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PRETORIA October 29 1998 - SAPA


Several earlier findings about the 1987 Helderberg air disaster were questionable, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in its final report released on Thursday.

"It is clear that further investigation is necessary before this matter can be laid to rest," the TRC said.

The SA Airways Helderberg, a Boeing 747, crashed into the sea off the coast of Mauritius on October 28, 1987. All 159 people on board died.

A government commission, headed by Judge Cecil Margo, found that the crash was caused by a fire, which it said might have been caused by ordinary packaging material.

The TRC said its own probe indicated that such material was unlikely to have been the cause of the fire because the blaze was contained and burned fiercely at a high temperature.

Flames from packaging material fire caused a great deal of smoke, while indications were that smoke detectors on the Helderberg were not activated before the fire reached dangerous proportions.

The TRC said civil aviation director Japie Smit testified that most such fires were caused by illegal substances on board.

It said a journalist investigating the crash suggested that South Africa could not produce sufficient amounts of solid rocket fuel for its military operations in Angola in the 1980s.

Because of sanctions against the country, such fuel obtained from foreign sources had to be imported in a clandestine manner, and was brought in on SAA passenger planes.

Margo's finding that the fire started just before the descent to land in Mauritius was also questionable, the TRC said.

It found it strange that Margo did not ask officials of South African arms procurer Armscor to testify. Eyewitnesses of the crash were also not called.

The TRC said Jimmy Mouton of the Flight Engineers Association claimed that Margo as well as a civil aviation directorate lawyer had asked him to withdraw a submission stating that there might have been two fires on board.

"This commission's investigation into the crash showed that many questions and concerns remain unanswered," the TRC said. 

South African Press Association, 1998
TRC could reveal truth about crash

May 24 2000 at 08:52PM
Cape Times

By Craig Urquhart

There are growing calls for the inquiry into the Helderberg disaster to be reopened to confirm or end speculation that Flight 295 was carrying nuclear material or any other illegal substances on board when it crashed.

The plane, a Boeing 747 Combi, crashed into the Indian Ocean about 160km north-east of Mauritius on November 28, 1987, killing all 159 passengers and crew.

Leading forensic expert David Klatzow, who has investigated the crash extensively and testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said if his in-camera cross-examination of key witnesses at the TRC hearings were released, "the truth is there for all to see".

During the TRC hearings, Klatzow grilled Captain Mickey Mitchell, the chief pilot at the control centre in Johannesburg on the night of the crash, Gert van der Veer, the former head of SAA, and Vernon Nadel, the radio operator who was on duty that night.

In its report, the TRC said its own investigation had "raised significant questions about the incident as well as the subsequent investigations that were conducted".


Klatzow said there was now mounting pressure on the TRC to release the tapes of the hearings.

"That (the evidence) remains buried is scandalous," he said. "At the moment, they are inadvertently assisting the forces of darkness. There is enough evidence to demand in any decent society the reopening of the investigation."

Paddy Prior, national legal officer for the TRC, conceded that the commission was in "limbo" over the Helderberg issue. "We realise that there is a lot of confusion. The commission has to deal with the issue and make a stand."

The commission is bound by an act which states that any information obtained at in-camera hearings cannot be made public until the commission decides otherwise, or until the record of such proceedings is produced at any further amnesty hearings or before a court of law.

Another complicating factor is that mechanisms were put in place to ensure the confidentiality of people on the condition that they testify. There is the possibility that they might oppose these records being made public.

Transport Minister Dullah Omar has said if fresh evidence into the cause of the Helderberg crash were to be found, the inquiry would be reopened. 

Helderberg compensation 'damned unfair'

May 24 2000 at 09:37AM
The Argus/Weekend Argus

By Troye Lund

New evidence has given surviving relatives hope of finding out the truth about the end of the ill-fated Helderberg which plunged to a fiery end in the ocean killing all 159 on board.

But other families have resigned themselves to the fact that the truth will never be revealed.

