In December 1985, the Polisario Front guerilla shot down a German survey-and-research airplane on its way home after an Antarctica expedition.
In the mid-1980s, two German survey-and-research airplanes were sent on a first of its kind mission in Germany. The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research owned the two airplanes, known as Polar 2 and Polar 3.
The two were the first German airplanes to reach the South Pole. In December 1984, Polar 2 and Polar 3 arrived in Antarctica on a five-month mission dedicated to research. However, this peaceful adventure took a dramatic turn because of the Polisario Front.
After concluding their survey, the two survey-and-research airplanes had to head home. Polar 2, which was damaged while in Antarctica, had its bulk of the survey work carried by Polar 3 and they both started their trip back to Bavaria, Germany.
Shot down by the Polisario
On February 24, on their return, the Dornier 228 «Polar 3» and the Do-228 «Polar 2» left the Dakar airport at 14:45 local time, reports Aviation Safety. The two planes were expected to land in Lanzarote, Canary Islands.
However, while flying over the Sahara, Polar 2 and Polar 3 were attacked by the Polisario Front guerilla. «While overflying the Western Sahara, 5 minutes behind Polar 2 and at a lower altitude, Polar 3 was shot down by Frente Polisario guerrillas», the same source added.
Polar 3 was downed by a surface-to-air missile and wrecked in the south of Dakhla, while Polar 2, miraculously escaped unharmed. «The last radio contact with Polar 3 was around 17:30», Aviation safety recalled.
Unfortunately, the Dornier Do 228’s three crew members -two pilots and a mechanic- were killed in the attack. According to the book «Geological Evolution of Antarctica» (Cambridge University Press, May 16, 1991), «the crew of Polar 3, Herbert Hampel, Richard Moebius, and Joseph Schmidt, and the aircraft were tragically lost while flying across Morocco on the return from Antarctica». The bodies of Polar 3’s crew members were recovered five days after the crash.
Following the tragic attack on the German airplane, the Polisario Front issued a communiqué announcing that it regretted the shooting. The separatist movement has even declared that it had mistaken the German airplane for a Moroccan aircraft of a similar type.
«In the communiqué it goes on to say that ‘the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic will not allow any violation of the territory, waters and airspace that have been declared war zones’», Antarktis wrote.
According to an 1985 article by German newspaper Der Spiegel, the attack is not the first of its kind. Shortly before shooting down Polar 3, the Polisario Front mistakenly shot down a Belgian airplane.
Three years after the tragedy, most precisely in December 1988, the Polisario shot two American planes on a locust-spraying mission to Morocco. The first plane was wrecked between the Mauritanian border and the sand wall and the second one landed in a Sidi Ifni airfield.