Summary of evidence given at the inquiry on the disaster involving the
Helderberg (Flight SA 295 on 28 November 1987)
Investigate Inquiry held in camera in June 1998 in terms of S29 of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act
released on 18 August 2000
A special investigative hearing convened by the TRC in
terms of Section 29 of the TRC Act took place in camera on 1, 2 and 3 June 1998 at Cape
Town. The Chairperson was Dumisa Ntsebeza, Head of the Investigative Unit and a
Commissioner on the Human Rights Violations Committee, Ms Glenda Wilschut, a Commissioner
and member of the Rehabilitation and Reparations Committee and Mr Wilson Magadla, Head of
Special Investigations in the Operational Directorate of the Investigative Unit of the
Truth and Reconcilation Commission. Evidence was led by Christelle Terblanche. Dr David
Joseph Klatzow gave evidence as an expert witness. Thereafter he was promptly made a
member of the Commission of Enquiry in a "consultative capacity".
The following persons who were called to testify:
1 Dr David Joseph Klatzow. (evidence p 4 to 60).
2. Mr Gerrit Dirk Van Der Veer, former CEO of SAA (evidence p67 - 162).
3. Mr David Hare , General Manager for an Armscor subsidiary Infoplan
(evidence p165 - 193).
4. Marthinus Gerhardus Willemse of SAA (evidence p196 -
5. Mr Vernon Nadel, employed by SAA, Duty Officer of Flight Operations
(evidence p218 - 311).
6. Mr Michael Peter Mitchell, senior member of the flight
crew (evidence p312 - 408)
7. Mr Braizblatt, Cargo Manager, SAA in Israel (Evidence p409 - 458).
8. Dr Johan Lodewyk Steyn, a Physicist at Armscor (Evidence p434 - 486).
9. Mr Richard David Steyn of Armscor (evidence p459-486).
10. Mr J N J Van Rensburg, Lawyer and Legal Advisor to Margo Commission
(evidence p487 - 523)
2. EVIDENCE OF DR D J KLATZOW
He gave evidence that he had serious misgivings about the
way the Margo Enquiry was conducted and the role of Judge Margo. He explained the combi
design of the Helderberg, (SA 259), a Boeing 747. The aircraft left Taipei over an hour
late, passed various flight information zones and was due to touch down at Plaissance
Airport, Mauritius. There was radio communication through the ZUR station at Johannesburg
airport. The sell call at Johannesburg was not functioning.
The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) which normally records the
last 30 minutes of a flight was retrieved from the sea.
The journey would have taken approximately 9 hours. It took
off 14h23 at Taipei. There is a six hour difference with South Africa. South African time
therefore was 20h23. The ZUR tape (in Johannesburg) was changed at a time which was
shortly after the SA 295 had left Taipei. The first 20 minutes of the CVR contained
nothing very special. There was talk about women. The CVR had stopped functioning because
the fire had burnt through the cable, leading from the cockpit to the recorder in the rear
of the plane. The CVR recorded a discussion on dinner.
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Dr Klatzow testified that the normal routine on a plane
would be that there would be bar service shortly after the plane had taken off, followed
by dinner. Captain Dawie Uys (the pilot of the Helderberg) had made some remarks which
could be interpreted as referring to the food. Some disparaging remarks about food were
made. He further testified that meals are never served shortly before the descent of a
plane. This is extremely important because if the CVR recorded at about dinner time, then
a fire must have occurred 2 - 3 hours after take off.
According to Dr Klatzow, Tony Viljoen testified in the
Margo Commission Enquiry that Captain Van Heerden of the SA Pilots Association was present
at the Enquiry. Viljoen represented the International Federal Association of Airline
Pilots. Klatzow testified that there is a recognised way in terms of pilots operating
manuals of dealing with a fire on board, namely putting out the fire and then landing at
the nearest airport. He asked why did Captain Dawie Uys not land at the nearest airport if
there was a fire very early during the flight. He strongly believed that he was instructed
by Johannesburg not to land, but to put out the fire and to proceed with his flight. This
would have been recorded on the ZUR.
In his view a fire occurred during the first two hours. The
reason for the instruction was that the flight took place at the height of the sanctions
period at a time when P W Botha was still President.
He testified further that Judge Margo found the ZUR had
been possibly misplaced. If that was so or if it was overtaped (as it was also alleged)
why was this not investigated. He strongly believed that the relevant ZUR tape contained
evidence of the first fire and an instruction from Johannesburg to fly on. Klatzow says
that during his investigations he telephoned Jimmy Deale in Durban. Deale said that he
handed the ZUR tape to Micky Mitchell in the presence of Gerrit Van Der Veer and Adv.
