The death of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold, the man JFK called “the greatest statesman of our century,” remains one of the great mysteries of early 1960s world politics. Sundance-bound documentary Cold Case Hammarskjöld is set to shine new light on the notorious 1961 plane crash which killed Hammarskjöld and 15 others.
According to UK newspaper the Observer, new evidence in the film links a former RAF pilot to the death. Belgian national Jan van Risseghem has been named as a possible attacker before but the film includes testimony from a friend of Van Risseghem who claims the pilot confessed to shooting down the UN plane (but that he didn’t know who was on board). The filmmakers also gathered testimony from another pilot that undermines one of Van Risseghem’s alibis for that night and they also reveal the pilot’s strong ties to the UK.
Hammarskjöld was on a secret mission to try to broker peace in the recently independent and mineral rich Congo. His plane came down just outside the town of Ndola in present-day Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia.
Over the years, multiple claims have been made that the plane was shot down, and that Hammarskjöld was actually killed in an assassination plot involving some combination of the CIA, MI6, a Belgian Mining Company and a South African paramilitary unit. The same day of the crash, a U.S. ambassador sent a secret cable – one that was buried for decades – suggesting possible sabotage.
Van Risseghem died in 2007. Surviving relatives say he was not involved in any attack. His widow told the Observer that he was in Rhodesia arranging the purchase of a plane for Congolese rebels and the logbooks provide proof that he was not flying at the time.
Danish outfit DR International Sales reps international sales on the movie, which has prompted a new wave of media attention for the tragic and troubling case. Mads Brügger directs. Cinetic handles U.S. sales.