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Helderberg families still hoping for justice, closure 32 years later

File picture: Srdjan Zivulovic / Reuters

File picture: Srdjan Zivulovic / Reuters

Published Nov 29, 2019

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Cape Town – Thirty-two years after the Helderberg SAA Flight 295 tragedy which claimed the lives of all 159 people on board, families of those lost remember their loved ones and continue to call for justice.

The country this week commemorated the November 28, 1987 tragedy when the commercial flight from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport, in Taipei, Taiwan travelled to Jan Smuts International Airport, now OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, with a stopover in Mauritius.

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The Boeing 747 Combi is understood to have experienced a

catastrophic in-flight fire in the cargo area.

It broke-up in mid-air and crashed into the Indian Ocean east of Mauritius, killing all on board.

An extensive salvage operation was mounted to try to recover the black box recorders, one of which was recovered from a depth of 4 900m.

The truth surrounding what started the fire has remained a mystery after the official inquiry, headed by Judge Cecil Margo, was unable to determine the cause of the fire.

Neil Veitch said his wife, Helen Ziegenhardt-Veitch, lost her sister, Gina Ackermann and Gina’s baby daughter, Samantha, on Flight 295.

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The suffering has not diminished over the years, he said, adding that the families believed the truth about the incident had not yet been exposed.

It has been alleged that different materials were loaded on board at

Taipei which could assist South Africa’s fighter planes in the Angolan war.

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Highly unstable, the alleged jet fuel-enhancing material ignited during the flight but, tragically, a second fire broke out when the flight was nearing Mauritius, and the plane crashed.

Allegedly, Captain Dawie Uys was not allowed to land the aircraft earlier in the flight because there would have been international enquiries and

outrage if the civilian aircraft had landed somewhere other than in South Africa.

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“The morning after the crash, SAA officials were at my wife’s Taipei address first thing, very anxious and too solicitous - almost as though they knew there was something politically dire. 

"Gina’s parents, Iris and Norman Cockcroft and Gina’s husband, Jean Ackermann, were offered flights to Mauritius a while after the crash.

“My mother-in-law and Jean

Ackermann took advantage of this but it certainly did not bring them any closure. If anything, the rumours and theories concerning the plane’s cargo having caused the crash simply made it worse for them,” Veitch said.

He and his wife went to Mauritius recently to view a memorial statue raised close to where the Helderberg went down. 

“What a shameful object -

featureless, with no names of the dead, and pointing the wrong way.

“The suffering of these two families, together with all the other bereaved, has not diminished over the years.

“Iris Cockcroft spoke of her late husband Norman’s terrible nightmares which lasted for the rest of his life.

“Gina’s remaining daughter, Dominique Luck, recently wrote a book, Surviving Flight 295, in which she recounted her feelings of loss and sadness, but with youth on her side, her recovery is as complete as could be expected,” Veitch said

“My hope is that the Afrikaner Nationalist government and SAA might still have old, retired officials who were in on the cover-up, and now that maybe they don’t have much longer to go, one might own up because they no longer feel they have much to lose,” he said.

Cape Times

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