News / Africa

48 Years Later, Congo Hostages Reunite

Freed hostages walk toward the airfield in Stanleyville for evacuation, November 1964.
Freed hostages walk toward the airfield in Stanleyville for evacuation, November 1964.
Philip Graitcer
A gray Hercules C-130E military transport plane sits outside the National Aviation Museum in Warner Robins, Georgia, its flying days over. With its fading paint, it's hard to imagine the plane was once at the center of an international hostage drama.

In August 1964, in the central African country known today as the Democratic Republic of Congo, a militant rebel group called the Simbas seized nearly 2,000 U.S. and European citizens, many of them missionaries, and held them hostage in Stanleyville, a city they had just taken from government soldiers. 

On November 24 of that year, Belgian and American military forces mounted a dramatic airborne mission to rescue the hostages and crush the Simba rebellion. Though the mission succeeded, dozens of hostages were killed by the rebels before they could be freed.  

Now, 48 years later, six of those airlifted to safety on the plane returned to see it and to meet its pilot for the first time.

Mack Secord, now 81, was the 35-year-old pilot of the C-130 on November 24, 1964, when the missionaries and their children were rescued from Stanleyville.

"I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to come back and welcome you aboard in Stanleyville," he said to the group, "but we were a little busy."

Busy is an understatement. His airplane was part of a squadron of a dozen C-130s on a secret mission to end the rebellion and rescue more than 1800 hostages.

"The first six airplanes had the Belgian para-commandos, and they were going to drop them onto the airport and clear off all that garbage that the Simbas had put on the runway - the 55-gallon [208-liter] drums filled with water and the old car bodies and so forth," Secord said. "We were going to come in and land and offload ammunition and supplies. My instructions were to get there, park, but don’t shut off the engines, because we expected you in 30-to-45 minutes. Well, it was about two hours, and we were worried about fuel."
Pilot Mack Secord (top right) is reunited with the former hostages he flew to safety in 1964. (Bottom row from left) Marilyn Wendler, Bob McAllister, Jean and Al Larson. (Top row from left) Ruth Reynard and Larry Southard.(VOA/P. Graitcer)Pilot Mack Secord (top right) is reunited with the former hostages he flew to safety in 1964. (Bottom row from left) Marilyn Wendler, Bob McAllister, Jean and Al Larson. (Top row from left) Ruth Reynard and Larry Southard.(VOA/P. Graitcer)

About 100 former hostages were loaded into the plane’s cargo hold, including Bob McAllister, now 87, who came to the reunion with his daughter, Ruth.

"The whole side there and the side here lined with people being rescued," said McAllister, who'd been a missionary in the Congo for a dozen years. "And, on the center isle here, they had stretchers of some of the wounded people, and so we were a crowded bunch here."

As the plane took off, Secord looked out the cockpit window.
 
"As we taxied out with you all on board, the Simbas leaped out of the tall grass next to the taxiway," he said, "and they shot straight up and they shot into this wing over here."

And punctured the fuel tank. Secord, afraid the leaking fuel would catch fire, shut down the engine. With only three engines, and low on fuel, he still managed to fly the freed hostages to safety.

Newsreels of the airlift appeared in theaters across the U.S. and Britain. Life Magazine ran an article about it. Eventually, the pilot and the former hostages moved on with their lives.

Secord retired from the Air Force and became a businessman. The rescued hostages continued their careers as missionaries. Neither they, nor Secord, gave thought much about the airlift, until last year.

Secord got a call from an old Air Force friend, the director of the National Aviation Museum. The museum had received a retired C-130, and the plane’s maintenance records showed that it had been damaged in combat in the Congo in November 1964. His friend was sure it was Secord’s plane.

When the plane was formally put on display at the museum, Secord attended the dedication ceremony. The story about a pilot being reunited with his airplane was reported in the local newspaper and republished on the Internet. That’s how Marilyn Wendler, who was just 4 years old at the time of the rescue, heard about it.

"When we read the bio of the plane and it said that it had had a fuel tank hit on takeoff, some of our group remembered that," she said. "And so we were like this must be the airplane."

Wendler called the museum, got Secord’s telephone number, and arranged a reunion.

"Who would have thought? This is 48 years have gone by," Wendler said. "We kind of stopped thinking about it. And now it’s all revived, so it's amazing. I remember walking in the back end of this huge airplane, sitting on the side in a hammock seat just really happy that the U.S. government came and got us, that the U.S. Air Force was there."

Secord is happy, too.

"I’ve never seen these people before. I was sitting in the seat with the engines running," he said. "I had no idea that someday I’d be reacquainted with some of the passengers. It is a real thrill to be with some of them."

For the C-130, it’s the second time the plane has united the pilot with the people he helped save.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jenni Hunt
April 09, 2013 11:13 AM
Just this weekend I read the book "Missing, Believed Killed." by Margaret Hayes. How wonderful to find this article just days later and see the Larsons and Bob McAllister and others who I have just read about, alive and well. God bless you and your families.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More