami hinterland. Congo’s forests have lost an advocate. Alas.

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