The Hunyani Disaster
Put together from various books and
news reports. 'Quotes' from survivors may be the journo's own interpretation. ie Mayday
"Under the Skin" by
David Caute ..The Times...The Rhodesia Herald... The Sydney Morning Herald
The safest way to travel around
Rhodesia was to fly. Everyone was agreed about that.
Air Rhodesia flight Rh825 was
operating the daily scheduled flight from Kariba to Salisbury. The four-engine Viscount
which took off from Kariba Airport at 5.10 in the afternoon of the 3rd of September 1978
was carrying a crew of four and fifty-two passengers,
most of whom had been week ending at the lakeside holiday resort, site of the spectacular
dam which spans the Zambezi and thus joins Rhodesia to Zambia.
Despite intermittent rocket and
mortar attacks from Zambia, Kariba had continued to flourish, with hotel bookings only 11
per cent down on the peak year, 1972. Water-skiing, sailing, fishing and the proximity of
abundant game - all this brought tourists and weekenders to the Cutty Sark Hotel or the
Arabic-style Caribbea Bay Hotel with its lakeside boathouse and lush bougainvillea.
Dr Cecil McLaren was returning to
Salisbury after a forty-eight-hour spell of duty as visiting dentist to the Central
African Generating Authority staff responsible for running the great dam. This stint was a
medical man's version of military call-up and his fifty-ninth take-off from Kariba. One of
the last to board the plane, he noticed a spare seat at the back next to a woman and her
4-year-old daughter. He took it. The Viscount Hunyani (named after one of Rhodesia's major
rivers) gained altitude at the normal rate, crossed the waters of the bright-blue lake,
and headed over the remote, sparsely populated bush of the Urungwe TTL. The no-smoking
lights went out as McClaren reached for his cigarettes.
At that moment, five minutes out of
Kariba, the plane suddenly lurched, there was a loud bang and the inner starboard engine
burst into flames. Ground control received a distress call from the Hunyani: the two
starboard engines had failed.
The Times.. Sept 4 1978.. The pilot ,
Captain John Hood, was heard to call out on his radio: "I can't....they're going like
f..." followed by the words "Mayday. Mayday, Rhodesia 825 I have lost both
starboard engines. We are going in."
The Times.Sept 6 1978..The Viscount
was in the air only for a short time before striking trouble. It broadcast a Mayday
distress call at 0510 pm local time on Sunday. Another pilot heard it. "Mayday.
Mayday, Rhodesia 825, help me." it said. "We have lost both starboard engines.
We are going in."
'I was in no doubt we'd been hit by a
heat-seeking missile,' says McLaren, who noted the aircraft's movements during the grim
minutes that followed the explosion. It turned ninety degrees from east to due south, then
Plunged into a rapid descent. Although the air hostesses gallantly made sure that every
passenger was strapped in there was what MacLaren describes as 'a certain amount of
panic'. 'There was panic in the plane the moment we all knew that the two engines were on
fire. A lot of people jumped up. One fellow ahead of me was trying to get through one of
the windows as the plane nose dived.' It was the men who lost their nerve: one man rushed
up and down the aisle shouting for a fire extinguisher.
Survivors estimate it was about five
minutes between the explosion and the impact with the ground. "It felt as if the
plane would break up before we hit. It was going at a heck of a speed," Mr. Hill
On the flight deck Capt. Hood managed
to keep control of the plane as it fell, aiming its nose for a large clearing in the bush.
(in the Urungwe Tribal Trust Land, 50 miles west of Karoi was a cotton-field in the
Whamira hills,a range of granite kopjes, whose name in local shona dialect means "you
have stopped".) The passengers received the pilot's last instruction: 'Brace
yourselves for impact!' McLaren heard the fuselage and wings scraping against the tops of
trees and then the wheels touched down quite smoothly and it seemed they were going to
have a fantastic escape. But the centre of the cotton-field was penetrated by a wide
irrigation ditch; as the wheels hit it the plane cart-wheeled and exploded. When the
wreckage finally came to a halt McLaren was upside-down five or six rows from the back and
powerful flames were threatening to engulf them from the front of the plane. He tried to
open a window but the handle broke in his hands. 'We hit the ground with terrific impact.
