The twin-engine Cessna C421 takes off from the Lisbon International Airport to Oporto. Less than a minute later, it crashes in the neighborhood of Fontainhas, in Camarate. Francisco Sá Carneiro was on board
“Francisco Sá Carneiro, Prime Minister of Portugal, died just over an hour ago in an air disaster.” It’s 09.29 p.m on the 4th of December, 1980 and RTP interrupts the usual emission to account for the disaster.
The twin-engine Cessna C421 takes off from the Lisbon International Airport to Porto. Less than a minute later, it crashes in the neighborhood Fontainhas, in Camarate, right next to the airport.
On board were the Portuguese Prime Minister, Francisco Sá Carneiro, his partner, Snu Abecassis, Adelino Amaro da Costa, the Minister of Defense, and his wife, the chief of staff of the Prime Minister, António Patrício Gouveia, and the two pilots. The confirmation of the news does not take long.
“The Minister of Internal Affairs, Eurico de Melo, has confirmed to RTP and to the present journalists that that was, effectively, the plane on board of which the Prime Minister was,” announces the public television station.
The radio stations are also on top of the event, broadcasting special emissions dedicated to the disaster and sending reporters to the site. The news crosses the border and echoes on the Spanish radio.
In Camarate, journalists pressure the deputy Ms. Helena Roseta. “And now, what will happen?” “We keep on going. Portugal keeps on going.”
The accident’s aftermath
Diogo Freitas do Amaral, Vice Prime Minister of the Government of Sá Carneiro, makes a statement to the country. “Portuguese people, the Prime Minister of Portugal, Mr. Francisco Sá Carneiro, died today, at the beginning of the evening, in a horrible plane crash.”
The words of tribute come even by the voice of political opponents. “This is an hour of consternation and mourning for all Portuguese people and all democrats.”
The Media buzz
In the following days and weeks, the story makes front pages.
“There are times when words seem meager to express the tragic feeling that seizes the national community,” can be read in the editorial of Diário de Notícias, led by Mário Mesquita, in the second edition of the 5th December. The phrase illustrates the feeling of disbelief and emotion that spread across the country.
In presidential campaign
In that fateful night, the plane was going to Oporto, where Sá Carneiro was supposed to attend a presidential campaign rally. There were only three days left for the voters’ final decision in the second presidential election of the democratic era. On one side, the President of the Republic in office, General Ramalho Eanes. On the other, general Soares Carneiro, supported by the Democratic Alliance.
On the day of his death, the Prime Minister gives a final press conference and records the last message to the Portuguese people.
On the suffrage’s date, the 7th of December, the presidential election splits front pages with Sá Carneiro’s funeral, held the day before. The cortege leaves Jerónimos to the cemetery of Alto de São João, a journey that lasts five hours and is accompanied by thousands of people.
Despite the national sadness Ramalho Eanes is re-elected with 56.44 percent of the votes, putting an end to Sá Carneiro’s dream of “a majority, a government and a president.” The results surprise some political commentators, who expected that the country’s emotional reaction to the tragedy could reverse the trend of Ramalho Eanes victory.
Later that month, the theory that the fall of the aircraft hadn’t been an accident is brought to light.
Next January, Expresso released information on the autopsies and details about the fall of the aircraft.
Speculation has never stopped. Over the decades, successive Parliamentary Committees examined the circumstances of the tragedy of Camarate.