April 27, 1993: A DHC-5D plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. The plane was heading out of Libreville, the capital city of Gabon – a sub-Saharan county on the west coast of Africa. The flight carried the Zambian national football team on their way to Dakar, Senegal to play a 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Senegal. The Zambian Air Force had specially arranged to fly the team and had three refueling stops scheduled. The first was at Brazzaville, Congo and the second was here at Libreville. The de Havilland Canada DHC-5D Buffalo had taken off from Lusaka, Zambia and made the first refueling stop without incident. At the stop, there was an issue with one of the engines but the flight continued on without delay.
A few minutes after takeoff from the second refueling stop in Gabon, the left engine caught fire and failed. The pilot shut down the right engine which caused the plane to lose all power. The plane had still been in its climb and without power, fell into the water about 550 yards offshore. An investigation report issued ten years later attributed the accident to instrument error, pilot error and pilot fatigue. The same pilot had flown the team from a match in Mauritius the previous day. There had been 25 passengers and five crew aboard and all of them were killed in the crash. The team, Chipolopolo, had been doing well and they were hoping to win the 1993 Africa Cup of Nations and make their first World Cup appearance.
The plane had been in service since 1975 but out of service for five months from late 1992 until April 21, 1993. Test flights were done on April 22 and 26. Before takeoff in Zambia, a number of defects in the engines along with carbon particles in the oil filters, disconnected cables, and trace of heating were found. The plane was used for the football team’s transport anyway. There were 18 players, the national team coach, and support staff aboard the plane. The captain of the Chipolopolo team, Kalusha Bwalya, was not aboard as he had been playing in the Netherlands for PSV and had made separate arrangements to get to Senegal. Bennett Mulwanda Simfukwe was supposed to have been on the fatal flight, but was removed from the list of travelers by his employers.
It took a decade for the official report to be released by the Gabonese government. Relatives of the victims continue to lobby the Zambian government to find out how the faulty plane was ever permitted to leave Zambia in the first place. The members of the national team killed in the crash were buried at what is now called Heroes’ Acre near the Independence Stadium in Lusaka. A new team was quickly put together in 1993 and Bwalya was faced with bringing them together to face off in the African Nations Cup, just a few months away. They made it to the finals, but were unable to defeat Nigeria in the last game. The team won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 in Libreville, only a short distance from where the plane had crashed nearly two decades earlier.
Soccer is simple, but it is difficult to play simple. – Johan Cruyff
For me soccer provides so many emotions, a different feeling every day. I’ve had the good fortune to take part in major competitions like the Olympics, and winning the World Cup was also unforgettable. – Ronaldinho
The first World Cup I remember was in the 1950 when I was 9 or 10 years old. My father was a soccer player, and there was a big party, and when Brazil lost to Uruguay, I saw my father crying. – Pele
I need a life outside of soccer. So I very much welcome, you know, new love interests and dating and friends and family. – Hope Solo
Also on this day: Sultana – In 1865, the steamship Sultana has a boiler explode.
John Milton – In 1667, Paradise Lost was purchased for £5.
Appendectomy – In 1887, the first successful appendectomy was performed.
Expo 67 – In 1967, the Expo held official opening ceremonies.
Operation Moolah – In 1953, an unusual offer was made by the US.
* “Lusaka Heroes Acre – memorial” by Francis Alisheke / zambianfootball.net – http://bp1.blogger.com/_fY39EvM2Hpk/SBW_DpcMGsI/AAAAAAAACaI/twk3KjfGMjk/s1600-h/gabon+pyra.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lusaka_Heroes_Acre_-_memorial.jpg#/media/File:Lusaka_Heroes_Acre_-_memorial.jpg