By FLORA DRURY FOR MAILONLINE- Horrified ground staff who noticed blood dripping from a US plane have described how they discovered the body of a man ‘suspended’ in the cargo hold after it was forced to land in Zimbabwe.
The crew of the Western Global Airlines charter flight, which began its journey in Germany, originally claimed the blood was the result of hitting a bird, one source claimed.
But when airport staff looked closer, the body of a man was discovered – while millions of South African rand was found stuffed into suitcases.
Discovery: The charter flight landed in Harare on Sunday, where ground staff found blood dripping from the cargo hold – and then discovered the body of a man ‘suspended’ inside
The plane had been destined for Durban, South Africa, but had to make an unscheduled stop to refuel in Harare on Sunday at 9am local time.
Authorities in the Zimbabwean capital have now impounded the US-owned plane, which was carrying cargo for South African Reserve Bank, based in Pretoria, while police investigate the matter.
According to the airport, the plane was carrying a ‘diplomatic consignment’ onboard.
The current whereabouts of the crew of the Western Global Airlines charter flight from Munich is not known, but some reports suggest they have been arrested.
According to Zimbabwe’s Herald, the captain had originally requested to stop in Mozambique, but was turned down – so turned to the neighbouring country.
A source told the newspaper: ‘Upon refueling, the airport attendant discovered that there was blood dripping from the plane.
‘When they checked to try and ascertain where the blood was coming from that is when they discovered a suspended dead body in the plane.’
Another source revealed to the African News Agency that they were first told by the crew they had ‘hit a bird in the air’.
‘But then a search was made and the body of an adult male fell out,’ the source said.
Mystery: The Western Global Airlines charter flight was en route to Durban with ‘millions’ of rand on board
David Chawota, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, confirmed they had decided to hold the plane.
‘The police are now handling the issue and the plane, which is owned by Western Global Airlines, has been grounded at Harare International Airport since Sunday,’ he told BDLive.
Western Global Airlines is based in Florida, but boasts of its ‘vast operating reach’ across 44 countries as one of ‘largest worldwide commercial cargo transportation services’.
It is privately owned by founder James K Neff and Sunny Neff, and has a freighter fleet of 16 wide-body aircraft used by the likes of UPS and FedEx.
During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it flew dozens of relief missions to affected areas.
Tendai Mugabe Senior Reporter—
The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe yesterday impounded a chartered MD11 trijet cargo plane owned by Western Global Airlines stashed with millions of South African rands and a dead body after it asked to land in Harare during a flight from Germany to South Africa.During routine refuelling airport staff noticed blood dripping from the plane, the dead body found, and the alert given. Investigations were still in progress last night.
Western Global Airlines is based in southwest Florida in the United States of America. The plane was flying from Germany to South Africa when the captain asked for a technical landing at the Harare International Airport after an initial request to land in Mozambique was turned down.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe general manager Mr David Chaota confirmed the incident last night. “Yes, it is a Western Global Airlines plane and now the case is being handled by our security ” he said.
South African Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Vusi Mavimbela confirmed the incident last night but would not give details. “I spent the better of the day at the airport,” he said. “I am aware of what you are saying but I cannot comment now because there are investigations that are still going on.”
Sources close to the matter told The Herald last night that the plane was destined for South Africa. “The plane requested for a technical landing which was granted by the airport authorities,” said the source.
“Upon refueling, the airport attendants discovered that there was blood dripping from the plane. When they checked to try and ascertain where the blood was coming from that is when they discovered a suspended dead body in the plane.
“The matter was reported to the authorities at the airport and the plane was impounded while the body was taken to pathologists.” Unconfirmed reports say the crew included two Americans, a Pakistani and a South African. The whereabouts of the crew were unknown last night.
The nationality of the dead person could not be established by the time of going to print, nor any details of how he died. Western Global Airlines operates a fleet of 16 MD11 freighters, a modern stretched upgrade of the old DC10, according to its web site.
The private cargo line is owned by James and Sunny Neff and advertises that it has a good range of customers, including FedEx. It said aid agencies chartered it to fly staff and supplies into West Africa last year to fight the Ebola epidemic.
The last time Zimbabwean civil aviation authorities impounded a foreign plane was in 2004, when the authorities arrested a planeload of 64 mercenaries who wanted to take part in a coup in Equatorial Guinea. Efforts to get a comment from the police were fruitless as police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba’s mobile phone went unanswered.