Part of the ill- fated Helderberg shows damage to a section of the plane which went down in the Indian Ocean off Mauritius in 1987
Part of the ill- fated Helderberg shows damage to a section of the plane which went down in the Indian Ocean off Mauritius in 1987

Zara Nicholson,

Aziz Hartley and

David Michaels

CITY forensic expert David Klatzow claims he has new evidence which could clear up the 24-year-old mystery about the fatal Helderberg crash and wants President Jacob Zuma to reopen the investigation.

Klatzow told the Cape Times yesterday that he had an affidavit from a former South African Airways pilot, Clair Fichardt, about what had happened to tapes of the pilot’s conversation, and that this was the “missing piece to the puzzle” in the Helderberg investigation.

The affidavit quoted a former SAA pilot, now dead, who said the tapes had been given to then SAA CEO Gert van der Veer. Van der Veer testified to the Margo Commission of Inquiry into the Helderberg crash and to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he had no knowledge of the tapes.

Called last night in the Netherlands, Van der Veer would neither confirm nor deny anything.

“I have no comment on this matter for two reasons. I am on holiday and will not be back until August. And, if anyone has any new information they should go to the relevant government department, in this instance to the minister of transport. If you ask me for comments I will refer you to my submissions to the Margo Commission and the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation). I will not comment on anything.”

Pressed about Fichardt’s statement, Van der Veer said: “There are descendants (of crash victims) and I do not want to create any harm. I’ve got no further comment.”

Presidency spokeswoman Zanele Mngadi said the department was not aware of Klatzow’s call for Zuma to reopen the probe. They would study the information and respond later.

The November 28, 1987, Helderberg crash became South African Airways’ most controversial accident when the Boeing 747 crashed into the sea near Mauritius after a fire started on board. All 159 passengers and crew were killed.

Commanded by Captain Dawid Jacobus Uys, the flight was on its way to South Africa from Taipei, the Taiwan capital.

It was in the midst of the arms embargo against South Africa and it was speculated that the fire was started because of illegal munitions and cargo on board.

Shortly before midnight Uys contacted Plaisance Airport in Mauritius reporting smoke, and began an emergency descent. A full emergency was declared and both airport runways made available.

For years allegations have made the rounds that cockpit voice recordings during this crucial time had gone missing.

Klatzow alleges the missing tapes would prove Uys asked his home base to land earlier but was told not to. He believes Uys was told not to land in any other country as the plane would have been searched and weapons discovered.

A commission of inquiry concluded that a fire broke out on board and toxic smoke had penetrated the passenger cabin.

Fichardt, a former SAA pilot and Pilots’ Association president, has given Klatzow an affidavit in which he states that fellow pilot James Deale had approached him to tell him that he had taken the tape and given it to another pilot, Mickey Mitchell, and Van der Veer.

“He said that he had to tell me this because as a past president of the Pilots’ Association he felt I needed to know. He then told me that he had confessed to the Attorney-General about having taken the ZUR tape of the Helderberg incident and given it to Mickey Mitchell who was in the office with Gert van der Veer and the legal representative, Ardie Malherbe. He told me he had done this as he could no longer have this on his conscience,” Fichardt said.

A ZUR tape records conversations between a pilot and a

plane’s home base on a dedicated frequency.

Fichardt met Klatzow by chance a few weeks ago. He had been given Klatzow’s book Steeped in Blood: The Life and Times of a Forensic Scientist and contacted Klatzow to discuss it. They spoke about the death of Mitchell a few weeks ago and about the crash.

Klatzow then asked Fichardt to make a signed statement, with which Klatzow believes he can prove that the missing tapes contain “crucial information” about the flight.

Klatzow said he knew early in his investigation that Deale had taken the tapes and said Deale later admitted it to him.

“What happened on the flight was on (those) tapes, so they had to get rid of it.”

He believes the tapes still exist and are still someone’s “life insurance”.

“The answer about what happened in the Helderberg is on those tapes. The president must reopen the investigation, there is enough information.”

Fichardt said: “I do believe (Klatzow) is on the right track and in memory and honour of those who died the truth must come out.”

On May 30, 1986 the government passed an amendment to the Aviation Act of 1962 that allowed waivers to be granted for dangerous goods to be carried on civil aircraft.

The then classification of “dangerous goods” did not mean any combustible item could be loaded, but only those that could be transported safely, said former aviation editor and author Linden Birns.

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