I landed upside down with my mouth full of earth. The broken plane acted like a scoop
scooping up dirt'
Even so he managed to release
4-year-old Tracey Cole from her seat-belt and somehow led the child and her mother, Mrs.
Sharon Cole, out of a hole in the fuselage. "I really don't know what exactly
happened after that in proper sequence. I saw a gap in the wreckage through which one
could get through. I shouted at Sharon. (Sharon Cole) "Sharon get your seat
belt loose." She hadn't done that. Somehow Sharon followed me through taking Tracy
Shannon (18) and Robert Hargreaves
(28), who had been married for a week told......."bits of metal were flying past the
windows. We could feel the heat from the flames." Shannon was staring at the flames
in horror, so I drew the curtain closed and told her to put her head between her knees and
hold her ankles. I felt the impact and the sand all over me and saw the plane break up.
After that I remember nothing until I got outside."
Hargreaves said her husband had been flung out of his seat and was screaming for her. She
shouted to him to get out and found she herself was trapped between two seats and could
not move. "It was only when I heard Dr McLaren shouting at Mrs. Coles to release her
seat belt that I realised this was why I could not get out. Dr McLaren helped me out and
Robert crawled out."
The plane was an inferno. Only
eighteen out of fifty-six survived the crash, all of them passengers seated in the rear.
Among the other survivors was a friend of McLaren's, Tony Hill; between them they did
their best to get the living to a distance of some seventy-five metres from the flaming
plane, which they expected to explode any minute. The lucky ones ripped off their clothes
to make bandages for the injured; Cynthia Tilley(This was
incorrect it was Cheryl Tilley ,webmaster) , a young Salisbury
bank clerk and sister of 15-year-old Colin Tilley, shot down by guerrillas outside his
home in January, shredded her colourful cotton dress and began to tend the wounded. It was
painfully hot: To Cecil McLaren it seemed that the most urgent task was to find water.
He led a small party towards the
smoke of a nearby village: Mrs. Cole and Tracey, as well as Robert and Shannon Hargreaves,
a honey-moon couple who were not only stunned and injured but had lost their shoes.(They
had in fact been wearing slops) (Sharon's hand would remain permanently disfigured,
while her husband's twisted back and neck would result in months of pain, medical
treatment and bitterness.) McLaren himself was wearing lace-up training shoes. Although
McLaren, born in Rhodesia of Rhodesian-born parents, spoke Shona fluently, the villagers
reacted to their presence with suspicion, indeed hostility. 'When we got
there, there was nobody. I spoke in the vernacular. Eventually a door opened and a face
appeared, then another door opened. I asked a woman for water. At first she refused. Then
she gave us some. We splashed our eyes and faces and went back to the aircraft. A young
hostess was lying on the ground saying "please give me some water. Her upper arm as
When he finally extracted some water
McLaren took it back to the survivors at the scene of the crash before returning to the
village for more. 'The local people were obviously terrified of giving us any help. 'Like
Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain, beleaguered among hostile natives, McLaren possessed and
displayed what Mrs. Cole later called 'presence of mind and strength of character'. He is
a dark man, Celtic in appearance, shy, courteous and conservative; he speaks in the quiet,
clipped Rhodesian manner.
As he led his sad little limping
party back towards the plane, carrying more water, the light was fading. His mouth and
ears were still full of earth - the fuselage had ploughed up the field after the plane
turned over - and he failed to pick up new voices at the scene of the crash. This was the
second act of the nightmare: Zipra.
Sharon Cole whispered: 'I hear
African voices.' Then she heard shouts of 'Buia lapa' followed by 'Come here!' in
English.' "On the way back, Sharon suddenly stopped and said 'I hear African voices'.
