Helderberg: Victim’s sister still wants answers

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SEEKING CLOSURE: Jenny Baldwin, 64, with a picture of her brother, Geoffrey Birchall, and his children, Peter and Diane. Birchall was the co-pilot on the Helderberg. Picture: Puri Devjee

Durban - After 25 years of waiting, Jenny Baldwin, whose brother, Geoffrey Birchall, died in the Helderberg plane crash, is still waiting for answers.

Baldwin, who lives in uMhlanga, said she welcomed and was fully behind the Constitutional Court challenge being made by UCT law student, Peter Otzen, whose father died in the crash.

The aircraft crashed into the sea near Mauritius on November 28, after a fire started on board.

All 159 people on the plane died. Birchall, a commercial pilot, asked to co-pilot the ill-fated Helderberg in 1987.

At the time, there was an arms embargo against South Africa and it had been strongly speculated that the fire on the Helderberg was started by illegal munitions in its cargo.

It has also been alleged that the captain, Dawid Jacobus Uys, had asked to land, but was instructed not to, apparently because the plane would be searched and the weapons discovered.

Otzen will make the application this week, and wanted a commission of inquiry to be set up to investigate what happened that day.

He was backed by advocate Paul Hoffman, attorney Deon Perold and forensic scientist David Klatzow who decided on the move after he wrote to President Jacob Zuma asking that he set up a commission of inquiry, but had received no response. He was asking the court to find Zuma’s decision not to set up an inquiry unconstitutional.

“While I have no faith in the process, I am hoping that someone involved in the cover-up has an attack of conscience and comes forward. Maybe he’s old and dying, and wants to make amends. We’re all getting old,” said Baldwin, 64.

“There are so few of us left; my mother Doreen has died, and our younger brother, Brian, died of leukemia. I need to put this to rest for them.”

Birchall also had a wife, who had since re-married, and two children – Peter and Diane, who were nine and seven respectively when the crash occurred.

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