GOLE: 1976 Djibouti helicopter crash

On May 24, 1976, during a military exercise in today’s Djibouti, a country located in the Horn of Africa, a French Army helicopter crashed. Eight men on board were killed, including six legionnaires from the GOLE (Foreign Legion Task Force). At that time, the incident became the deadliest accident of the Legion since the end of the Algerian War in 1962 and has remained the second deadliest accident of the Legion in its post-Algeria history.

Nevertheless, the accident has been completely forgotten in France. Yet in early 2017, there weren’t any original French articles dedicated to this incident on the internet.

Djibouti - Foreign Legion etrangere - GOLE - Accident - 1976

 

The year of 1976 started well for the French Foreign Legion. In early February, the legionnaires took part in a successfully, widely reported 1976 Loyada hostage rescue mission conducted to rescue 31 French children kidnapped by Somali rebels in Djibouti, the capital of the then French Territory of Afars and Issas (TFAI, formerly French Somaliland), today’s Djibouti. To support the rescue mission in Djibouti, the GOLE was put on alert at Bonifacio, its garrison in Corsica.

The GOLE (Groupement Opérationnel de la Légion Étrangère) was established in 1971 as an operational/intervention force of the modern Foreign Legion. In 1972, the unit was assigned to the re-activated 2e RE (future 2e REI). The GOLE was composed of HQ & Support company and three combat companies (5th + 6th + 7th). The 4th Squadron, 1er REC was administratively assigned to the task force (if needed) during interventions.

The 6th Company, GOLE deployed to then TFAI on February 5, 1976. It didn’t finally take part in the rescue mission, however. Once placed in today’s Djibouti, the unit received an order to stay there for a Short Duration Mission (MCD, which usually takes 4-6 months). The legionnaires co-operated with their comrades from the 13e DBLE, having been stationed in the TFAI since 1962, and became the rotational company of the 13e DBLE. The company conducted frontier patrols to eliminate Somali insurgents and participated in military maneuvers.

On May 24, 1976, a firing exercise took place in southern part of the country. The GOLE legionnaires were transported from Arta (the post of the 13e DBLE’s rotational company) to a military shooting range at Holhol (sometimes spelled as Hol Hol) by the helicopters assigned to the French Army Light Aviation Detachment (DETALAT) of Djibouti.

The first rotation conducted by three helicopters (SA 330B PUMA) went without problems. The 3rd Platoon, 6th Company, GOLE was transported with the second rotation. When they were approaching Holhol, one PUMA, with three crew members and eleven legionnaires (led by Staff sergeant Zolic) on board, crashed for unknown reasons into the Djadjaboka thalweg and exploded. Two of the crew members and six legionnaires, including Zolic, died in a fire. One crew member and five legionnaires were thrown out of the helicopter. Although badly burnt, they survived the crash. They were rescued and transported to France a few hours later, to be hospitalized in Paris. By the way, there aren’t any other information concerning the destiny of the badly burnt legionnaires sent to the hospital.

In the accident, the then Legion suffered its worst losses in a single incident since the end of the Algerian War (1962). Nevertheless, the event will be completely forgotten during next decades. On the internet, there aren’t currently any articles in French being concerned with the incident, except for a 2016 forum post translating this text.

There should be two reasons. Six years later, another air accident killing legionnaires occurred in Djibouti: Mont Garbi 1982 accident. This is a well-known event, commemorated annually. The second reason should be that the 1976 accident could have a hidden background with a trace of Somali insurgents. Who knows…

In any case, these two air accidents + the 2016 Avalanche accident in the Alps have remained the deadliest incidents for the Foreign Legion which occurred since the end of the Algerian conflict in 1962.

For the GOLE itself the operation in Djibouti was the only action to take part in. The unit was dissolved in 1977 and its companies consolidated with the 2e RE.

 

The six killed legionnaires of the 3rd Platoon, 6th Company, GOLE:

  • Sergent-chef ZOLIC Smajil – the deputy to a platoon commander
  • Caporal-chef COLETT Julien
  • Legionnaire GAUMONT Pierre
  • Legionnaire BRUNNER Alois – his brother Ruddy was among the badly burnt survivors
  • Legionnaire GALIESER Joseph
  • Legionnaire LARIER René
  •  

    – Brunner, Galieser and Larier were fresh legionnaires, being deployed to Djibouti right after their four-month basic instruction

Killed crew members of the DETALAT crashed helicopter:

  • Adjudant DUBOST Jean-Louis – a pilot
  • Maréchal des logis chef BAIXAS Christian

 

 

2 REI - 2REI - 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment - 2nd REI - Legion - Djibouti - GOLE 1976
The GOLE, 2e RE during its deployment to the TFAI (today’s Djibouti). The unit with its vehicles in the Grand Bara desert in March 1976.
SCH Zolic - GOLE - Djibouti - 1976
Staff sergeant Zolic. The deputy to the platoon commander at that time. A former 2e REP member serving in Chad in 1969-70, a military pentathlon world champion (with a French team), 12 years of service in the Legion.
GOLE - 6e compagnie - Djibouti - 1976
The 6th Company, GOLE parading in Djibouti after their arrival in February 1976.
Left to right: CCH Colett, Leg Brunner A., Leg Larier, Leg Gaumont, Leg Galieser.
GOLE - Funeral - Accident - Djibouti - 1976
A military ceremony at the cemetery of Djibouti (May 26, 1976)
GOLE - Accident - Djibouti - 1976 - Plaque - Bonifacio
The memorial plaque of the 1976 Djibouti helicopter crash inside the Legion’s cemetery at Bonifacio, Corsica (the GOLE’s garrison 1971-77)

 

 

Information & images source:
Képi blanc magazine (No 348, 1976)
Mémorial GenWeb
Aéorostèles

 

 

The page was updated on: May 23, 2017

 

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