HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwean aviation authorities impounded a U.S.-registered cargo jet, a senior official said Monday, after a dead body later believed to be a stowaway and millions of South African rand were found on board.
The Herald, a state-run newspaper, reported that the MD-11 trijet was traveling from Germany to South Africa "with millions of rands." At today's exchange rate, 1 million rand is worth $62,500.
Authorities here learned the money belonged to the South Africa Reserve Bank, the country's central bank. Police planned to issue a statement later Monday.
The plane had landed in Harare for refueling, said Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe general manager David Chawota. He said the jet, registered with Western Global Airlines, was impounded at Harare airport on Sunday. A website says Western Global Airlines is based in Estero, Florida. The airline on Monday said the cargo belonged to the South African Reserve Bank and the dead body belonged presumably to a stowaway. Zimbabwe police said it was still investigating the matter.
The crew did not know there was someone else on the plane, according to a police officer, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. It appears from photos on social media that the dead person had sneaked into the plane's landing gear, which severed his arm when it contracted, causing blood to splatter onto the fuselage and arousing the suspicion of the ground crew when the flight landed here.
In a response to AP queries, Western Global Airlines said it didn't have the identity of the dead person, believed to be a stowaway.
"The aircraft is leased to Network Airline Management, a longtime customer based in the UK, and the shipment consignee was the South African Reserve Bank. This particular flight was from Germany to South Africa, we are told for the South African government. During a routine fuel stop in Zimbabwe, a body was found in the lower compartment. The body is presumed to be a stowaway who may have entered the airplane during a previous stop. The situation is currently under review," the airline said in an e-mail response to The Associated Press.
South Africa's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Vusi Mavimbela, confirmed that the cargo belonged to the South African Reserve Bank but refused to divulge further details, saying he was still liaising with the Zimbabwe government to resolve the matter. He refused to divulge the nature of the cargo or the amount of money that was in the plane.
Zimbabwe police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said investigations are still underway.
"Our officers are on the ground investigating the case. We are working hard to get the identity of this dead person but I will only give clearer details when investigations are complete. The body has been taken for tests by experts," she said on Monday night.
The crew, according to the Herald, includes two Americans, a South African and a Pakistani.
Associated Press Writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.