Next thing, we saw tracer bullets going over the trees-zip zip . We didn't even hit the
deck. Whether this was the Terrs giving warning to the locals or the Terrs shooting at the
survivors I couldn't tell."
The Rhodesia Herald told a
slightly different story: Just as they were about to return to the crash site with
water for the other survivors they saw tracer bullets go over the village and heard
gunfire. "I thought it was ammunition from people's personal weapons in the plane
exploding in the heat," said Mrs. Hargreaves. Not realising what had happened they
continued towards the plane until after shouting out to the other survivors only an
african voice replied, saying: "Come here" "They then opened up on
us," said Mr. Hargreaves. "I grabbed Shannon and we ran to a ditch were we spent
From a distance McLaren had heard an
elderly Englishman, the only male among the captives, shout: 'What do you bastards want
now?' A guerrilla replied: 'You have taken our land!' A protracted burst of firing
followed - all ten fell dead, including Cynthia Tilley and two girls aged 11 and 4.
At that moment the eighteen surviving
whites comprised the following: the five in McLaren's group;
Tony Hill, who, after searching for a
usable weapon in the wreckage, tore off his white shirt and deliberately ran through a
grass fire to cover his escape when a dozen Zipra guerrillas showed up; a Mr. and Mrs. Hansen, who managed to
hide themselves in the wreckage, where they covered themselves in dirt and debris and lay
still all night; and the remaining ten who were taken
captive. At first the guerrillas promised help
and water. "They got us together, forcing those who could walk to carry those that
couldn't" said Mr. Hans Hansen. "Then they opened up with sustained automatic
fire. It was the most brutal thing I have ever seen."
That brought the death toll to
The Rhodesia Herald . "We
ran," sad Mr. Hill. "They kept firing at us until we ducked behind a
ridge." The survivors stayed hiding for about two hours. Then the terrorists came
back. They raided the aircraft wreckage looting suitcases that were strewn around, while
the survivors, hidden in the nearby bush, watched in horror as the terrorists made
off "with their hands full." said Mr. Hanson. Mr. Hanson is sure he
heard a terrorist's bayonet as he drove it several times into the body of a seriously
wounded survivor who was killed in the first sustained burst of automatic fire two hours
previously. Mrs. Hansen said, "They were terribly brutal. They took
everything." "I can't think how people would do such a thing. They are
animals," said Mr. Hansen.
McLaren recalls: "I said to
Sharon Cole, 'Now we're on our own. 'We all ran off into a river bed and went along it
until we reached what looked like the most secluded spot. And there we sat, quietly. Night
had fallen by this time." He was unaware that Tony Hill and the Hansens had survived.
In fact Hill spent the night in the same ditch as McLaren's party, though neither was
aware of the other's presence. Through much of that long, bitterly cold night they
listened to the stomping boots of the killers searching for them.
"Tracey was marvelleous. She
didn't make the least noise." A single high-pitched, hysterical cry of 'Mummy!' from
little Tracey could have ended the story, yet she never made a sound and went to sleep,
dressed in a cotton dress, on top of McLaren. McLaren again: 'When I heard an owl hoot and
a baboon I shuddered. It was the longest and most terrifying night of my life.' Sharon
Cole was in great pain from a huge cut in her shoulder. Dr McLaren said, "Myself and
all the others were still in shock but we spent the night all right. For hours we heard
footsteps in the bush about us and we kept very quiet. You couldn't have had a better kid
with you than Tracey."
"In the morning," Mr.
Hargreaves said, "we moved up to a higher point where we hid between some rocks and
slept for a while. At 10:30 a.m we decided to take our chances and find help."
In the morning, there being no sign
of rescue aircraft or helicopters, McLaren decided to head for the main Salisbury-Kariba
road. It was here that his coolness in taking note of the Viscount's ninety-degree turn
after it was hit paid dividends; the dentist could roughly reckon their present position.
It wasn't a happy little party of hikers. The injured Hargreaves shuffled barefoot behind
them, their feet torn and blistered; ever-ingenious, McLaren tried to fashion shoes for
them out of bark. Tracey had to be carried.
