Thursday, 6 May 2010

Plane crazy

Today's ironic aerial mishap got me thinking about famous air crashes in history. I have a personal favourite air crash of all time, a little gem of poetic justice.

Some background; it was July 1936. A junta of Spanish Generals had just launched their plot to overthrow Spain's democratically elected government, starting a bitter civil war that was to cost around three hundred thousand lives, a war prosecuted with such brutality that even Ciano, Fascist Italy's Foreign Minister, was shocked by the viciousness of his Spanish allies. They're still digging up the bodies of people the death squads threw into mass graves to this day.

Anyway, the ringleaders of the military coup were Generals José Sanjurjo, Emilio Mola and Francisco Franco. Sanjurjo was the figurehead of the uprising. Mola was chief planner and second in command. In July 1936, Franco had been secretly flown from the Canary Islands (where he was military commander) to take charge of the rebel Spanish Army of Africa, based in Spanish Morocco and a coded radio message had signalled the start of the putsch.

Sanjurjo, the nominal leader of the coup, was in exile in Portugal, scheduled to fly back to Spain to assume command on July the 20th. Sanjurjo was a very heavy man and, it seems, a rather self-important and vain one. Despite his pilot's warning that their little Dragon Rapide airliner was dangerously overloaded, Sanjurjo insisted on taking a large amount of heavy luggage, including a lot of fancy uniforms, dismissing his pilot's advice with the words:

I need to wear proper clothes as the new caudillo of Spain

Well, you can pull rank on your pilot, but ye cannae break the laws of physics. The plane took off packed to the gunnels with trunks full of spiffy uniforms, was too heavy and crashed, killing the narcissistic Sanjurjo.

Incidentally, by the time Franco became caudillo, his career advancement had been aided by not one, but two, air disasters - less than a year after Sanjurjo, General Mola was also killed in a plane crash.