Malherbe. Mitchell had told him that he had received the ZUR tape. He must have handed it
to a senior official. However, Rennie Van Zyl at the time of the Department of Civil
Aviation had told him that a pilot, Du Toit, had said that there had been nothing untoward
on the missing tape. Apparently Roy Downes came to impound the tape about 3 to 4 weeks
after the accident. He found it strange that on the night of the disaster, Du Toit worked
beyond his usual hours. This could only be because there was something unusual. In charge
of the ZUR was Vernon Nadel, who subsequently became manager at Miami Airport.
The Flight Engineers Association had prepared a report
setting out its view on what happened. It held the view that a fire occurred shortly after
the plane had left Taipei and that what happened as the plane approached Mauritius, was a
second incident. Judge Margo did not accept the report. In fact it is alleged that Judge
Margo had called Ray Scott, Jimmy Mouton and Judge Beddar to his Chambers and ordered them
to drop the presentation of the report because it would cost the country R400 million and
the country could not afford it. It would also play into the hands of the ANC.
It is also alleged that Peter De Beer was told by Margo to
consider his own safety and that of his family. According to Klatzow, Thinus Jacobs was
Freight Manager at Taipei airport at the time. He too was promoted and was running a
successful travel agency under the name of Crown Travels.
There was a close relationship between Armscor and the SAA.
SAA assisted Armscor to carry dangerous goods and to break sanctions. One Captain Flippie
Looch indicated that one item of cargo consisting of road rockets was inadvertently
exposed whilst a 747 was parked in Israel.
Klatzow also testified that according to Bingo Kruger, who
worked at Armscor, they had no hesitation in breaking the sanctions policy and conveying
cargo. According to Klatzow, one Mr Southeard, an expert, had testified to the Margo
Enquiry that the fire had not been an ordinary diffusion flame fire, but an accelerated
fire. The fire had occured on the foremost righthand pallet. The kind of things officially
listed on the pallet PR would not burn the way it did. Spare parts, bicycles and shoes do
not burn with that ferocity and do not spontaneously ignite. Why did Judge Margo ignore
this evidence? The Judge deflected the Inquiry.
Dr Klatzow suggested a likely scenario as follows: -
In the late 1998 the war in Angola was still on. South
African troops were deep into Angola. Its military and airforce were engaged in hotly
contending that countrys existence with east block operatives, who were working with
the Angolans at the time. South Africa had lost a number of mirage fighters to the new mig
aircraft. There was a serious problem.
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Armscor was on the level of petty criminals when it came to
stealing intellectual property. Armscor weaponry such the R4 had its origins in the AK 47
(with Israeli intervention). It begged, borrowed and stole if necessary any technology it
required for the continuation of their war. There was a necessity to develop better rocket
propellants at the time. Basic ingredients are well known, but subtle ingredients which
give it its extra performance need to be either developed at great time and cost or
obtained in some other way. The major component of this is ammonium perchlorate.
South Africa had been importing military ordinance of the
kind referred to aboard passenger aircraft. It was ammonium perchlorate that was being
brought in either to be used, but more likely to be copied that spontaneously ignited that
night and created the problem. A fire occurred soon after the plane left Taipei. Uys did
not land because he was told not to land by senior officials of either the government at
the time or the airline. He had thought that he had extinguished the fire, only to be
re-confronted with it outside Mauritius, which led to the final disaster.
He believed that the conversation asking for permission to
land and being refused permission was recorded at ZUR and that that is why the tape went
missing. He rejected the view that it was inexplicably overtaped or had been mislaid. The
clue to what happened lies in the CVR recording of a conversation about dinner.
He believed that the airline knew all along what it was
transporting and was involved in the major cover-up which followed. Armscor knew about
this and that it was no coincidence that Mr John Hare, a senior man at Armscor was to
become the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of South African Airways.
Margo failed to call Mouton or his engineers. He
intimidated them. He was unwilling to conduct a proper investigation into the nature of
the cargo or the missing ZUR tape. The Department of Civil Aviation performance was also
dismal and were also probably involved in the complicity. He drew attention to the Air
Traffic Control recording made at Plaissance airport of the last 20 minutes. There is talk
of a smoke problem. This does not appear on the CVR. Therefore they related to different
times. There were a number of other strange features. All these aspects make him conclude
that the investigation should be re-opened and a proper judicial enquiry held to establish
the truth of what had happened on the night of the 27th and the morning of the
28th November 1987.
