In a lonely corner the Sahara Desert, Google Earth shows what looks like a tattoo on the sun-parched sands: a dark graphic blot amid the vast remoteness of Niger’s Tenere region. The negative space in the center of the dot forms the shape of a DC-10 jet plane. Four arrows outside the circle point in each direction, like a compass.
The dark mass large enough to register on a satellite is actually an arrangement of boulders improbably hauled to the desolate area and hand-placed to create the precise image of a DC-10 – a memorial for the 170 victims of the UTA 772 plane crash on Sept. 19, 1989. A terrorist’s bomb downed the aircraft in Niger en route from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Paris, leaving no survivors.
Fifteen years later, victims’ relatives from the group Les Familles de l’Attentat du DC-10 d’UTA used some of their $ 170 million settlement to fund the memorial. (Last year, another commemorative site opened at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.) This photo gallery offers an up-close look at the arduous labor of love, illustrating such daunting tasks as excavating one of the wings, later incorporated into the design. Parts of the wreckage remained in the sand when the work began (a testament to the remoteness of the crash site), and the gallery includes stirring images of loose, twisted aircraft seats and other debris. Other striking photos show how the group spent two months moving stones by hand to outline a circle 200 feet in diameter and then fill it in with rocks, leaving an empty space in the shape of the aircraft with remarkable accuracy. Broken airplane windows ring the circle, one for each of the 155 passengers and 15 crew members who perished.
Considering that Lonely Planet describes the Tenere as a classic “endless, empty desert,” the photo gallery will be the closest look most of us ever get of this amazing memorial.