Kisumu plane crash: 60 year secret exposed

Life has a strange way of bringing out events. A quiet stroll on the shores of Lake Victoria led this writer into a 60 year secret from Kenya’s colonial past. Coincidence? But there are still many unanswered questions, as J. Wafula reveals.

C-47 military transport aircraft. Picture by Wikipedia.

A C-47 military transport aircraft. Picture by Wikipedia

It was a warm, Sunday afternoon in Kisumu back in 2006. I was relaxing on the shores of Lake Victoria after a busy week. My wife was at home and, quite frankly, I just wanted to be by myself this afternoon. No, we weren’t having problems but I think, every once in a while, everybody needs some space.

I went down to the kiosks at the end of Oginga Odinga street, bought a soda, and strolled down to the lake where local boys wash cars. It was a great experience, the cool breeze blowing from the lake made the place much cooler than the rest of Kisumu. As the rays of the evening sun shimmered on the waves, I wished I had a camera to capture the moment. Everybody was busy minding their business and I became lost in my own thoughts.

He came and stood next to me, a slightly built, not very old man. Maybe in his 60s. He looked like he lived in the vicinity for he was casually dressed and in slippers. At once, I resented him for intruding on my space, but then this was a public ground and he had as much right to be there as I was. I hoped he wouldn’t start conversation but I was soon to be disappointed.

The old man started talking about lake monsters, those that could swallow fishing boats. I didn’t understand what he was talking about. He told me how these monsters could travel on both land and water, how they moved from the lake and into nearby mountains. Actually, I began to feel sorry for the old man because I thought he was desperate for an audience. Perhaps, where he lives, nobody pays attention to him.

The old man told me about a plane that crashed into the lake at Kisumu. After listening to stories about monsters and dragons, I didn’t believe a word he said. The old man said that many years earlier, a plane crash had killed many white people, or “Waingereza.” Well, in all my years in Kisumu, I had never heard of such an incident. Having been an avid fan of Kenyan newspapers for close to 30 years, there had never been mention of the disaster. I was convinced that, had it happened, I would have read about it by then.

As I went home at dusk, I admitted to myself that perhaps a plane crash had indeed occurred. After all, the Kisumu airport is just a short distance from the lake itself. However, I beleived that only a handful of people could have died. Word of mouth may have exaggerated the figures with time. Where aircraft are concerned, what could the local people possibly know?

Here we are today: 2008. A lot of things have changed. I am in a bigger job, we moved to a bigger house and Kisumu is yet to recover from the destruction of post-elections violence.

My boss asked me, a few weeks ago, to do some research on tourism for the Western Kenya circuit. The government is trying to promote tourist attractions in Nyanza and Western provinces. So, I was to create a report and marketing material to that effect. Naturally, I went to the internet to research on the topic.

As it turned out, there wasn’t as much information on Kisumu as I expected. I had to scroll through endless search pages while coming up with none of the information I was seeking. I came across church websites, NGO websites, blogs and news websites but it was of little use. I found a website talking about an aircraft accident in Kisumu and since there hadn’t been any news to that effect, I clicked on the link to see more. What I found just blew me away considering the information that was handed to me two years ago.

There really had been a plane crash in Kisumu. And the old man had not exaggerated on the number of dead in that incident.

According to the Aviation Safety Network (http://aviation-safety.net), a South African Airforce aircraft crashed into Lake Victoria on 11th July 1945. The military transport aircraft – registration number 6812 – was taking off from Kisumu Airport. All 28 people in the plane died, four of whom were the crew.

The Aviation Safety Network says that the C-47 transport plane was, “written off” after the disaster. The destination is listed as, “unknown.” However, further research on the internet shows that in the 1940s, Kisumu was a stopover and refuelling point for flights between Southern Africa and Egypt. It is therefore possible that the South African military plane was either heading home, or flying northwards.

On the aircraft model, Wikipedia says the following: The Douglas C-47 Skytrain or Dakota is a military transport that was developed from the Douglas DC-3 airliner. It was used extensively by the Allies during World War 2 and remained in front line operations through the 1950s with a few operating to this day. The C-47 was driven by two propellers attached to powerful piston engines. The aircraft had a capacity of about 28 people, meaning the ill-fated Kisumu plane was almost full.

World War 2 was coming to a close by 1945. It is possible that the South African C-47 may have been flying to Europe or Asia where the Allies were victorious. Such a mission would purely have been staff transport or logistical due to the nature of the aircraft.

The possibility of sabotage is ruled out, for there were no hostile activities in Kenya that year. The Italians had long been defeated in Ethiopia, while agitation for independence from colonial rule had not assumed violent proportions. If anything, most of the pro-independence violence took place a decade later hundreds of kilometres to the east of Kisumu. It can be reasonably assumed that the C-47 crash was caused by engine failure during take off. Statistically, a huge percentage of aircraft accidents happen at the take off and landing stages of flight.

I have not been able to find out the names of the people on that aircraft. Where were they going? Were they military or civilian personnel? What happened afterwards: were the bodies flown to wherever they came from or were they buried in Kisumu?

More importantly, I would like to know why the incident disappeared into history. Why doesn’t any newspaper or book make reference to it? How come so few people know about it? If it wasn’t for that lonely old man on the beach, I would never have found out about the disaster.

If any of you have answers to this question, please share the information with the rest of us. I am very sure that whatever comes out will be quite interesting.

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If you have information on the 1945 Kisumu plane crash, please write to us on <nairobichronicle@live.com>. We guarantee confidentiality if requested.

Read the report on Aviation Safety Network >>
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4 Responses

  1. I am so shoked to read the story. Well i was also going through one of the website and talked of some plane crash in the lake in the early 20th centry i believe it was an aerodrome (hydrogen propelled planes)

    Everytime when i travel to and from Kisumu airport and directly look at the lake below i definately believe that such a disastor repeating itself would be of a higher magnitude, especially with the growth of media. It was unfortunate that such a disastor was never documented and i believe the relatives and beloved of the deceased never knew the fate of the plane.

  2. […] correspondent, J. Wafula, discovered the Kisumu plane crash by accident while taking a stroll on the shores of Lake Victoria. An old man walked up to where Wafula was […]

  3. Could anyone be having any information on flying boats landing and taking off from kisumu? I hear the town could have been one of the first international airport in the region.

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