"All along the way, we came
across hostile people. No I wouldn't say hostile-they were obviously very frightened.
Whenever I went up to a kraal and asked for help, I would say 'if you can help, okay. If
you can't, okay." The villagers along their route remained gloweringly hostile.
Towards noon he wondered whether he had made the right decision when they saw paratroopers
dropping from Dakotas over the scene of the crash. "Roundabout this time we spotted a
Dakota dropping paratroops and I jumped up and waved my arms like mad. But I knew they
hadn't a chance of seeing us. The Hargreaves were having trouble. They were wearing slip
slops on the plane and had lost them. They didn't have any shoes and were lagging behind.
"Sharon and Tracey had gone on ahead along a road and the Hargreaves said I shouldn't
worry about them. But I couldn't leave them alone like that -no way. Rob had a damn sore
neck and was having trouble keeping his balance. Once he stumbled badly. I made shoes for
them out of grass- Sharon and Tracey were sitting waiting for us at the side of the
road-when a Land Rover came along." Dr McLaren said the group had "a pretty
scary time of it" trudging through the bush and wondering whether the next tribesmen
would be terrorists.
But when they did finally hit the
main road after walking twelve to fifteen kilometres they were almost instantly picked up
by a police Land-Rover.
An Alouette helicopter flew them to
Karoi. "Alouettes have no door. I felt terrified. I was clinging to the pilot's
safety harness enough to strangle him and hating the low level at which we were
flying." At Karoi the Special Branch debriefed them and warned them not to discuss
what had happened. When he got back to Salisbury, and turned on his TV set, he was
astounded to hear Capt. Pat Travers, head of Air Rhodesia, describe the crash as an
Times 6 Sept 1978....Captain Travers
said there was no evidence at present to suggest that the aircraft had been brought down
by hostile action from Mr. Nkomo's or any other force. The message from the pilot was
explicit. It said that both starboard engines were out of action." From evidence
gathered so far, the crew were in control of the Viscount to the point of touchdown.
It was self-evident to McLaren that
the Hunyani had been brought down by a heat-seeking missile.
Not talking to the press presented no
problem to a man who harbours the greatest contempt for journalists. One of the
sensationalistic Jo'burg papers claimed that the white females had been raped by the
terrorists before being murdered, though this was untrue (as was confirmed to me by the
doctor who examined the bodies). One local girl reporter told McLaren, 'I'm not here for
the truth, I want fiction.' When another reporter, though rebuffed over the phone, showed
up on McLaren's doorstep for an interview, the dentist threatened to shoot him if he
didn't push off.
Rhodesia Herald 5 Sept 1978..The
Combined Operations statement went on: " Security force members on arriving at the
scene of the crash this morning said a starboard engine appeared to have exploded and the
starboard external side of the plane was heavily scorched. The terrorists looted the
How anyone survived Sunday
nights Viscount crash is the question now puzzling all who have seen what little
remains of the ill-fated aircraft. (See photo on Viscount Down website) Early yesterday morning, a team of Salisbury
journalists were escorted from Karoi by Police and Army for 83 km through the densely
wooded and hilly terrain of the Urungwe Tribal Trust Land to the crash site, about 35 km
south-west of Kariba. The Investigating team, headed by Captain John Heap of Air Rhodesia,
and Mr. Phil Palmer, chief security adviser to the Department of Civil Aviation, were
already at the scene for the second day, sifting through the wreckage of the aircraft,
later catalogued and sent to Salisbury for analysis. Captain Heap said it was impossible
to say when the cause of the crash would be known."I dont want to.jump to any
conclusions," he said.The Viscount, piloted by.Captain John Hood (36),came down in a
cotton field about the size of two football fields divided in half by a donga more than 2
m deep and about 4 m wide.