3. EVIDENCE OF GERHARDT VAN DER VEER
He was asked to testify on the relationship between Armscor
and SAA in the late 1980's, the subsidiaries of Armscor and their relationship with SAA,
SAA policy on cargo as well as his own role in the investgation of the crash, especially
the immediate steps taken to secure all records, the whereabouts of the ZUR tape and the
communication between Helderberg and Springbok radio on the night of the crash. He denied
that there was any untoward relationship between Armscor and SAA. He denied that he was
part of a delegation that sought an assurance from Armscor that dangerous substances would
not be put on passenger airlines.
He did not volunteer any evidence, but indicated that he
would respond to questions. In his evidence he said that he started with SAA as CEO in
1983. He had never sought any assurances from Armscor with regard to cargo. There were
IATA regulations. He was not aware of any military type equipment conveyed on planes . He
was not aware of any false declarations with regard to such cargo.
He became aware that the plane was missing at about 4 am on
the 28th when Viv Lewis, Deputy CEO, telephoned him. He asked Lewis to proceed
to the airport immediately. He himself followed. He got to the airport at about 05h00.
Lewis and Micky Mitchell plus Venter, SAA spokesperson were already there. He could not
say if Jimmy Deale was there. He explained that the ZUR was a 24 hour per day radio
station with 24 hour a day reel to reel tapes which recorded on a continuous basis. The
station was manned by three persons during a 24 hour day. Reels were kept for a period of
4 to 5 weeks.
He denied that there was an atmosphere of fear. He could
not understand it. He agreed that after the plane went missing, there many rumours. He was
not aware of any rumours of acrimonius conversation between Dawie Uys (the pilot) and ZUR.
There were rumours that Uys had contacted ZUR and even him through ZUR. He agreed that
there were guidelines on what to do after an accident which included making all
information available to the Department of Civil Aviation. He became aware that the ZUR
went missing. He agreed that it was persistently alleged that there was something sinister
on the ZUR tape which allegedly went missing.
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He had attended some of the Margo Commission hearings, but
also got reports from Micky Mitchell, Lewis and Adv. Malherbe. He had been told that the
tape had been overtaped - by either Mitchell or Lewis. He had accepted the explanation. He
was not aware that Jimmy Deale had signed the tape out. At 5 oclock on the morning
of the 28th he got the feeling that the aircraft was lost. He thought that
Mitchell had told him that they had taken the tapes, had sealed them and that they were
ready for collection.
He did not not know that Roy Downes came three weeks later
to fetch the ZUR when it was discovered that the crucial one was missing. He did not
believe that the ZUR was so vital because the Mauritian air control recorded the last half
hour. When asked, he said he could not recollect that the ZUR had been given to him. He
did not think so. As CEO he had never asked Mitchell or Lewis to explain to the Margo
Commission what had happed to the ZUR. It was put to him that either version of what
happed to the ZUR raised more questions. If it was overtaped or if it had been handed
over, how could Captain Du Toits statement be true that he had listened to the tape
and there had been nothing to it. This is apparently what he had told Renee Van Zyl.
He agreed that dinner on the plane could have been served
soon after take off and the CVR stopped functioning 2 to 3 hours after leaving Taipei. It
was also possible that the CVR stopped working at that time. He was not aware that FEA
people had been called in to Margos office and that Margo had told them to drop the
evidence and intimidated them. He had heard of the experience of a couple of pilots that
rockets had been found in cargo in Israel. He testified that Lloyds of London had paid out
the full claim for the plane. The SAA had never said to Lloyds that on the odd occasion
they were going to be carrying explosives for Armscor. He was aware of the promotion of
4. EVIDENCE OF JOHN DAVID HARE
He was asked to provide details and answer questions about
the relationship between Armscor and SAA during the 1980's (especially 1985 to 1988 and
also to answer questions on his role in Armscor and SAA). He denied that there was any
special role between Armscor and SAA. He said there were relationships between many
corporations and SAA. Armscor would be one of them. He was employed by Armscor as General
Manager of one of the subsidiary companies Infoplan in 1976. Later he moved to Armscor
head office. He admitted that Armscor would have had an account with SAA, but this was no
different from a number of corporations.