Peter and Loretta Hayward have kept their daughter's room exactly as it was 13 years ago when she plunged to her death on Flight 295 from Taiwan.

Lynette Hayward's nail-polish bottles are still neatly lined up on her desk. A pile of faded, stuffed toys lie quietly under a poster of James Dean.

"You raise her for 22 years. You have expectations. You're getting old and imagine her career and look forward to grandchildren. All that was taken away from us," said Hayward, who received R40 000 from SAA as compensation.

"I never desired to get rich out of my daughter's death ... But they told us we could take it or leave it. It was damned unfair, but I have made peace with it now," he said. He does not believe the truth will ever come out.

He keeps in close contact with Jenny Smith and others who lost family in the tragedy and who are planning to start a civil suit against SAA.

Smith, a mother of two boys, lost her husband, Meiring Smith.

"Nothing is going to bring our loved ones back, but we deserve the truth. The question is how many times were planes full of passengers used to carry contraband into South Africa?" said Smith, who is one of three families who brought legal proceedings against Boeing and got paid out.

"I refused to sign that document that SAA gave people, making them waive their right to sue in return for derisory compensation."

Jenny Baldwin, sister of Helderberg co-pilot Geoffrey Birchall, said: "I can understand why the previous government wanted to cover it all up, but I can't understand why the present government has done the same.

"We are hoping this time it will not be so easy to sweep everything under the carpet." 

Helderberg: SAA may face R2bn in claims

May 24 2000 at 09:37AM
The Argus/Weekend Argus

By Troye Lund

South African Airways could be in for about R2-billion in claims should a new investigation into the 1987 Helderberg crash prove to have been a cover-up.

Aside from the R350-million that insurance company Lloyd's of London paid SAA, the 159 families who lost relatives are also expected to institute claims.

Calls to have the inquiry into the disaster re-opened have been prompted by new evidence, which alleges that the aircraft was carrying a nuclear bomb and that the initial R2-million Judge Cecil Margo investigation was a cover-up.

According to what is claimed to be a transcript of a technologically enhanced voice-cockpit recording of the Helderberg, Captain Dawie Uys told his crew "Boy George" (possibly a code name for a nuclear bomb) was on board.

Lloyds of London was not available for comment and SAA said all new evidence had to be passed on to the Civil Aviation Authority.

While the aviation authority has expressed reservations about the authenticity of the tape, Dr David Klatzow, a leading forensic expert who has been investigating the Helderberg tragedy for Boeing for more than a decade, has dismissed as the new evidence as "unreliable".

But Klatzow is adamant the inquiry must be re-opened and that it should not be conducted by the aviation authority without being overseen, because it conducted the first inquiry into the crash.

"The investigation by the aviation authority points either to stunning incompetence or a cover-up of Olympian proportions," he said.

He had estimated that claims from families and from Lloyd's could be about R2-billion if SAA was found liable.

"Without these new tapes, which have not been verified and which should be taken with a huge dose of scepticism, there is more than enough evidence to re-open the investigation.

"That plane was carrying ammonia perchloride, a compound used to make rocket fuel," said Klatzow.

He called on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to release the transcripts of a closed session where former SAA and Armscor officials were cross-examined by him.

Truth Commission chief executive officer Martin Coetzee said the evidence would remain confidential until a formal request had been made for the evidence to be made public.

"Once such a request has been made, the commission will evaluate the situation and make a decision," said Coetzee.

With a view to re-opening the case, Transport Minister Dullah Omar has asked the Civil Aviation Authority to verify as soon as possible whether new information emerging around the Helderberg crash is "authentic and accurate". 

Helderberg carried weapons, but no bomb

May 23 2000 at 09:22PM

It wasn't an atom bomb that sent the Helderberg plummeting into the Indian Ocean in November 1987, killing all 159 on board - although SA Airways is guilty of illegally carrying weapons aboard passenger planes, it emerged on Tuesday.

Experts on both sides of the Helderberg debate agreed if the disaster had been the result of a nuclear explosion, as suggested in transcripts of a conversation said to have been held between Helderberg crew members, there would have been no wreckage for salvage crews to recover.