The plane had clipped the tops off
surrounding trees before making what aviation experts at the scene judged to be "a
very soft landing". "This shows incredible accuracy by the pilot considering the
circumstances", one said. Chief Inspector Mike Farrell, who led the facility trip,
added: "It was a fantastic bit of flying to come down the way he did. The pilot must
have thought that he was landing in a full field. He could not have known that the donga
lay in the middle. He probably had only a couple of minutes to make his decision on where
to come down," The Viscount, it appears, cartwheeled after the impact,
disintegrated,exploding in a ball of fire, scattering parts of its wings and fuselage up
to 200m around.
Most pieces of the wreckage were
small, surrounding the only recognisable parts of the Viscount, the tailplane and a 3 m
section of the rear, fuselage. About 20 men, aided by Police and Army, picked through
ripped and molten metal and cockpit instruments. Among the debris were the personal
belongings of the victims-pathetic reminders of their ill-fated holiday at
The bodies of the ten crash survivors
later murdered by terrorists were found 10 m to 15 meters apart, Mr. Farrell said, which
indicated the victims had scattered as the terrorists opened fire on them. At least three
of the bodies had been repeatedly bayoneted after death.
Asked by reporters why the local
people, some living within a kilometre of the crash, had not come to the assistance of the
survivors, Mr.: Farrell said, "Most would have stayed in their homes because of
terrorist intimidation. They were frightened, This area has quite a strong terrorist
By late yesterday afternoon the
investigation team had left the scene. First parts of the, wreckage to be scrutinised will
probably be the engines, two of which were reported by Captain Hood to have failed. These
were removed yesterday: left behind were only charred scraps of the ill-fated Flight 825.
Anger and grief turned to insensate
fury two days later, on 5 September, when RBC -TV relayed the soundtrack of a BBC
interview with Joshua Nkomo, in the course of
which he not only confirmed that his forces had brought the plane down but chuckled and
chortled over his triumph, which he justified on the ground that such planes carry
Sydney Morning Herald..."We
brought that aircraft down, but it is not true that we killed any survivors." Mr
Nkomo said. The Rhodesians have been ferrying military personal and equipment in
Viscounts and we had no reason to believe that this was anything different. The Rhodesians
should know this is a military zone."
"This is a downright lie."
Captain Travers said. "The airline is not engaged in any military operations, neither
does it carry troops, arms, ammunition or supplies for this purpose. It never has
been.....In our opinion, had the aircraft been hit by a missile or any other weapon the
crew's first reaction would have been to say so. No words of mine could adequately portray
the sense of complete horror and deep rooted revulsion which is felt by the whole of the
(Air Rhodesia Corporation at the wanton, brutal and bloody massacre of 10 innocent and
unarmed survivors, mostly women and children, who were bludgeoned, shot and bayoneted to
death by a gang of unspeakable thugs."
The Times...6 Sept 1978 ...The
Foreign Office expressed its shock at the incident but said it had no independent evidence
of what had happened or who was responsible. "Yet again there has been a horrible and
tragic incident in Rhodesia involving innocent civilians. We deplore the whole incident
which, once more, underlines the need to bring this disastrous war to an end by
negotiation and achieve independence and majority rule for Zimbabwe."
Five days after the disaster the
Minister of Transport confirmed that the plane had been shot down by a 9M32
"Strela" missile, commonly known as a Sam 7.
In the House of Assembly, Wing
Commander Rob Gaunt called for martial law, the banning of Zapu, and a postponement of the
white referendum on the internal settlement. Donald Goddard, the virulent young MP for
Matobo, interjected: 'Hang them publicly.' Gaunt warned that Africa was now going to
witness the wrath of really angry white men.
For Ian Smith it was a political
disaster. Almost simultaneously it was revealed that he had met the murderous Nkomo for
secret talks in Lusaka only three weeks earlier. As crowds gathered outside the Anglican
Cathedral of St Mary's and All Saints for the funeral service, an irate Rhodesian and
father of four, Gideon Tredoux, held up a banner: 'PM Smith - Give Nkomo a message next
time you meet him secretly: "Go to hell, you murdering bastard."' When Bishop
Paul Burrough pulled down one of the hate posters, he was booed. Two thousand mourners
packed into the Cathedral and a further 500 stood outside: the atmosphere was highly
charged. At Cynthia Tilley's funeral at the Presbyterian Church on Jameson Avenue, one
mourner growled: 'If that is not a satanic act, what is? You don't make a pact with the
devil. He should be shot.'
