Thursday February 16, 1989 will forever remain the most tragic moment in the history of Avions Sans Frontières (ASF).
At approximately 10 a.m., the Cessna 206 registered 9Q-CBQ, the first one that had been sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo, crashes into a mountain of the Nyiragongo volcano, near Goma, not even ten minutes after take-off.
The accident kills all six passengers on the spot, namely the pilot-mechanic Normand Berger, Lucien Baffaro, Rémi Claveau and Robert Duchesneau, all four Brothers of the Christian Instruction (FIC), as well as a Dutch couple. The news is devastating not only for the FIC community, but for all the people involved in the development of the Eastern province. As a result, ASF’s activities are greatly reduced since the organization can only rely on a single Cessna to ensure all of its operations. “In addition to great material loss, we are mostly facing a tremendous loss of collaborators who were fully involved in missionary work and international cooperation. But more than ever, we must continue to help the deprived people of the Democratic Republic of Congo”, states Robert Gonnevile, Director of Avions Sans Frontières, the day after the tragedy, which is highly reported in the Quebec media. Again, the benevolent intervention of Wings of Hope will enable Avions Sans Frontières to resume its activities and go full steam ahead. Indeed, in August 1991, the American organization officially donates another Cessna 206, to replace the one lost at the time of the accident. The plane is even more necessary now, since refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan are flocking towards Dungu. Already, the only ASF plane is flying non-stop transporting personnel and medical supplies. Nevertheless, the situation is worsening in the region. The military are committing acts of violence against the population and the increasing tension is forcing ASF to suspend its flights during several months. Also, it is only in 1994 that the new plane arrives in Africa. After having been used for a small promotional campaign in Quebec, the pilot Guy Gervais oversees its disassembly so it can be shipped to Nairobi by container, where he will go to assemble it once again. However, this plane will begin its operations in the region of Dungu, nor anywhere else in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but rather in Bujumbura, in Burundi, to serve the massive Rwandan refugee camps who are fleeing the genocide. But the situation is also deteriorating in Burundi, so much so that a Cessna 206 should not remain stationed there. The plane will thus head for Kisangani, to be placed at the diocese’s disposition.