By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 30th 2023)
In the early hours of April 28th 1993 the world awoke to news of the worst air disaster to affect an international football team. Zambia’s promising team were on their way to Sénégal for a World Cup qualifier, but the DHC-5 Buffalo (De Havilland Canada) owned by the Zambian Air Force plunged into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after take-off from Gabon’s capital Libreville killing all 30 on board.
That included 18 of Zambia’s national team players, fresh from a victory over Mauritius just two days earlier – the Golden Generation – the team’s doctor, a journalist, five members of the flight crew, three officials of the Football Association of Zambia and two of Zambia’s greatest ever former players who were embarking on their journey into coaching, Alex Chola and Africa’s Goal King, Godfrey Chitalu.
The pilot, Fenton Mhone, was unfairly blamed by some for the crash as he switched off the wrong engine, but that ignores the fact that the other engine, the left one, was so faulty that a disaster was likely anyway. The plane had required repairs in both Brazzaville and Libreville. Official reports – both Gabon’s and Zambia’s have not been released fully in the three decades since the tragedy.
The conclusions of the Gabonese report indicated pilot error caused by fatigue, but the plane had not flown since December 21st 1992. It had test flights within a week of its fatal last flight. The tests conducted on April 21st, 22nd and 26th indicated serious issues with the engines: “certain defects such as carbon particles in the engine and in speed decreased gearbox oil filters, disconnected or unbridled cables and trace of heating.” This was quoted by the Aviation Safety Network.
Simply put, why was this plane allowed to fly at all?
25th Anniversary Commemoration
We covered the 25th anniversary of the disaster (see https://empowersmag.com/empowersmagwp/2023/05/02/zambia-remembers-football-remembers/). Then President of the Confédération Africaine de Football, Ahmad Ahmad and FIFA President Gianni Infantino shared their thoughts supporting Zambia.
“Till this day, Tuesday, 27 April 1993 remains the darkest moment in the history of Zambian football and one that shocked the entire football world,” a message from Ahmad Ahmad said.
“Such a painful memory when the plane carrying the Zambian team for a World Cup qualifier against Senegal crashed off the coast of Libreville, Gabon, killing all 30 persons on board, can never be forgotten so easily especially as the 18 players who died constituted probably the best team in the history of Zambian football.
“As we mark the 25th anniversary of the painful incident. On behalf of CAF Executive Committee, African football family and my own behalf, I would like express sincerest sympathies to the families who lost relatives, Football Association of Zambia and the entire Zambian population. Our thoughts are with you in this difficult period.”
Never to be Forgotten
FAZ President, Andrew Kamanga read out a statement from Infantino as well. A Ghana shirt signed by Ghanaian legends was presented to Joyce Chabala, widow of legendary KK11 and Mulfira Wanderers goalkeeper, David Efford Chabala, by one of Zambia’s greatest coaches the recently deceased Colonel Brightwell Banda, and Zambian icon Ackim Musenge.
She presented it to FAZ to be publically displayed later.