Grim find for US freighter captain at Harare airport

Grim find for US freighter captain at Harare airport

Blood streaming down the fuselage of a U.S. freighter at Harare airport in Zimbabwe led the plane’s captain to a grim discovery at the weekend when he opened a hatch and a body fell out.

Further adding to the intrigue was what was found in the payload of the Florida-owned Western Global Airlines Boeing MD-11 freighter aircraft — millions of rand in cash in suitcases flown from Munich in Germany and bound for Durban, South Africa.

Zimbabwean police impounded the aircraft and the four crew — two from the U.S., a South African and a Pakistani — are being held at an undisclosed location, but it is not clear whether they have been arrested.

It does seem that there is a simple explanation. The MD-11 freighter, leased to U.K.-based Network Airline Management, was carrying the cash consignment for the South African Reserve Bank and flew on the route several times a week, according to a Western Global statement.

"This particular flight was from Germany to South Africa, we are told for the South African Government. During a routine fuel stop in Zimbabwe, a body was found in the lower compartment. The body is presumed to be a stowaway who may have entered the aeroplane during a previous stop. The situation is currently under review,” the airline statement said.

"Western Global provides the aircraft and crew and Network Airline Management provides the cargo, loading and unloading, and ground security as required.”

It is not known where the stowaway boarded the plane that had called at Belgium, Uganda and Nigeria before loading cargo in Munich. The captain reportedly had trouble with the aircraft and was forced to land at Harare.

“The police are now handling the issue and the plane has been grounded at Harare International Airport since Sunday,” said David Chawota, CEO of the Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority, according to BusinessDayLive.

But the South African Reserve Bank wants its cash back and has asked for the urgent release of the cargo.

“The aircraft currently detained at Harare Airport is carrying a consignment of South African banknotes that was produced overseas as part of the SARB’s annual production plan,” the Reserve Bank said in a statement on its website.

Western Global Airlines operates in 44 countries and is one of the world’s biggest commercial cargo transportation services. In association with Network Airline Management, Western Global flew dozens of humanitarian missions to West Africa in support of the Ebola effort, the carrier said.

Contact Greg Knowler at greg.knowler@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.