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Mon Oct 24 07:11:21 CAT 2016

Body, blood, money

Nhlalo Ndaba, Katharine Child and Shaun Smillie | 16 February, 2016 00:32
The plane, travelling from Munich in Germany, to Durban, has been impounded by Zimbabwean authorities. Its crew - a South African, a Pakistani and two Americans - have been arrested. File photo

A dead man and a blood-streaked plane carrying millions in its cargo hold have Zimbabwean authorities demanding answers.

The cargo flight, said to be carrying millions of rands belonging to the South African Reserve Bank, and with what appeared to be a blood streak along its side, arrived in Harare on Sunday morning.

The blood led Zimbabwean officials to discover the body of a man in the cargo hold. The cause of his death is yet to be determined.

The plane, travelling from Munich in Germany, to Durban, has been impounded by Zimbabwean authorities. Its crew - a South African, a Pakistani and two Americans - have been arrested.

The Herald, a Zimbabwe state newspaper, reported that the plane had tried to land in Mozambique because of technical problems but was refused permission and had to divert to Harare.

But Western Global Airlines, the owner of the plane, has denied that the detour was an emergency and said the plane made "a routine fuel stop" in Zimbabwe.

The South Africa-bound flight left Munich on Saturday at 9pm and was due at King Shaka International Airport, Durban, on Sunday morning.

It was carrying a consignment confirmed as belonging to the SA Reserve Bank.

Western Global Airlines said the MD-11 cargo jet flew regularly between Europe and South Africa.

The owner said it believed the body to be that of a "stowaway" and was investigating.

Witnesses said the body appeared blackened and stiff.

The head of Zimbabwe's Civil Aviation authority said the plane had been impounded.

"The case is now before the law- enforcement agents," said David Chihota, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe boss.

Zimbabwean aviation industry sources said the plane's crew explained the blood by saying they had struck a bird in flight.

Yesterday a postmortem was to be conducted on the body.

South Africa's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Vusi Mavimbela, visited the airport on Sunday after the plane had been impounded but he declined to comment on the status of the South African crew member, or the incident, saying it was a matter for the police.

Yesterday the US embassy in Harare would not say if the two Americans had been arrested.

"We have seen press reports and understand that Zimbabwean authorities are investigating," said Karen Kelly, public affairs counsellor at the US embassy in Harare.

But Department of International Relations spokesman Nelson Kgwete said the South African crew member was the responsibility of the company that employed him. Western Global Airlines did not say if it was providing its staff with legal assistance.

In a statement, the airline said: "Western Global Airlines Boeing MD-11 freighter aircraft is leased to Network Airline Management, a longtime customer based in the UK, and the shipment consignee was the South African Reserve Bank.

"Western Global's aircraft fly for Network Airline Management from Europe to Africa several times a week on a regular basis. Western Global provides the aircraft and crew and Network Airline Management provides the cargo, loading and unloading, and ground security as required."

Pradeep Maharaj, group executive for the currency cluster at the Reserve Bank, said the bank was working to repatriate the money found on the plane.

"The bank is aware of an aircraft carrying a Reserve Bank consignment that stopped in Harare and was detained following the discovery of an unidentified body that is presumed to be a stowaway on the aircraft.

"The SA Reserve Bank is working with the relevant authorities to ensure that the cargo is released and transported to South Africa."


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