Murder in the Zambezi

Posted by Elise Kirsten on 3 September 2018

On 3 September 1978 rebels in the Zambezi Valley shot down Air Rhodesia Flight RH825 (Hunyani). Eighteen passengers survived the initial crash, however this was not the end of their ordeal.

I clearly recall being riveted by the suspense of what I knew was about to unfold as I devoured the pages of Ian Pringle’s account of this event in his book, Murder in the Zambezi: The story of the Air Rhodesia Viscounts shot down by Russian-made missiles.

I can only imagine the sheer terror that must have gripped the survivors – shocked, traumatised and some injured, waiting and hoping for rescue – later that night as guerrillas rounded up those who were not hidden from view, or searching for help and then executed ten of them using AK-47s.

As if this horror was not enough for individual families and indeed all Zimbabweans (Rhodesians at the time) to come to grips with, this missile attack was followed by another on Air Rhodesia Flight RH827 (Umniati). The second flight was shot down on 12 February 1979 and this time there were no survivors.

Ian Pringle did extensive research into the air disasters and combined this with his aviation knowledge as a fast jet pilot (now retired) and interviews with survivors, witnesses, accident investigators, pilots and ground staff to put together this gripping account.

The book starts by introducing you to one of the pilots who was killed in the first disaster. It paints a picture of his life and family as well as the political landscape of the time and gives some insight into the Viscount airplanes and the Russian Strela missiles used for the deadly attack. It then accelerates with accounts of how the planes crashed, stories of some of the survivors and interviews with the families of some of those who perished.

At Getaway magazine there’s a close personal link to this tragedy: managing editor Michelle Hardie’s (née Dardagan) parents were on board the second flight that was shot out of the air and they were both killed in the crash. Michelle was only thirteen. Her parents were on holiday to celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary and were on a homeward-bound flight from Lake Kariba to Salisbury (Harare).

 

We interviewed Michelle to get some first-hand insight into this tragedy.

Michelle Hardie. Image: supplied

 

The book speaks a little about your parents, George and Ursula Dardagan. They seemed very involved in the community and very generous. What is your fondest memory of each of them?
My father loved dancing. My sisters and I would dance with him, especially on Sundays, in the lounge to LPs belting out the likes of Petula Clarke and Neil Diamond. The smell of baking always reminds me of my mother. She would let me scrape out the bowl with the raw cake mixture – it’s still the best part!

Where were you when you received the news that your parents had died in the attack on the Viscount?
I was at boarding school in Harare, with my two elder sisters. My eldest sister had just left school and was at home in Banket.

Who took care of you after your parents’ death?
My sisters, who are older than me, kept me on the straight and narrow. We came from a small village so we had many people in our community who looked out for us, especially neighbours, as well as extended family.

Everyone suffers difficulty in life but not everyone faces tragedy and certainly not one of this magnitude; losing both parents in such a horrible manner at such a young age. You are an intelligent, loving, maternal and joyful woman. What helped you to navigate through the pain and loss and come to a place of wholeness again?
This is a hard question as I am not sure anyone ever feels whole again after losing someone. I have never let their loss define me, or become bitter and twisted about how they died. I think being at boarding school at the time was a godsend. It was familiar, I had a routine and I felt safe, plus I was surrounded by wonderful friends, all of who are still in my life today – 40 years later.

Although you married a South African and live here now, your love of Zimbabwe is evident in the way you speak about the country and your excitement before each return visit. What makes Zim such a special place for you?
There are good people and beautiful landscapes all over the world, and Zimbabwe has these in bucket loads. I also love the climate – the sun there always makes my bones feel stronger and the thunderstorms fill me with excitement. My husband thinks that Harare is like one big botanical garden. He’s so right – everything grows there – it gives me hope. I have a history there and a real sense of belonging that kicks in whenever I go back.

 

Buy the book

Murder in the Zambezi: The story of the Air Rhodesia Viscounts shot down by Russian-made missiles by Ian Pringle

R245 takealot.com or

R229 through Copper Birch Distribution [email protected] 08708207016