Meanwhile, SAA refused to confirm or deny evidence from the 1998 in-camera Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing into the disaster, that it used passenger planes to transport military equipment.

Former truth commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza, who presided over the TRC hearing, confirmed an SAA pilot had told the TRC of at least one incident in 1985 when rockets and rocket launchers were loaded into the cargo hold of his plane on a flight from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg.

Ntsebeza said the TRC had been given sufficient evidence during the hearing to warrant a fresh investigation into the Helderberg disaster.

"There are so many unanswered questions about the crash and the Margo commission that investigated it," said Ntsebeza.

"In our final report we recommend that the government reopen the inquiry."

The TRC heard testimony of witness intimidation, tampering with evidence and failure to follow regulations during the inquiry led by Judge Cecil Margo, which concluded that no one was to blame for the crash.

Meanwhile, the transcripts have been greeted with widespread scepticism. The transcripts are said to refer to a conversation where Helderberg pilot Dawie Uys tells his co-pilot that "Boy George" - an apparent reference to a nuclear bomb - was aboard the aircraft.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority, Trevor Abrahams, said on Tuesday an atomic bomb on board the plane was "not feasible".

"If there had been a nuclear explosion, we would all know about it," said Abrahams. "Nuclear bombs don't burn, they explode, yet we know from the forensic evidence that the Helderberg crashed because of a fire on board."

He said he had contacted the private laboratory in the United States responsible for "technically enhancing" the tape and producing the transcript.

"I have got the master copy of that tape sitting in my cupboard and let me tell you it is just noise," he said.

"The first step in authenticating the transcript is to compare our noise with their noise and see if they are from the same source," he said.

Leading forensic expert David Klatzow, who has investigated the Helderberg crash for several years and testified before the TRC, also dismissed the nuclear claims.

"We have to ask why the government seems determined to keep this quiet," he said.

"We know that SAA will be liable for a lot of money to compensate victims' families and will have to repay the insurance to Lloyds - worth about R1-billion by now - if it turns out the crash was no accident."

Transport Minister Dullah Omar said on Tuesday if fresh evidence into the cause of the Helderberg crash was discovered the inquiry would be reopened - echoing what he said after the TRC hearing. 

Was 'Boy George' a bomb code name?

May 23 2000 at 10:52AM

By Matthew Burbidge

The Civil Aviation Authority would need to evaluate the recording in which flight crew discuss a bomb on board the doomed Helderberg before launching an investigation.

It was reported on Tuesday in Beeld, a Johannesburg daily, that the Helderberg was carrying a "nuclear bomb" on board.

The newspaper published a full transcript of a conversation recorded in the cockpit between crew members. In this conversation, Captain Dawie Uys told a crew member that "Boy George is on board".

Most of the recording was previously inaudible, but had been retrieved through electronic enhancement.

Beeld claims "Boy George" are codewords for a nuclear bomb - a reference to Little Boy, the first nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Uys then says: "There is a small secret that I think you men would like to know. There is a bomb on board."

They also refer to the bomb as belonging to the state.

Trevor Abrahams, chief executive officer of the Civil Aviation Authority, said they were still "evaluating" evidence, and would then decide on further investigation.

Abrahams said he doubted the authenticity of the tape, saying it contained, at best, allegations. "The tape is inaudible at the best of times and has not yet been authenticated.

"In the audio copy, there are phrases broken up and repeated. It's not sequenced."

Abrahams said he believed a sound engineer had spent a month preparing a transcript of the tape, but you "can't take a transcript at face value".

Abrahams questioned the ethics of Neels van Wyk, who supplied the transcript to Beeld and, according to Abrahams, was now asking R250 000 in compensation.

"It's a bit worrying - the commercialisation."

Dr David Klatzow, a forensic consultant, said there was nothing to support the claim the plane was carrying a nuclear payload. "Boy George could have been a code name for whatever they were carrying." 