He agreed that Armscor functioned in a period when South
Africa was considered to be the pariah of the world. Armscor violated sanctions and was
prepared to use subterfuge to achieve its objectives - but they were never contrary to any
South African law. He was questioned at length, but denied he had specific knowledge of
what was going on in a variety of areas. He confirmed that there were links between
Armscor and Somchem, also a subsidiary. Somchem was producing a variety of military
ordinance, but he denied knowledge that it was producing a compound ammonium perchlorate.
He was aware of rocket developments that were undertaken through the 1980's, also of a
long range missile.
He was aware of the process of reverse engineering in which
Armscor was engaged. It would obtain products from other countries and would then copy
them, thereafter producing its own.
In his view Armscor operated with integrity and would not
have undertaken the risk of carrying dangerous substances aboard civilian airliner. He was
asked about rockets which formed part of cargo seen at an Israeli airport. In an attempted
cover-up they were called mirage drop tanks which was not true. Mr Hare could not confirm,
though he said that this could have happened.
He could not recall an altercation between a member of SAA
staff and himself, in which it was put to him that he knew what was aboard the Helderberg.
He says he would have remembered such an incident.
5. EVIDENCE OF MARTHINUS GERHARDUS WILLEMSE
He was asked to answer questions relating to the
relationship between SAA and Armscor and also SAAs relationship with airlines and
cargo agents in Israel and Taiwan. He testified that he was a legal advisor to SAR&H,
but later transferred to SAA. He denied being aware that SAA sometimes carried cargo
intended to evade sanctions. SAA carried normal commercial cargo, though they could not
fly their planes along the normal commercial routes used by competitors.
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His function at the time was to oversee the commercial
aspects of the international trade of SAA.
His role after the Helderberg disaster was on the customer
side to effect contact with the next of kin.
He was not at Johannesburg airport during or after the
accident. He confirmed that Thinus Jacobs was SAA Manager in Taiwan at the time of the
Helderberg disaster. Thereafter he resigned from SAA and started his own business as Crown
Travel. It was put to him that SAA was his best client. The witness said it was possible.
He also knew Vernon Nadel.
He denied any knowledge of either Deon Storm or Flippie
Looch telling him of rockets falling out of cargo at an Israeli airport. When pressed, he
said he could not remember. He denied that he was aware of the fact that SAA conveyed the
goods for Armscor. He was asked about insurance and also maximum amounts payable to
passengers or next of kin. He agreed that they were governed by international treaties.
Compensation was circumscribed. In answer to questions, he said that long after the
accident there was speculation in newspapers that the plane had carried dangerous cargo.
He was not aware of the wife of a pilot complaining about dangerous cargo.
6. EVIDENCE OF VERNON NADEL
He was asked to testify on his role on the night of the
accident at ZUR Centre, Springbok Radio Centre at the former Jan Smuts airport. At the
time he was duty officer in flight operations. ZUR was manned by one radio operator. It
was Gavin Dick. There were two people in front of the radio. One was the radio officer.
The ZUR tapes were always secured. The key was kept on top of a cupboard. Du Toit was on
duty before Gavin Dick came on. Dick took over at 7 oclock. Normally Du Toit would
leave at the end of his shift at 7oclock. Asked why Du Toit was still there the next
morning, Nadel said that he (du Toit) did not stay that night. He could not explain why he
told the Margo Commission that he had booked off at 8 oclock the next morning. Maybe
he was confused. He was present when the ZUR tape was changed. It was a routine matter and
he would not necessarily have known. Peter Pelser, who was the operations controller, was
also there. He confirmed that he had given evidence at the Margo Commission that the
lightning strike had disabled the cell call facility.
When the aircraft had failed to contact him, his cell
called the aircraft, but with no reply. He has heard a great deal of speculation since the
disaster. Dr Klatzow put to him details of an alleged discussion between him and Neils Van
Wyk. He denied much of it. He could not remember the ZUR tape being taken. He agreed that
nobody had gone to Margo to explain what had happened with the tape. He could not remember
Captain Jimmy Deale coming in and taking the tape out.
After the notification of the accident, he initiated the
emergency call list.
Micky Mitchell came at about 02h40 in the morning. Van Der
Veer was called at 03h00, Lewis paged at 02h40. He could remember that Micky Mitchell and
Jimmy Deale were there after the accident. Also Tienie Willemse and Connie Booysen,
Assistant Manager of Flight Ops. He would have had access to the tape. He could not
remember when DCA came looking for the tape, nor could he remember how the tape had been
taken out on the night of the accident. Gavin Dick had been a radio operator that evening
and he would have tried probably every 2 hours to contact the plane. Dick could have come
back to say that he was not able to raise the plane. This has happened before.
