LONDON — The plane had flown deep into the African night on a mission for peace. Finally, it drew near its destination in the copper mining region of what is now northern Zambia. The crew radioed for permission to descend. Then there was nothing.
On the night of Sept. 17 to 18, 1961, the plane, a Transair Sweden DC-6B named Albertina, was carrying Dag Hammarskjold, the secretary general of the United Nations, and 15 other people. Mr. Hammarskjold was on his way to meet with Moise Tshombe, the leader of a bloody secession movement in Katanga, a province of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo with vast deposits of strategic minerals, including uranium and cobalt.
But the four-engined plane crashed minutes after the last radio contact, in a stretch of bushland eight miles from the airport at Ndola, in what was then the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia.
The crash turned a hinge in the tortured narrative of modern Africa, poised between rule by outside powers and independence. But its cause has never been established.
Now, the United Nations has agreed to reopen the Pandora’s box of fragmentary evidence, speculation, obfuscation and wild conspiracy theories surrounding the crash to order a review by an independent panel of three experts.