The Rhodesia Herald.....The killing
of the crash survivors was also condemned by Bishop Desmond Tutu, general secretary of the
South African Council of Churches in a statement in Johannesberg. The statement said no
condemnation could be strong enough for such a heartless act of slaying defenseless and
helpless people, and heartfelt sympathy went to their relatives and friends.
A Deafening Silence'-
the Anglican Hierarchy
The funeral service for the victims
was the occasion of a remarkable sermon by the Anglican Dean of Salisbury, a fulmination
which provoked a long and sour controversy within the churches. The Very Rev. John da
Costa is tall, strongly built, bearded, white-robed, flamboyant, with a hale and crunching
handshake - and quick-tempered. Trained by the Society of the Sacred Mission, da Costa had
worked in West Africa and then among the Coloureds of Cape Town, where he served as
adviser on missionary work to the Archbishop.
Gazing down from the cathedral pulpit
on 2000 mourners, da Costa began by dissociating clergymen from politics: 'I will not
allow politics to be preached in this Cathedral.'And yet, and yet: 'times come when it is
necessary to speak out' against 'murder of the most savage and treacherous sort' which can
arouse only 'disbelief ... revulsion'. Choosing his words carefully, the Dean declared:
'This bestiality, worse than anything in recent history, stinks in the nostrils of
heaven.' (The cockney accent is continually surprising.)
The Rhodesia Herald some
extracts........"Nobody who holds sacred the dignity of human life can be anything
but sickened at the events attending the crash of the Viscount Hunyani. Survivors have the
greatest call on the sympathy and assistance of every other human being. The horror of the
crash was bad enough, but that this should have been compounded by the murder of the most
savage and treacherous sort leaves us stunned with disbelief and brings revulsion in the
minds of anyone deserving the name "human". This bestiality, worse than anything
in recent history, stinks in the nostrils of heaven. But are we deafened by the voice of
protest from nations which call themselves "civilised"? We are not. Like men in
the story of the good Samaritan. They 'pass by on the other side'. One listens for
condemnation by Dr David Owen, himself a medical doctor, trained to help all in need. One
listens, and the silence is deafening. One listens for loud condemnation by the President
of the United States, himself a man from the Bible-Baptist belt , and once again the
silence is deafening. One listens for condemnation by the Pope, by the Archbishop of
Canterbury, by all who love the name of God. Again the silence is deafening. I do not
believe in white supremacy. I do not believe in black supremacy either......The
ghastliness of this ill-fated flight from Kariba will be burned upon our memories for
years to come. For others far from our borders, it is an intellectual matter, not one
which affects them deeply."
Da Costa accused 'the nations which
call themselves civilised' of a deafening silence. Neither Dr Owen nor the President of
the USA, nor the Pope, nor the Chief Rabbi nor the Archbishop of Canterbury had condemned
the deed loudly and clearly. So who was to blame? First, those who fired the guns. And who
were they? Men and youths who, as likely as not, had recently attended church schools.
Shooting from the hip, the Dean raked not only the -TV and cinema screens of the world for
glorifying violence, but also the UN and the World Council of Churches who each paraded 'a
pseudo-morality which, like all half-truths, is more dangerous than the lie direct'. But
really all the churches were to blame for failing to defeat the 'satanic forces' of
Communism by means of prayer, praise and religious witness.
Even though the Canon Press sold
38,000 copies of the sermon and a record company sold 25,000 discs (for which the Dean was
awarded a golden disc), he describes 'A Deafening Silence' as 'the most disastrous failure
of my whole ministry'. Why? Because the brother canons of the Cathedral were angry about
it; because nonconformists accused him of violating his own ban on political sermons.