In the middle of the Sahara desert is a sight you’d be forgiven for thinking was a strange mirage.
A hazy outline of an airplane pointing north towards Paris. It is very real, however, visible via Google Earth and those committed enough to trek out into the desert to see it, the plane is a memorial to a flight that ended in tragedy.
On September 19, 1989, UTA Flight 772, traveling from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo to Paris, exploded in the sky.
It had been in the air for just over 45 minutes when a suitcase bomb, placed in the hold by Libyan terrorists was detonated.
All 156 passengers and 14 crew members were killed.
The wreckage littered the sands of the desert in Niger. With the Ténéré region being hundreds of miles from the nearest town, the cleanup operation proved difficult.
While several tons of debris was transported away for the French-led investigation, remains of the plane (including engine parts, seats, and even people’s luggage) exist out in the desert to this day.
Some of which have been pieced together to form a memorial to those that were lost.
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The UTA Flight 772 Memorial
At the spot where the French plane hit the ground, the families of the victims have built a poignant memorial for their loved ones.
The light silhouette of the lifesize aircraft that can be seen from space, has been built inside a dark stone circle (depicting a compass) surrounded by 170 broken mirrors.
Each of the mirrors represents someone that died.
The right-wing of the DC10 aircraft (transported from its landing place 10 miles away), is placed at the northern end. It stands upright, pointing towards France, home to the highest number of victims and the intended destination of the plane.
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Where is the UTA Flight 772 Memorial?
- Coordinates on Google Earth: 16°51’53″N, 11°57’13″E
Visiting the crash site and Memorial
Getting to the UTA Flight 772 memorial is possibly one of the most difficult dark tourist destinations we have come across so far.
At the time the memorial was built (2007), the area was deemed too dangerous for western visitors, the Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb were operating there.
Western members of the build team had received special permissions and were escorted by Niger soldiers.
It actually took 140 locals from the nearest city, Agadez, six weeks to build. They were from the three main tribes: Toubou, Tuareg, and Hausa.
Today the area is marginally safer in terms of conflict, (at the time of writing it is US State Department Level 3: “Reconsider Travel”); however the terrain remains just as inhospitable.
The Tenere is the most remote desert in the Sahara. It is an ocean of sand the size of Spain.
The site is a 3-day drive from Agadez (400 miles in total). Water and wells are in very short supply. If anything happens out there, you will want plenty of reserves plus a satellite phone.
The BBC covered the story of the victim’s families traveling to the site, and from the images taken you can see that Agadez Tours assisted with the transport. These guys would clearly be a good starting point if you planned on visiting the site overland.
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Seeing it by the air
The way most people get to see the memorial with their own eyes is from the skies.
The reason it is lifesize is so that passengers on passing planes (on similar routes to that of the original UTA 772) can look out of the window and think about the lives that were lost. Flying at 30,000 ft is not the best time to consider a fatal aircraft tragedy, however.
Featured Image: Les Familles de l’Attentat du DC-10 d’UTA