I think one of the mercenary aircraft, operating around Ndola on that night, fired a tracer bullet into the fuel tanks of the Hammarskjöld plane, causing the left wing to catch on fire. Fearing that the left wing would fold up into the fuselage of the plane, the pilots did the only thing that was available to them: to configure the plane for a controlled (so to speak) crash landing in the short amount of time available to them. That action explains the 30 degrees of flaps setting on impact (nine miles out from the Ndola runway!), the relative slow speed at impact (they were just above the stall speed), and the compact crash site (not consistent with CFIT). The pilots had no choice but to put the plane “on the ground…now!” and that they did, skillfully, in my mind.
Had they succeeded and been able to tell their own story at the inquests, we would now have a clearer picture of what happened on that fatal approach. Because the crew was killed on impact or in the subsequent fires, it was left to colonial administrators—in places such as Northern Rhodesia—to whitewash the crash scene and to blame the pilots, who along with Hammarskjöld and his team were also the victims. Exonerating the pilots would go a long way in correcting an injustice that has lingered since 1961.
And today it is in the news that a Belgian mercenary who was a former Royal Air Force pilot confessed to having shot down Hammarskjöld’s plane.