Kisumu plane crashes: Fresh evidence comes to light

A Nairobi Chronicle article on the forgotten plane crash of Kisumu caught the attention of a reader in Scotland. The crash killed 28 South Africans and we thought that only one aircraft had crashed.

A 63-year-old letter, however, shows that TWO airplanes crashed in the vicinity of the Kisumu Airport within three days of each other. Find out more on the aviation disasters lost in history …

A Catalina Flying boat (left) and C-47 Skytrain (right). Photos by Wikipedia.

A Catalina Flying boat (left) and C-47 Skytrain (right). Photos by Wikipedia.


Our 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 standing and engaged him in conversation. Eventually, Wafula came to know about a plane crash that killed many Europeans but the old man’s details were hazy.

Years later, Wafula was browsing the Internet when he came across documents indicating that a plane crash on 11th July 1945 had killed 28 South Africans. The C-47 military transport aircraft had made a stopover in Kisumu on its way to South Africa when it plunged into Lake Victoria shortly after take-off.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, the two year old South African Airforce plane was written off following the disaster. No information is provided as to the identities of the crew or why the aircraft went down. Not surprising though, considering that in 1945, Kisumu must have been fairly remote.

The beauty of the internet is that it is open to a worldwide audience and Mr Jim Deans from Scotland happened to come across our article discussing the 1945 Kisumu plane crash.

Jim lost his uncle – Flight Sergeant Deans – in the disaster. However, as far as the Dean family was concerned, their uncle died on the 8th of July not on the 11th. Flight Sergeant Deans worked for the Royal Airforce and the aircraft he flew was not a C-47 transport but a Catalina flying boat. The number of dead was only 6, certainly not the 28 quoted in the Nairobi Chronicle story.

Here’s Jim’s email:

Dear Sir,
With regards to the plane crash on Lake Victoria, Kisumu on the 11th of July, I know nothing of that. The plane crash i know of happened on the 8th of July 1945 when an RAF Catalina flying boat of 259 Squadron crashed on landing. Although a rescue party went out immediately, my uncle and five of his comrades had met their deaths.

I am at the moment deciphering my uncle’s letters and diaries.

Jim Deans

Well, we were not about to admit to faking a story. We take great care to present only what is backed up by facts.

As Jim went through his late uncle’s papers, he discovered another letter he hadn’t seen before.

The letter was addressed to the late Deans’ family from the Nyanza branch of the Salvation Army. The letter was signed by Major Ernest L Buck, a Divisional Officer. Major Buck confirms that TWO crashes happened within three days of each other. Here’s an excerpt:

My dear Friend,
We folk in Kisumu had a very harrowing … last week for we laid to rest thirty four dear men, six of them from the Flying-boat in which your brother lost his life and twenty eight from a plane carrying South Africans to their home in the Union.

Knowing that all the dear-ones at home would be denied the opportunity of attending the funeral services we went along ourselves and felt in so doing we were there representing YOU. Our thoughts and prayers have been with you very much these past days.

As for the question of what happened to the bodies, the Salvation Army continues …

The European cemetery here in Kisumu is quite a nice, well kept little place and is sorrounded with leafy trees and looks so peaceful. It can truly be said, They rest from their labours and underneath are The Everlasting-arms.

The revelation that two military aircraft crashed at almost the same time brings up other important questions. What are the chances that a small airport like Kisumu can experience two big disasters within the same week? Did the area experience violent weather at the particular time?

World War 2 was coming to a close in 1945. The Italians had long been defeated in Ethiopia, while agitation for independence from colonial rule had not reached its peak. If anything, most of the pro-independence fighting took place almost ten years later hundreds of kilometres away from Kisumu. Therefore, the possibility of sabotage is ruled out.

Hopefully, these questions will draw the interest of other readers.

We are grateful to Jim Dean for helping shed light on this 63 year-old mystery of the Kisumu plane crashes. We can only imagine the sense of loss his family experienced because of World War 2, as did thousands of other families across the world including here in Kenya.

Click here for the earlier story >>


8 Responses

  1. Fascinating stuff. Keep up the good work guys.

  2. It would be interesting to know whether both the flying boats and the planes operated from the current airport. It would also be great to see some pictures of the place. Anyone?

  3. My late father was a Flight Lieutenant serving at RAF Kisumu as Station Adjutant at the time of these crashes. I remember these incidents made a deep impression on him. He was involved in organising the funerals. He said that the transport aircraft had had chocks placed to secure the elevators whilst parked. By some oversight of ground crew, these were not removed and after take-off the pilot was unable to climb or return and the aircraft crashed into the lake. My father was involved in the recovery effort and said that many of the dead had been attacked by crocodiles.

  4. I am in the possession of an original report written by my late father, constable Jacobus Johannes Pietersen that was a soldier in WWII. He fought in North Africa in the First Batalion of the SAP Brigade Nr. 16826. He was capture in 1942 with the fall of Tobruk and a POW, nr.262998 at Stalag IVF in Germany.
    After he was released, they flew back from England with a, as he called it a DAKOTA, (Skytrain C47) and landed at Kisumu airport. At 4.45 on the 11 May 1945. They took of from Kisumu to S.A. With airborn they heard a loud noise and the plane went down in Lake Victoria.
    This is his stament, containing a brief discription regarding the crash: There were approximately 25 soldiers on board. Captain Lee was the pilot and Mr. Mckenzie the flight engineer. Some of the soldiers that he could remember were Strydom, Koekemoer and Upton. There were many casualties but hardly any deaths.
    This is his version, in short, of the crasch he, with a broken right arm, survived on the 11 may 1945.

  5. I was orderly room Sergeant at Kisumu soon after another aircrash. This was a SAAF plane carrying senior SA army officers . It took off from the airfield and crashed in Lake Victoria but was not recovered.
    I knew Major Buck of the Salvation Army and went often to his home where we engaged in Bible study. The prisoner governor also came. I recall that hippos used to come out at night and wrecked peoples’ gardens. Another incident when flying was suspended due to a swarm of locusts. I left Kisumu before the two crashes you report.

  6. Does anyone have a list of the soldiers? My grandfather was Frederick Downing. Information given to me from Admiralty, Bath was that he was wireless operator who died July 8, 1945

  7. My grand father air sgnt William Anderson was reported to be killed in that crash. the only other death reported is l/cpl Upton.

  8. Try “Remembering Today, 11 July 1945 the crew and passengers of Dakota 6812 SAAF”
    Try also 40481-remembering-today-1945-the-crew-and-passengers-of-dakota-6812-saaf/

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