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

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs