could reveal truth about crash
May 24 2000 at 08:52PM
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
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
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.
compensation 'damned unfair'
May 24 2000 at 09:37AM
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
"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
"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
"We are hoping this time it will not be so easy to sweep everything
under the carpet."
SAA may face R2bn in claims
May 24 2000 at 09:37AM
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,"
Leading forensic expert David Klatzow, who has investigated the Helderberg
crash for several years and testified before the TRC, also dismissed the
"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.
'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
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
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
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
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."
May 23 2000 at 09:22AM
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
Helderberg tape may point to SAA
May 22 2000 at 10:07PM
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
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
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
Margo is ill and was unable to speak to the press last night.