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Mozambique's Leftist Chief Dies in S. African Air Crash : Machel and 28 Others Lose Lives

October 20, 1986|From Times Wire Services

KOMATIPOORT, South Africa — Marxist President Samora Machel of Mozambique and 28 other people were killed when their twin-engine plane crashed in a thunderstorm just inside South Africa, officials said today.

In Maputo, state-run Radio Mozambique, which reported early today that Machel's plane was missing, suspended normal programming and played somber music throughout the day. The radio announced his death an hour after it was made public in South Africa.

The charismatic 53-year-old Machel led Mozambique to independence from Portugal and had ruled since 1975. He and other officials were flying home from a summit in Zambia with other southern African leaders.

Was Once a Nurse

Before taking up arms against colonial forces in 1964, he had been a nurse at a hospital in the capital.

South African Foreign Minister Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, who flew to the crash site by helicopter and saw Machel's body, told reporters at Komatipoort, near the scene, that there were 10 survivors of Sunday night's crash, including the Soviet pilot of the Tupolev 134-A jet, Machel's personal plane.

Botha said 27 people died, including Mozambique's transport minister, Luis Alcantara Santos, a deputy foreign minister and Machel's secretary. South Africa's Bureau for Information said later that two more bodies were found in the wreckage of the plane, increasing the total number of dead to 29.

Survivor Tells of Storm

The South African foreign minister said a survivor reported the plane encountered bad weather on the flight to Maputo, the Mozambican capital 45 miles from the crash site. The survivor, Botha said, told of hearing "something in the aircraft a few minutes before it hit the ground" 200 yards inside South Africa.

"It hit the ground, went up again and reared over," Botha said. "It was a gruesome sight. President Machel's body was put in a coffin and will be brought here (Komatipoort) and taken to Mozambique."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said the Reagan Administration learned of Machel's death "with profound regret." He said Secretary of State George P. Shultz had met with Machel and found him to be "a most impressive leader."

Visit to White House

Although an avowed Marxist, Machel was a strong nationalist and was welcomed to the White House by President Reagan in September, 1985.

The disaster came amid tension between South Africa's white-minority government and Machel's black-ruled Marxist nation, which has been wracked by civil war and drought that has left about 6 million of the nation's more than 12 million people in danger of starvation.

The African National Congress, South Africa's best-known black nationalist group, blamed Pretoria for the crash.

"Either the South African government itself is guilty of this heinous crime or its henchmen, the Mozambican guerrillas," Alfred Nzo, secretary-general of ANC, said in Copenhagen. He gave no evidence to support the claim.

Accusations Exchanged

Each country has accused the other of violating a 1984 nonaggression pact prohibiting the support for rebel groups in each other's nation.

Two weeks ago, South Africa accused Machel of renewing support for ANC rebels and banned the new migration of Mozambican workers into South Africa.

A senior Mozambican journalist based in Johannesburg said interim leadership of the Marxist government would likely be exercised by Prime Minister Mario da Graca Machungo and Marcelino dos Santos, the No. 2 man in the ruling Frelimo party after Machel.

Speculation on a permanent successor to Machel centered on Foreign Minister Joaquim Chissano, 47, the journalist said.

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