On the evening of 27 April 1993, a DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft of the Zambian Air Force crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from Libreville, Gabon. The flight was carrying most of the Zambian national football team to a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Senegal in Dakar. All 25 passengers and five crew members were killed. The official investigation concluded that the pilot had shut down the wrong engine following an engine fire. It also found that pilot fatigue and a faulty instrument had contributed to the accident.Members of the national team killed in the crash were buried in what became known as Heroes’ Acre, just outside the Independence Stadium.
The 1993 Zambia side was the country’s best ever but it never realised its potential after being wiped out in a plane crash that should have been averted en route to play Senegal. This weekend the countries meet on what will be an emotional day
On this ill-fated trip, the then Zambian technical team comprising the late head coach Godfrey “Ucar” Chitalu and assistant Alex Chola, decided to drop one David Mutale and his friend, the late Harrison Chongo from the travelling team after they had been part of the team that had played a friendly match in Malawi a few days before. Any rising star would have been upset to be dropped on the eve of a crucial Fifa World Cup qualifier away to Senegal, but that is how Mutale — an immensely talented utility player — cheated death.
“How I was dropped from the team that perished in the disaster, only God knows,” a sombre Mutale told Standardsport 22 years after surviving the tragedy.
“At one point I was furious for having been part of the preparing team, only for the coach to call in two professional players, which saw Chongo and myself being dropped,” Mutale said.