THE Zambian national football team was flying on a military plane on its way to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup qualification match, when the plane crashed in the late evening of April 27, 1993.
All 30 passengers and crew, including 18 players, as well as the national team coach and support staff, were lost in the accident. Two other members of the national team, who were playing in other countries and who had made other flight arrangements to attend the game, were not aboard and survived.
The flight from Zambia to Senegal required three refueling stops and at the first stop, in the Congo, engine problems were noted. Despite this, the flight continued and a few minutes after taking off from a second stop in Libreville, Gabon, one of the engines caught fire and failed.
The pilot, who was tired from already having flown back from Mauritius earlier that day, then shut down the wrong engine, causing the plane to lose all power during the climb out of Libreville Airport. The plane fell from the sky and crashed into the water 500m offshore.
A new team was quickly assembled and faced up to the difficult task of having to complete Zambia’s World Cup qualifiers and then prepare for the upcoming African Nations Cup, which was only months away.
The resurrected team defied the odds and reached the final against Nigeria, only to lose. In spite of the loss, the Zambian side returned home as national heroes. After the crash, Zambia fell into seven days of official mourning.
The 18 players, coaches and crew members were buried there with official honors as tens of thousands of fans poured into the capital’s streets and grieved for what many said was one of Africa’s greatest teams.
An official report into the plane crash blamed a mechanical fault in the left engine and the pilot inadvertently shutting off fuel to the functioning right engine by mistake because of a “poor indicator light bulb”.