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Helderberg crash: 'Cause will have to come out'

Underwater photos of the doomed Helderberg SAA Flight 295, plane crash. Picture: BUSINESSINSIDER

Underwater photos of the doomed Helderberg SAA Flight 295, plane crash. Picture: BUSINESSINSIDER

Published Nov 29, 2017


One day the truth will come out because truth always does.

This was the sentiment expressed by Helen Ziegenhardt as she reflected on the death of her sister Gina Ackermann and her niece Samantha, 30 years ago, who were passengers on the infamous Helderberg SAA Flight 295, that crashed into the Indian Ocean on November 28, 1987 taking 186 lives with it.

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There were two fires during the flight which ultimately brought the aircraft down, but the truth surrounding the cause of the fires has remained a mystery.

“It might not even be in my lifetime but I genuinely believe the truth will come out one day somehow,” Ziegenhardt said.

Twenty-seven-year-old Ackermann had been visiting Ziegenhardt at the time, who was living in Taiwan. She had come to show her sister her newborn baby, 3-month-old Samantha.

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Ackermann had plans to start a clothing business and become the business woman of the year.

“I still miss her very much. There are little reminders of her all the time,” Ziegenhardt said.

“She was bright and fun-loving and we would have been grandmothers together enjoying our grandchildren.”

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When Ackermann left the country, she left her 8-year-old daughter Dominique Luck behind. Today Luck is 38 and a mother of two, herself.

She wrote a book three years ago called Surviving Flight 5: Life after the Helderberg that provided Luck with much needed healing.

“Writing the book definitely helped with closure. It was incredibly healing meeting other people who had lost (loved ones). It helped with a lot of feelings of loneliness I had growing up.

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“I just try to focus on the present. I know what the truth is, don’t need confirmation from anyone else anymore.

“I believe what I believe, it was corruption, lies and covering up and innocent people died because of it,” she added.

Dr David Klatzow was one of the forensic scientists who, by his own admission, was retained to work on the case by Boeing’s counsel around the time of the official inquiry.

“It’s been 30 years of cover-up by successive governments, 30 years of lies, 30 years of obstruction, and 30 years of disinformation,” he said.

In June 1998 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a special hearing about the Helderberg flight.

In a summary of evidence given at the inquiry held in camera on the disaster, Klatzow had said in late 1988 the war in Angola was still on and South African troops were deep in Angola. Its military and air force were engaged in hotly fighting against that country’s regime, also working with the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita).

Klatzow believed that Armscor, the arms procurement agency of the SA Department of Defence, was on the level of petty criminals when it came to stealing intellectual property.

“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 needed to be either developed at great time and cost or obtained in some other way. The major component of this is ammonium perchlorate,” the summary reads.

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 according to


He believed a fire occurred soon after the plane left Taipei but Captain Dawie Uys did not land because he was told not to by senior officials of either the government at the time or the airline.

He believed the reason for the instruction was that the flight took place at the height of the sanctions period at a time when PW Botha was still president.

Uys had thought that he had extinguished the fire, only to be re-confronted with it outside Mauritius, which led to the disaster.

Klatzow said he hoped one day, “someone will have the moral courage, the honesty and the decency, to tell the truth, or tell what they know”.

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