The Death of United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold

Dag Hammarskjold’s death has been subject to much speculation ever since his plane went down in the African jungle during the night of September 17 -18, 1961.

The undisputed facts:

On the night of 17 September, Hammarskjold and fifteen others, en route to negotiate a ceasefire between the United Nation’s forces deployed in the Republic of the Congo and forces of the breakaway Congolese region of Katanga, took off in Douglas DC-6 bound for Leopoldville and crashed near Ndola in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. As a security measure, no flight plan was filed and a decoy plane had left earlier flying a different route to the same destination.

A United Nations report issued after the crash stated that an unidentified aircraft had flown over the Ndola Airport the night of 17 September. Further a bright flash was reported to a local police station about 1 AM the same night that Hammarskjold had died. Also the Prime Minister of the Congo issued a press release that seemed to blame “the great financial Powers of the West” for the plane crash.

The Official Inquires:

There were three official commissions or boards of inquiry into the plane crash: a Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation. The three investigations all failed to conclusively determine the cause of the crash. They found no evidence of a hijacking, bombing or a surface-to-air shoot down.

Alternative Theories:

Even though the three official investigations found no evidence of foul play, some people still think that Hammarskjold was assassinated.

Former President Harry Truman reportedly said; “they had him killed” without saying who “they” were.

Western intelligence agencies were certainly active in the Congo. They had colluding with mercenary forces in the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the former Prime Minister of the Congo. Many of the alternative theories on the plane crash revolve around the involvement of Western intelligence agencies and mercenary forces.

For example, on 19 August 1998, Archbishop Tutu of South Africa said that recently discovered letters implied that the British Intelligence, the CIA and BOSS (the then South African intelligence service) had killed Hammarskjold by placing a bomb on the plane. Tutu said that he was unable to verify the truth of the evidence. The British Foreign Office said that the letters were most likely Soviet disinformation.

Further, in an interview on 24 March 2007, on Norwegian TV, an anonymous mercenary claimed that he had spoken with yet another South African mercenary who then had claimed to have shot Hammarskjöld. The alleged killer was said to have been dead for some 20 years at the time of the interview.

Other theories are that the plane had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile or by a mercenary-flown Fouga fighter reported to have been in the area.

As late as 2009 there have been calls in the UN General Assembly to have yet another investigation into the murder of Lumumba and the death of Hammarskjold.


Platnick, Kenneth B. (1971) Great Mysteries of History. Hippocrene Books. 1962

Gavshon, Arthur (1962). The Mysterious Death of Dag Hammarskjold. New York: Walker and Company.

Hollington, Kris (2008). Wolves, Jackals and Foxes. Thomas Dunne Books


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