Helderberg 'carried nuclear bomb'

May 23 2000 at 09:22AM
Daily News mk2

The ill-fated Helderberg was carrying a nuclear bomb in its cargo hold when it crashed into the sea off Mauritius in 1987 while on a flight from Taipei to Johannesburg, a South African newspaper reported in Tuesday's edition.

The Afrikaans daily, Beeld, reported that this information was revealed through a transcription taken from a flight recorder on board the aircraft of a nine-minute conversation between cabin crew in which mention was made of a "Boy George" - apparently a code name for an atomic or nuclear bomb.

The transcript was also expected to be passed on to Civil Aviation Authority chief executive Trevor Abrahams, reported Beeld.

According to the transcript, only recently deciphered in the United States with the use of new technology, Helderberg pilot Captain Dawie Uys told his co-pilot: "Boy George is aboard".

Shortly after this Uys was heard saying: "Here is a little secret (that) I thought you fellows (the crew) would want to know ... a bomb is aboard."

A conversation then occurred, during which the crew expressed their shock at the news, with one voice heard saying: "Real big problem ... yeah, big problem ... very difficult problem ... no kidding. Who the hell else (knows) this besides you?"

Someone replies: "Nobody ... nobody."

Later in the conversation, a voice asks who the owner of the bomb is and another voice replies that the bomb is "government-owned".

The other voice then replies: "You're crazy, you know, to have done this ... What madness - We fly in their/the/a atomic bomb."

Shortly before smoke is detected in the cabin, a voice is heard saying: "Thank you for a splendid Molotov cocktail - that could kill." 

Missing Helderberg tape may point to SAA

May 22 2000 at 10:07PM
Cape Times

Fresh light has been cast on a crucial missing Helderberg audio-tape that contains the last minutes of a conversation between Captain Dawie Uys and Johannesburg International Airport.

The airport operations room tape disappeared on the morning after the accident. If it can be proved that South African Airways removed the tape, it may suggest the airline was aware dangerous chemicals had been on board the Helderberg, and that a mention of the consignment may have been made on the tape.

If proven true, the national carrier could face claims of hundreds of millions of rand from the families of the 159 victims of the 1987 disaster.

An as yet unpublished record of a conversation between leading private forensic consultant David Klatzow and an SAA pilot, Jimmy Deal, who has since died, shows Deal was instructed to pick up the tape from the airport, and that he handed it over to SAA.

This tape is not to be confused with that of the cockpit voice recorder which was handed to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials last week.

In his findings on the disaster in 1989, Judge Cecil Margo concluded that, although the tape had been either inadvertently recorded over or mislaid, its contents would have had no bearing on the crash.

The aircraft crashed into the sea off Mauritius on November 28 1987, killing everyone on board.

Klatzow said on Monday that Deal had told him he had been instructed to remove the tape, and hand it over to a senior SAA official. He went down to the control room on the night of the crash to get it. Klatzow said he had Deal on tape confessing to this.

When the CAA launched its inquiry into the crash, one of the first things the investigators did was to request the tape from SAA.

According to the chief technical investigator, Rennie van Zyl, he listened to the tape, and it was found to be blank.

Van Zyl approached SAA, who said the tape was "missing" or that it had been re-recorded. The missing tape, and the absence of a plausible reason for its non-existence, also came to the attention of SAA flight engineers, who were doing their own investigation at the same time as the Margo probe.

The Star newspaper has an affidavit made by Yvonne Bellagarda, the wife of flight engineer Joe Bellagarda who was killed in the crash, that Margo warned the engineers to drop their inquiries into the missing tape.

Yvonne said she was friends with Jimmy Mitton, a close friend of her late husband's, who was called in by Judge Margo.

"When Mitton came back to me, he was upset. He told me Margo had insisted that he drop his line of inquiry. Furthermore, Margo had told him that the country cannot afford to have him pursue this line of inquiry. It would cost too much and that his job, career and safety were on the line."

Margo is ill and was unable to speak to the press last night.

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