File photo: Denis Farrell

Harare - Zimbabwean police have arrested six crew members of a US cargo plane after a body was found on board, police said Monday.

The body was believed to belong to a stowaway, said the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), for which the plane was carrying a “consignment.”

The MD-11 aircraft of Florida-based Western Global Airlines left Munich late Saturday en route to Durban, South Africa, said Florian Steuer, a spokesman for the German airport.

He could not confirm if a stopover was planned in Harare, where Zimbabwean authorities say the plane landed for refuelling on Sunday.

Also read: Blood dripping from plane leads to body

It was not clear what the plane was transporting, but Zimbabwean police sources said it had large amounts of South African rand on board.

The crew were arrested after a male body was discovered on the plane and the crew were unable to produce documents to account for its presence, according to Zimbabwean police and aviation officials.

Police sources said the body was dripping with blood.

South Africa's ambassador to Zimbabwe, Vusi Mavimbela, said the crew had “professed ignorance” on how the body got on the plane. Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said the authorities were investigating that.

Zimbabwean Transport Minister Joram Gumbo said Zimbabwe and South Africa were handling the case at a diplomatic level.

Mavimbela said the crew included two South African employees of the country's reserve bank who were accompanying the consignment. The nationalities of the other crew members were not clear.

“The SARB is working with the relevant authorities to ensure that the cargo is released and transported to South Africa,” said Pradeep Maharaj, an executive of the reserve bank, in a statement.

Western Global Airlines told dpa that “the situation is under review” and that a statement would be released as soon as “the facts are known.”

The body was taken for autopsy, Charamba said.

“It is safe to wait for the case to go to court on Monday or Tuesday. Details will be clearer then,” Home Affairs Minister Ignatious Chombo told dpa.

There are two South African Reserve Bank officials in the plane guarding the cargo - which is a massive consignment of South African Rand notes uplifted from Munich airport for delivery to Durban.

The aircraft had been carrying cargo from Uganda, and also stopped off in Nigeria, Belgium and loaded up rand in Munich. It flew, en route to Durban, down Africa’s east coast and had an unscheduled landing for fuel at Harare International Airport after it was turned down by Mozambique.

Security at the airport noticed blood smears on the plane, and blood dripping out of the aircraft, and were told it was probably an accident with a bird.

The Zimbabwe security official asked the US pilot to open the flap near the blood stain in the MD 11 freighter. He opened up and the body of an adult, black man, with burn marks on his head, partially fell out the aircraft. The dead man had no identify documents on him. He was fully clothed and was wearing shoes.

Airport security left him hanging out of the plane for several hours on Sunday until Zimbabwe Republic Police arrived and took control of the body.

Police believe the dead man was an African.

ANA-DPA and IOL