SAA 'murdered people aboard Helderberg'

A senior member of SA Airways management, now retired, admitted that the carrier transported highly explosive substances and weapons aboard passenger flights in the 1980s, the Afrikaans daily Beeld reported in its Friday publication.

Brian Watkins, a retired senior route manager at SAA, on Thursday told Beeld: "We murdered the people aboard the Helderberg."

Watkins said following a series of articles about the 1987 air disaster which claimed the lives of all 159 aboard, he "wrestled with his conscience".

He said he eventually decided the world should know the secrets he carried with him.

Watkins said shortly before the launch of a commission of inquiry into the air crash, led by Judge Cecil Margo, he and his family were threatened with death should he reveal what he knew.

"I am still afraid now, but I am going to speak. I am going to tell everything. I owe it to the thousands of passengers whose lives we placed in danger back then."

He said he received his information from then senior route manager: freight, the late Charles Larkins.

Watkins alleged that dangerous cargo such as weapons, ammunition and explosives were transported not only on the Taiwan/Johannesburg route, but also the London, Frankfurt and Lisbon routes. It was mostly billed as agricultural equipment.

Watkins said the captain of the ill-fated Helderberg, Dawie Uys, appeared visibly tense a couple of days before the flight and had his will and testament reviewed. He also said farewell to his family members - something he never usually did. Watkins felt Uys new about the dangerous cargo he was to transport on his return flight.

He said Larkins was asked during a meeting - attended by then SAA managing director Gert van der Veer, and representatives of Armscor and Military Intelligence - to describe the cargo space normally available on the national carrier's flights.

"Mr Larkins told me he was then told to shut up. He was very worried," Watkins told Beeld.

"We killed the people aboard the Helderberg. The people who were responsible must be made to answer and the law must run its course. I do not want to go to my grave with these secrets," Watkins said. - Sapa

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