Ernest Hemingway Crashes in Airplane at Murchison Falls:
On January 23, 1954, it looked like another wonderful day in Africa. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Mary Welsh Hemingway boarded their chartered Cessna-180 at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. Roy Marsh, a seasoned African Pilot, was to take them on a grand fly-over Safari to Uganda. The trip was to be as a late Christmas present for Hemingway’s wife, Mary.
On their flight, they viewed some of Africa’s scenic wonders from above. The Great Rift Valley, Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh-water lake, and Lake Albert. Seeing Murchison Falls, the most world’s most powerful waterfall, was what they looked forward to seeing from above.
The pilot intended to fly as low as possible over the falls. While doing it, the plane’s rear snagged the telephone wire causing the plane to crash in a brushy area near the falls. The aircraft was not severely damaged, but there were not going to take off from where they were.
The one good thing was that they were alive. They did sustain non-life-threatening injuries and needed medical and were bruised and battered but alive.
They now had the dubious honor of being the first and only drop-in tourists at Murchison Falls Park. Their day had turned out different from what was their intention. A day, like no other, the sightseeing trip had become an unplanned Wilderness experience.
Surrounded by elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards, hippos, crocodiles, and other animals, if that was not on the itinerary.
The crash site was not an epic scene from “Out of Africa.” It was more like an episode from the “Survivor” without the backup support. Roy Marsh made some Mayday calls with the functioning radio on the plane, but there was no response.
They did not carry food, water on other provisions on board the plane. All they had was a few Carlsberg Beers, a bottle of Scotch, some apples, and a few biscuits. Not the typical fare for a night in the African Bush.
They kept a fire going during the night to keep wild animals at bay.
You can be sure that Tsetse flies haunted them during daylight hours and mosquitoes during the night.
Did they sleep? Most likely, they were kept awake by the rushing waters of the falls and the sounds of roaring lions, trumpeting elephants, and snorting hippos that up from the river to graze at night. Those sounds
Around 5 pm on January 24, Hemingway’s Cessna was reported missing. Some thought that they had landed at one of the nearby airstrips.
The search began in earnest early on January 25, 1954. The British Colonial administration dispatched planes to aid in the search for Hemingway’s party. A British Overseas Airways Corporation pilot diverted his commercial flight and spotted the plane. He commented, “It looked like the chap did a neat job of landing the aircraft.”
The two planes dispatched by the colonial administration confirmed what the commercial airline pilot had reported and led a ground rescue team to the spot.
No survivors were found. The rescuers hoped that they had made it to the river Nile 300 meters from the crash site.
By now, Newspapers worldwide proclaimed that Ernest Hemingway, his wife, and the pilot were dead. Ernest Hemingway was one of the few people to read his own obituaries recovering at the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi after his ordeal.
The unlikely Rescue by a Sightseeing Boat on the Nile
Hemingway, with his wife and pilot, headed for the River Nile in hopes of being rescued. Here is what happened in his own words. “During this safari, we had many times seen mirages when the sun got high, and at the sight of this launch. I thought first that I must check my eyesight. I called Miss Mary and told her that a launch was coming up the river.”
The was launch was piloted by Edwiges Abreo, a Goan bringing a honeymoon couple on a wildlife boat safari up to the falls. He had been notified by the British Authorities to be on the lookout for Hemingway and his party.
The SS Murchison had been used to make the movie “The African Queen.” Ernest Hemingway later wrote, “It was a wonderful launch, fairly old-fashioned in lines, and we later found that it was the vessel which had been used in the motion picture called The African Queen, which starred two intrepid characters called Katharine Hepburn, who has my great admiration, and Humphrey Bogart, whom I have never yet seen in real life,”