Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Mohamed Chande Othman, the Chief Justice of Tanzania, to head the Panel.
The other two members are Kerryn Macaulay, Australia’s Representative on the Council of the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and Henrik Larsen, a ballistics expert at the National Center of Forensic Services in the Danish National Police.
The Panel, which will begin its work on 30 March 2015, will examine and assess the “probative value” of new information related to the death of Mr. Hammarskjöld and the members of the party accompanying him on an aircraft that crashed in what is today Zambia on the night of 17-18 September 1961.
Established by a General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2014, the Panel is expected to submit its report to the Secretary-General no later than 30 June 2015.
The Assembly, in its resolution, had also encouraged Member States to release any relevant records in their possession and to provide to the Secretary-General relevant information related to Mr. Hammarskjöld’s death.
By Philip Sherwell, New York and David Lawler, Washington
The Telegraph, 17 Mar 2015
The United Nations has ordered a new investigation into the mysterious 1961African plane crash that claimed the life of its secretary general at a time of high international intrigue and intervention by outside powers as the post-colonial continent took shape.
The flight was carrying Dag Hammarskjold, the UN’s Swedish chief, on a high-stakes mission to negotiate with rebels in Katanga, a breakaway mineral-rich province of Congo that was backed by Belgian mercenaries and Western governments and business.
Pilot error was officially blamed after the DC6 plane carrying the UN’s second secretary general crashed into the bush, killing all 16 onboard, in the then British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
But there were immediately competing theories that the plane had been shot down, possibly by American agents or European mercenaries, as Hammarskjold was believed to be about to broker a deal opposed by Western interests.
A commission of retired international judges in 2013 called for a new investigation after hearing "persuasive evidence" that the plane was shot down.
The UN has now announced that it is ordering a new review by an independent panel led Mohamed Othman, a Tanzanian jurist, and assisted by Kerryn Macaulay, an Australian aviation specialist, and Henrik Larsen, a Danish ballistics expert.
The team of experts is expected to travel to the crash scene. But for their mission to succeed, they will also need access to intelligence held by the US, Britain and other European states who have been urged to hand over the material.
More than five decades later, the new panel may be the last chance to determine what really happened to Mr Hammarskjold’s plane that night.
Evidence: The aircraft was flying overnight in central Africa at a low altitude. As John Mussell, the former Royal Rhodesian officer who coordinated the search for the plane, told the New York Times:
Counterpoint: Even back in 1961, that conclusion sounded a bit too convenient given Hammarskjold's powerful foes. Former president Harry Truman's take? “He was on the point of getting something done when they killed him," said Truman. "Notice that I said ‘when they killed him’.”
Possible motive: When turmoil over land and minerals engulfed Congo, Hammarskjold sent UN troops to support Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister. President John F Kennedy was known to regard Lumumba as a destabilising force and a possible Soviet ally.
Evidence: Two American intelligence officials at stationed at listening posts on the night of the crash claim to have heard the plane taken down. One of them says he heard radio transmissions in which a voice said: "The Americans shot down the UN plane." The other says he heard someone say: "It's the plane.... I've hit it. It's going down."
Motive: Hammarskjold did not just anger the Americans with his intervention in Congo. Even more incensed were European industrialists who stood to lose control of the country's mines.
A child digs for gold in a Congolese mine. Photo: Marcus Bleasdale
Evidence: According to the Guardian, two top aides to Hammarskjold were convinced that mercenaries had been hired to take out the plane, and that the British government aided in the ensuing cover-up.
Evidence: Susan Williams, a British academic who wrote an in-depth account of the crash, wrote that a "Belgian pilot called Beukels" claimed to have shot the plane down "by accident" after it had failed to divert to a different landing strip.