He was asked whether he was aware of the rumour that
Captain Uys had called ZUR and asked for permission to land after the first fire. He said
he believed that it was a rumour, but there was no truth in that. He didnt know
whether the ZUR tape still existed. Put to him that a copy of the tape exists, he said he
was welcome to listen to it, that the tape had been kept in a security establishment for
the last 10 years. He repeated his statement.
It was put to him that Gavin Dick approached him at the
Margo hearing and told him what he was going to say about the failure to contact ZUR.
Nadel indicated that he could not recall that. He was questioned at length, but could not
confirm precisely what had happened to the tape. At the in-house inquiry he was asked
whether anybody had a conversation with Helderberg and he answered no. He was then asked
questions about the CVR, also on instructions on what to do if a fire broke out, the time
that dinner was served out of Tapei. He was questioned on his evidence at the Margo
Commission and also on his position in Miami. He was evasive about details, such as his
salary. It was put to him that much of his evidence was improbable.
It was put to him that in all probability the pilot of
Helderberg had communicated a first fire to ZUR and that he had been ordered to put out
the fire and proceed. It was also put to him that he was covering up, which he denied.
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7. EVIDENCE OF MICHAEL PETER MITCHELL
He was a senior member of the flight crews. He was in
charge of the operations room at the time of the Helderberg disaster. He was at home in
bed at about 2 am when he got the news. He got up, phoned Lewis and went to the airport.
He gave vague evidence about what happened to the ZUR tape, but eventually admitted that
Jimmy Deale gave the tape to him. He was questioned at length about the tape, but was
extremely vague. His view was that if anything, the tape had been taped over again.
He remembered being called to Judge Margos house, but
denies that he heard the words attributed to Margo. He kept on denying the version put to
him by Dr Klatzow. There was further lengthy questioning on the tape.
8. EVIDENCE OF BRAIZBLAT
He testified that he lived in Israel. He was cargo manager
in Tel Aviv. He denied knowledge of any military cargo freighted on board any aircraft. He
remembered an incident on 4 June 1985 when an aircraft was parked. He saw a metal object,
but could not see what it was. He denied being told that there was a missile. He too never
said there was something unusual. Ms D Patta continued to cross-examine him on this, but
he kept on denying.
9. EVIDENCE OF DR J L STEYN
He was former managing director of ALTEC. His attorney, Mr
Peyaga, who is the Armscor company secretary, also sat in. He was asked to testify on the
relationship between Armscor and ALTEC in the latter half of the 1980's and ALTECs
trade with foreign countries during that period.
He was a physicist by training and worked with Armscor for
about 18 years. There was a normal business relationship between ALTEC and Armscor. He
denied propositions put to him with regard to the nature of the cargo, that Armscor was
involved and that dangerous cargo was involved.
10. EVIDENCE OF JOHANN LODEWICUS STEYL
He testified that he joined Armscor in 1978 and in 1981
became involved in the shipping section of Armscor. He denied knowledge of any Armscor
device or devices which were carried by means of passenger liners. He was not aware of any
cargo unlawfully placed on civil passenger planes.
Many details were put to him by Ms Patta. He stated that
Armscor had no cargo aboard the Helderberg. He acknowledged that there was sanction
busting, but he denied knowledge of dangerous substances. They could have used charter
flights for this purpose.
He conceded that dangerous cargo came by ship into Durban
or Cape Town, eg explosives. He denied knowledge of raw materials for use in rocket fuel.
He was not aware of anything untoward. He did not know firsthand that military and other
teams had been sent to Mauritius soon after the crash. He had read about them in
11. EVIDENCE OF J N VAN RENSBURG
He gave evidence on the CVR and the interpretation by Dr
Lennert Jansen. He remembers that the Fight Engineers Association and the Airline
Pilots Association coming forward to submit evidence. He did not remember evidence
submitted but declined. He recalled meetings in the Chambers of Judge Margo. The
allegation of what Judge Margo said was put to him, but he indicated that he could not
recall something like that. He denied any form of intimidation. He believed that Judge
Margo acted correctly.
There were advocates such Adv. Southwood and Bob Nugent
acting in the matter. He could not say that Judge Margo did or did not invite a pilot to
his home. In the main and in response to many questions, he said he could not recall such
statements by Margo. He emphatically denied any suppression of evidence.
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