May 19, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Iran’s Raisi joins long list of political leaders involved in mysterious crashes

It isn't expected that presidents should go missing or be involved in crashes. However, historically, a number of important political and military leaders have met their end in crashes.
May 19, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Iran’s Raisi joins long list of political leaders involved in mysterious crashes

It isn't expected that presidents should go missing or be involved in crashes. However, historically, a number of important political and military leaders have met their end in crashes.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s helicopter crash in foggy weather over mountainous terrain was a shock for the region, as presidents are supposed to have access to the very best helicopters in their country’s fleet, as well as the best pilots and maintenance crew.

It isn’t expected that presidents should go missing or be involved in crashes. However, historically, a number of important political and military leaders have met their end in crashes. Some of these crashes have led to conspiracy theories about why the crashes occurred. 

In most cases, helicopter and plane crashes were due to malfunctions, pilot error, or bad weather.

UN Secretary Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold

UN Secretary Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, a well-known Swedish diplomat, was killed in the crash of a DC-6 passenger plane on September 18, 1961. 

The plane was run by Transair Sweden and was being used by the UN. It crashed in Zambia. Sixteen people were killed in the crash. Hammarskjöld was involved in sensitive talks about the war in the Congo. 

He was supposed to be going to ceasefire talks related to the war in Katanga, a province of the Congo. An investigation did not find evidence the plane was tampered with and it was assumed it had crashed due to flying too low. 

Nevertheless, the crash sparked various conspiracies, and the UN head was assassinated.

Vice-Chairman of the Chinese Communist Lin Biao

In 1971, Vice-Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Lin Biao was killed in a plane crash. A well-known commander during the rise of the communist party and its battles against the Japanese and Nationalists in China.

 Later, he rose to power within the party. However, as CNN explained in an article about him, “while Lin may have won all his military engagements, a battle of another sort finally defeated him, a political battle in the inner circle of the Communist Party. 

Lin disappeared in 1971. The official Chinese explanation remains that he died in an airplane crash in Mongolia after his plot to assassinate Chairman Mao failed.” It is still not known what transpired during the flight and how he was killed. 

The plane, a Hawker Siddeley HS-121 Trident, crashed in Mongolia.

Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos

Panamanian President Omar Torrijos was killed on July 31, 1981, when his plane crashed near Penonome, Panama. 

He was flying in a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter of the Panama Air Force. It took a day to report the plane missing and several days to find the crash site.

Torrijos was well known for negotiating a deal with the US that gave Panama control over the Panama Canal. His death led to conspiracies.

For instance, many years later, an attorney for Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega asserted that Noriega had information that showed a conspiracy to kill Torrijos. There is no evidence of this conspiracy.

Mozambican President Samora Machel

Mozambican President Samora Machel was killed in a plane crash in on October 19, 1986. He was flying on a Soviet Tupolev Tu-134 jetliner with a Soviet crew. 

Thirty-four people died, but ten survived the crash. 

Senior members of Machel’s government were among the dead. An investigation found that the crew ignored a low altitude warning. 

At the time, however, some conspiracies pointed to South African involvement in the crash. The flight was supposed to be heading from Mozambique to Zambia, however it crashed in South Africa, leading to the conspiracies. 

“The decision to go on descending when they didn’t know where they were is unforgivable,” South African Supreme Court Justice Cecil Margo, who led the international commission investigating the accident, said after the crash.

Pakistan President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the president of Pakistan, was killed in a crash on August 17, 1988. The plane crashed in Bahawalpur. It was supposed to be flying 600km to Islamabad.

Thirty people were on board when it crashed. On board the plane was US Ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel as well as the head of the US military mission in Pakistan and senior Pakistan military officers. The plane was a C-130. The death of Zia occurred as US-Pakistan relations were becoming increasingly important. 

This was amidst the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The fact that so many important people were killed in the crash led to conspiracies. Zia was a far-right politician responsible for supporting Islamist extremists and transforming Pakistan.

South Sudan President John Garang de Mabior

Sudanese leader John Garang de Mabior was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005. He led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement, which is now known as South Sudan People’s Defense Forces, during the struggle by South Sudan to be freed from Sudan’s brutal rule.

 He was traveling in a Ugandan presidential Mi-172 helicopter when it crashed. He was returning to South Sudan after a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. 

He didn’t inform people where he was going and this led to additional time in searching for the helicopter and also rumors about what else may have led to the crash. 

Nevertheless, authorities blamed the crash on the helicopter crashing in bad weather in the mountains of South Sudan. Seven Ugandan crew were killed along with six people in Garang’s entourage.  

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

Iran Iran Politics and Economy