Sunday, February 14, 2016

Impounded US Cargo Aircraft Owners Claim Harare Airport Death Stowaway: Western Global Airlines, McDonnell Douglas MD-11, N545JN

WASHINGTON—  Western Global Airlines of Estero, Florida, the American corporate owner of a cargo jet impounded in Harare on Sunday after a bloodied body of a man was discovered aboard during a refueling stop, says the person was a stowaway though authorities in Zimbabwe are still investigating the incident that has grabbed world attention.

Western Global is privately owned by James K. Neff and Sunny Neff.

A statement from the owners said the MD11 aircraft, en-route on Sunday to Durban, South Africa, from Munich, Germany, was carrying a “diplomatic shipment” for the South African Reserve Bank.

It expressed its condolence over the death saying, "We are saddened that a person has lost his life by stowing aboard one of our cargo aircraft. As compared to other forms of transportation, stowaways on airplanes are rare, but almost always result in fatality. In most cases airport security prevents this from happening but it should never be attempted for any reason.”

The company acknowledged that it was working “closely with the Zimbabwean authorities as they fully investigate this situation. We appreciate their professionalism and the care they have shown our crew, our cargo and our aircraft. Along with our customer, Network Airline Management, we express our condolences and support the efforts of the Zimbabwean government. We also appreciate the dedication of our crew, the patience of the South African government while awaiting its shipment and the engagement of the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe.”

US embassy spokesperson, Karen Kelly told VOA Studio 7 that they are referring all questions to the Civil Aviation of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean Republic Police spokesperson, senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba said investigations are still under way and it’s a long process.

Charamba added that the post mortem is being done in Zimbabwe.

The South African Reserve Bank says it is still "working closely" with relevant authorities to have a consignment of its bank notes, which were detained at Harare International Airport, released and transported to South Africa.

Charamba said she can only focus on the investigation into the cause of death and not the money, believed to millions of rands.

The statement added that Western Global Airlines is in continuous contact with its crew and when cleared to do so; “they will complete the last leg of this charter."

The Western Global Airlines aircraft in question is leased to Network Airline Management, a logistics provider, which was engaged to deliver a diplomatic shipment of South African currency from Munich, Germany, to Durban on behalf of the South African Reserve Bank.

The company says, “All necessary documentation for the flight and its cargo was in order and in compliance with international law.”

The aircraft departed Munich, Germany's airport, on February 13, 2016, with a crew of three pilots and a mechanic as well as two passengers traveling as couriers for the diplomatic shipment.

The aircraft made a refueling stop at Zimbabwe's Harare International Airport approximately nine hours later. During the refueling process, ground crew attending the aircraft noticed unusual streaking on the nose gear and upon further investigation; a deceased male was discovered in a compartment adjacent to the wheel well.

At present, the identity or nationality of the deceased is not known.  It is not clear when or how the deceased accessed the aircraft and Western Global is working with authorities to back trace the aircraft's route of travel.

The company has confirmed that its normal service, safety and security inspections “which meet or exceed all security, maintenance and operational standards  were performed by its maintenance personnel prior to the flight and that cockpit crews conducted exterior walk-arounds prior to departure.”

But the company says, “The area where the body was found is an area not visible to these inspections and there is no indication the stowaway's presence affected the operation of the aircraft.”

How common are stowaways? Since 1996, there have been 105 stowaways on 94 flights worldwide, according to the Federal Aviation Administration in an e-mail to USA TODAY Network.

More than 76% of those attempts resulted in deaths, the FAA says. The FAA's numbers reflect stowaways in the wheel wells, nose wells and other unpressurized areas.

The statistics don't include people who sneak into the cargo compartment or passenger area.

Stowaways in wheel wells, as in the most recent case, have to contend with freezing temperatures, lack of oxygen and the risk of being crushed by the plane's wheels.


M48545 LLC:

A cargo plane carrying millions of South African rand has been grounded at Zimbabwe’s international airport after ground staff spotted blood dripping from it and discovered a man’s body.

The plane, owned by Florida-based Western Global Airlines, is understood to have been transporting large sums of cash from Munich in Germany via Belgium and Nigeria and was bound for the seaside town of Durban in South Africa when it stopped in Harare for refuelling.

“The jet crew was questioned and they said they hit a bird in the air. But then a search was made and the body of an adult male fell out,” a source told African News Agency.

A spokesman for the South African Reserve Bank suggested the body belonged to a “stowaway” and expressed the hope its money would be released soon.

Local reports said four crew members had been arrested: two Americans, a Pakistani and a South African. An airport source told The Telegraph that two couriers had remained on the plane since the discovery on Sunday, reluctant to leave its valuable cargo.

Images circulated on social media showed a charred body protruding from a flap on the outside of the aircraft. Officials with face masks stand to one side on a hydraulic platform and Zimbabwe Republic Police tape is visible. A Zimbabwean aviation source told The Telegraph the body fell out of the flap when security staff began searching for the source of the blood.

Pradeep Maharaj, Group Executive for the South African Reserve Bank's currency operations, would not confirm whether SARB employees were on the craft.

“The South African Reserve Bank is aware of an aircraft carrying a SARB 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,” he said in a statement.

“The SARB is working with the relevant authorities to ensure that the cargo is released and transported to South Africa.”

David Chawota, chief executive of Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, said the case had been handed over to the police. “The plane, which is owned by Western Global Airlines, has been grounded at Harare International Airport since Sunday,” he said. “The cargo in the plane belongs to the South African Reserve Bank."

He declined to give further details about the plane’s cargo, citing “security concerns”.

The plane is believed to have requested a “technical landing” in Harare after being denied the right to land in Mozambique.

"The matter was reported to the authorities at the airport and the plane was impounded while the body was taken to patholog ists,” the Herald quoted an aviation source as saying.

Harare International Airport was previously the venue for another multinational drama when, on March 7 2004, British mercenary Simon Mann and 69 others were detained on the tarmac after their Boeing 727 was searched and found to be carrying £100,000 worth of weapons and equipment.

Mann and his colleagues were put on trial in Zimbabwe accused of plotting to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea. He was later extradited to that country and jailed but was released under a presidential pardon in November 2009.

Western Global Airlines did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.


The Western Global Airlines cargo plane impounded by security services at the Harare International Airport yesterday after the handling staff discovered a bleeding corpse aboard.

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.


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