The magazine for Western Washington University

The Planes

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown explains the story of his iPhone photos of abandoned planes at a Congolese airport

Story by Michael Christopher Brown ('00)

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| Photo by Michael Christopher Brown (
| Photo by Michael Christopher Brown (
| Photo by Michael Christopher Brown (
| Photo by Michael Christopher Brown (
| Photo by Michael Christopher Brown (
| Photo by Michael Christopher Brown (

Abandoned planes are a common site at airports in Africa. At Goma Airport, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, planes left due to wars and volcanic eruptions over the past two decades have become a playground for street children, some of whom sell the parts which are made into stoves and other items to be sold on the streets of Goma.

One is generally prohibited from photographing this airport, but in mid-December, 2012, after the M23 rebel force which occupied Goma left and before the FARDC (military of the D.R.C.) returned to the city, a security vacuum meant that nobody was guarding this section of the airport.

Children guided me through the planes, which were later discussed by my Congolese fixer, Horeb Bulambo Shindano:

“In January of 2002, the volcano (Nyiragongo, just outside Goma) exploded and the lava blocked the planes. I helped move

this plane after I and many of my friends living near the airport lost our homes to lava, on the first day of the eruption.

“On the second day, we saw the lava moving towards the planes. I and others were just watching the lava flow getting closer to the planes and we decided to move one of them, this newer one.

“There were at least a hundred people there pushing the plane for about 300 meters. A friend of mine who was there, and whose house was also destroyed, had a childhood dream to be a pilot. But his parents were too poor and all the schools were expensive, so he could not hold onto that dream. He forgot about it, but then on that day, when we needed to move the plane, he told me to help him inside so he might steer it!

“We all pushed the plane as my friend waved his arm out the window, in the cockpit. We then climbed in the plane and saw the lava flowing down the volcano and into town.”

In the next year or so, I plan to exhibit and publish these images, samples of a larger body of work that is still in production, in book form.