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UTA Flight 772 Memorial in the Middle of the Sahara

UTA Flight 772 was a scheduled flight operating from Brazzaville in the People's Republic of Congo to Paris in France. On Tuesday, September 19th, 1989, six Libyan terrorists boarded the plane DC-10 and ignited a suitcase bomb on its way to Paris from Brazzaville. UTA Flight 772 broke up over the Sahara Desert near the towns of Bilma and Ténéré in Niger. All 155 passengers and 15 crew members died. On the 18th anniversary of the disaster, families of the victims gathered at the crash site to build a memorial. Lying in the middle of the Sahara, it is one of the least accessible memorial in the world.

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The memorial consist of a life-sized silhouette of the aircraft created using dark stones set into the sand. The silhouette lies inside a circle more than 200ft in diameter. Surrounding this circle are 170 broken mirrors, representing those who died, and arrows marking the points of the compass. At the northern point, part of the right wing of the actual DC-10 has been erected as a monument, with a plaque commemorating the victims. The memorial was made intentionally big so that it was visible from planes flying overhead.

Due to the remote resting place of the wreck, the wreckage is still scattered around the area. Trucks were driven almost 70 km out to transport countless stones to place at the crash site. After two months of grueling work in a brutal climate, the monument was complete.

The memorial was designed by Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, who established the Libyan foundation in order to make sure that the money donated by Libya as compensation to the victims actually reached the relatives of the deceased. Denoix de Saint Marc was personally affected by the terrorist attack because his father was on the flight.

Initially the Libyan government paid only $34m in compensation. But Denoix de Saint Marc met Muammar Gaddafi and negotiated a new amount—$170 million, one million for each of the 170 victims. It took Denoix de Saint Marc and his foundation eight years to locate all the victim’s families.  Denoix de Saint Marc had to fly to Chad, Morocco, Congo, South America to find all the families.

“We had to turn detective,” Denoix de Saint Marc told BBC. “We had to use DNA to check people's identities. I also found fake families. People pretending they were victims when they were not.”

Although all the money was given to the families, the interest generated an income that allowed the foundation to do its work. It also left enough money for the memorial.

The memorial can be viewed in Google Maps at the coordinates 16°51’53″N 11°57’13″E.

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Sources: Google Sightseeing, Atlas Obscura and DC10-UTA.org. Photos credit: Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc

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