Take a look at the photo below, and tell me if you can see anything funny about it.
Don’t worry. It’s not a scene from War of the Worlds, and that’s not a Martian fighting machine behind Edita’s head, sneaking over the rock and preparing to zap her with a heat ray.
This is the summit of 3,880m Tibherine East in the High Atlas Mountains, a peak just a short distance below the north ridge of Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in Morocco.
That thing behind Edita is actually an old aircraft engine, but how the hell did it get there?
On 28 November 1969, a Lockheed L-749 Constellation aircraft was flying from Faro in Portugal to the island of Sao Tomé off the coast of West Africa. Its eventual destination was the town of Uli in the Republic of Biafra, a disputed territory that seceded from Nigeria and existed as an unrecognised independent state from May 1967 to January 1970.
The cargo flight was carrying ammunition and flying over Morocco at night when the crew experienced problems with three of its four engines. The crew informed air traffic control that they wanted to divert to the nearest airport. Shortly afterwards the aircraft disappeared, and a few days afterwards search and rescue operations were suspended when no trace of the aircraft could be found. The plane was carrying three crew and five passengers. None of them survived.
Eight months later, in July 1970, debris of the aircraft were found close to Jebel Toubkal. The plane appeared to have struck the summit of Tibherine East. Parts of the aircraft were strewn all the way down Toubkal’s north-west couloir, and one of the engines was actually embedded in the summit.
After climbing 4,167m Toubkal for the third time last week, I took an alternative route back down the mountain, descending by its north ridge and coming down the north-west couloir, a gully which runs parallel to the standard tourist route up Toubkal from Toubkal Refuge. On the ridge just below Toubkal’s main summit are three more peaks, Imouzzer (4,010m), Tibherine East (3,880m) and Tibherine West (3,887m).
We tried to climb Imouzzer, but a lack of snow turned a reasonably straightforward snow plod into a technical rock climb that we were not equipped for. Afterwards we wandered up Tibherine East and had our lunch on the summit. There is a fine view down the valley to the village of Imlil, starting point for climbs of Toubkal, but the most notable thing about Tibherine East is its weird summit cairn that appeared there, as if by magic, 48 years ago.
Those red Atlas rocks must be pretty solid, for they did an impressive job of pulverising the aircraft. Descending the north-west couloir back to Toubkal Refuge, we found more aircraft debris hundreds of metres further down.
I’ve seen all sorts of strange things on mountain summits, including crosses, prayer flags, statues of the Virgin Mary, radio masts, Ordnance Survey trig points, and even one or two restaurants, but this has to be the strangest thing yet.
I’m going to stick my neck out and say this has to be the world’s weirdest summit cairn, but if you’ve seen one stranger, then by all means post a link to a photo and I’ll doff my hat to you.
(Source: Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)
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