UTA Flight 772 Memorial (Desert Week 2)

Monday, 15th June 2009 by

Welcome to the second annual GSS Desert Week! In time-honoured tradition, we’ll mostly be posting about deserts. For about a week!

Even by Saharan standards, the Ténéré region of northern Niger is pretty desolate: a vast sea of sand, broken only by the occasional rocky outcrop, where barely an inch of rain falls each year. So it's something of a surprise to see a huge picture of a DC-10 among the dunes.

Ténéré desert Flight 772 memorial

The story behind this striking image is a tragic one: it is a memorial to UTA Flight 772, which was blown up by a suitcase bomb in the skies above this spot in 1989, killing 170 people1. An investigation concluded that Libyan terrorists were to blame for the explosion, which occurred 46 minutes after the aircraft took off from N'Djamena International Airport in Chad, en route to Paris. (The flight had originated from Brazzaville, the capital city of Congo.)

N'Djamena airport Maya-Maya airport, Brazzaville

The memorial was created in 2007, to mark the 18th anniversary of the disaster, by Les Familles de l'Attentat du DC-10 d'UTA, an association of the victims' families. Financed by a compensation fund paid to the victims by the Libyan government, it was constructed by 100 people working largely by hand under the desert sun.

The life-size silhouette of the aircraft lies inside a circle more than 200ft in diameter, created using dark stones set into the sand. Surrounding this circle are 170 broken mirrors, representing those who died, and arrows marking the points of the compass. At the northern point, part of the right wing of the DC-10 has been erected as a monument, with a plaque commemorating the victims.

Ground view of memorial

The association's website (in French) includes a moving video of the crash site - still littered with perfectly preserved debris - and numerous photographs of the construction of the memorial. (These are large PDF files, but are well worth downloading as they give an idea of the stark beauty of the region as well as the impressive size of the memorial.)

Thanks to Tom Van Steen.

  1. Union des Transports Aériens merged with Air France in 1990. Until the recent Air France disaster, the Flight 772 bombing was the deadliest incident in French aviation history. ↩︎