Rhodesia’s 911: Viscount Hunyani Is Shot Down!

…one noise from the child would have given their position away and meant death. The four-year old held still within meters of the killers as they came close in, shouting to them to show themselves…

Editor: I have titled this Rhodesia’s 911, not to be disrespectful to Americans, but because this terrorist attack psychologically shocked the tiny nation of Rhodesia in a way that was unprecedented. The shock was not due to the number of deaths but rather due to the sadistic treatment of even the youngest survivors.

It should be noted that it was known to both the terrorists and the world that this flight (the first of two shot down) was simply a civilian tourist flight of zero military significance.

The following account of the terrorist attack is published with permission from Hannes Wessels, author of Men Of War. Images and captions from various sources have been added, all errors are therefore mine.

An old ZIPRA terrorist , a tool of Marxist-Soviet forces decides he “regrets” slaughtering the civilians, including toddlers, on the two Air Rhodesia Vickers Viscount planes that resulted in the death of 107 people. Both flights were known to be civilian tourist flights without any military significance. Further, he declared that: “With age and looking at what has become of this country, I can say the whole war effort was not worth it. I personally regret the incidents. In hindsight, I realise that I should not have been involved in these acts in the first place…. acts that resulted in more than 100 innocent people losing their lives, but that is what war is like, young people are used to do stupid things… I was young and I was used, when I look at what we were fighting, I realised that this is not it. It makes me very sad”. However, these incidents did not defeat Rhodesia, we won the war and retained our courage and spirit, but were betrayed by Western nations.

Viscount Hunyani Is Shot Down!

Captain John Hood
Newspaper photo of Sharon and Tracey Cole survivors of Air Rhodesia missile attack Viscount Hunyani

The full eulogy by the Very Reverend John de Costa is short but powerful, especially in 2021, and worth listening to in full here. Finally:

Air Rhodesia, began developing anti-missile shielding for its Viscounts but, before the work was completed, terrorists shot down a second civilian airliner: Viscount, Umniati, Air Rhodesia Flight 827, on 12 February 1979. This time all 59 on board were killed.  Again the world looked the other way…….

After the 2nd missile attack, Air Rhodesia coated the underside of the Viscounts with low-radiation paint and the exhaust pipes were concurrently shrouded. According to tests conducted by the Air Force, a Viscount so treated could not be detected by the Strela SAM7 system once it was over 2 000 feet.  No more airliners were shot down in Rhodesia.

Window On Rhodesia
Viscount Umniati crash site after Air Rhodesia shot by terrorist ZIPRA missile provided by the USSR.
Clergy at Viscount Umniati crash site after civilain airliner Air Rhodesia was shot down by terrorist ZIPRA missiles provided by the USSR.
Viscount Down The powerful and moving story of ‘Viscount Hunyani’ – a passenger aircraft shot down by a SAM 7 missile in Rhodesia in 1978, as recounted by survivors and security force members. 3:30 minutes.

Thanks to Rhodesia.com.au also Tony Ballinger who we featured in A Watershed Moment: the Rhodesian Bush War Battle of Victoria Falls. Also Beaver Shaw who we met in Meet the Impossibles: Rhodesia’s Bush War Flight Engineers in CHOPPERTECH.

Additional images via Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archive.

Central to A Handful of Hard Men is the ruthlessly objective narrative of Captain Darrell Watt, revealed as one of many extraordinary fighters who survived the harrowing SAS selection process. At the height of its strength in June 1978, the Rhodesian SAS consisted of just 250 men but the damage inflicted upon the vastly superior numbers of Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU, supported by Samora Machel’s FRELIMO in Mozambique and to a lesser extent, the ANC in South Africa, is comparable perhaps only to the first weeks of the initial Boer War, when groups of farmers subjected the armies of the British Empire to successive, humiliating defeats.
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