Friday, 12 September 2014

1976 plane crash: The unanswered questions

A test pilot offers a peak into why the fatal 1976 plane crash which killed Sabah chief minister Fuad Stephens and several state cabinet members is seen as a conspiracy by locals.

By Capt Joseph Lakai

What is the difference between five percent and 20 percent? Well, anyone who has half a brain and who had not been asleep during math class in school will tell you that the answer is 15 percent – which is 20 minus five!

Let us convert this to figures and let us hypothesise the figure as RM10 billion.

Five percent of RM10 billion is RM500 million. Therefore 20 percent is exactly four times that amount. Twenty percent is therefore RM2 billion – witness how vast this difference is now.

Imagine a state government possessing the RM500,000 million to develop the vast state or to give it to its people. Now imagine the same state government in possession of four times that amount.

Now, instead of only having the monetary resources to provide aid to a quarter of the state’s population, the state government can now do the same to everybody – total coverage!

Let’s not even get to the full 100 percent, which is the RM10 billion.

Now assume that a powerful person in that same state, a tribal leader of sorts, has the influence and capacity to take that state out of the federation.

This would mean an income shortfall ranging from 80 to 95 percent of the RM10 billion.

Well, money isn’t everything but an action as such could propel other states into mimicking parallel actions and this is unquestionably something that must be prevented at all cost; collateral damage is damned.

On another note, where were you 13,215 days ago?

On June 6, 1976, an Australian manufactured GAF-Nomad N.22B-type twin turboprop engine passenger plane operated by Sabah Air with the tail number 9M-ATZ took off from Labuan Airport on its 113-km route to Kota Kinabalu International Airport with 10 passengers on-board.

Investigation reports still secret

It was a routine short flight except for two things: almost the entire Sabah state government’s top leadership was on the plane; and the plane stalled and crashed into the sea about two kilometres from its destination airport, killing the pilot and its10 VIP passengers.

That abruptly ended the reign of Fuad Stephens (Donald Aloysius Marmaduke Stephens) as Sabah’s fifth chief minister, a mere seven weeks from the day he took office for a second term.

The lists of fatalities included Sabah ministers Salleh Sulong, Peter Mojuntin, Chong Thien Vun and Darius Binion (assistant state minister). Others were Wahid Peter Andau (Sabah finance ministry secretary), Dr Syed Hussein Wafa (a director in Sabah’s Economic Planning Unit), Isak Atan (private secretary to Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah), Corporal Said Mohammad (Fuad’s bodyguard), Johari Stephens (Fuad’s eldest son) and Captain Gandhi Nathan (pilot).

The crash was said to have been due to mechanical problems.

Perhaps so but then again the original investigation report should have been immediately published and the coroner should have declared the “accident” as a misadventure.

However, this report was promptly classified by the federal government (it still remains classified up to this day) and the coroner, Ansari Abdullah, returned an open verdict.

Aviation Safety Network (ASN) reported that the aircraft “stalled and crashed on approach”. However, in its narrative, ASN stated: “This information is not presented as the Flight Safety Foundation or the Aviation Safety Network’s opinion as to the cause of the accident.

“It is preliminary and is based on the facts as they are known at this time.”

What the ASN report did not say was that ground witnesses saw the plane “drop like a stone”.

What the experts also failed to inform you is that fixed-wing aircraft do not drop vertically but glide to its impact point unless the wings dropped off and the wings on a fixed-wing aircraft do not just drop off by themselves when the engines purportedly stalled.

Were there non-mechanical problems?

Was it a conspiracy?

Well, there’s is no way of knowing the truth until the original investigation report is declassified, but a few officials have put forth the theory that the aircraft was overloaded.

Let’s just put it this way. The N.22B variant is rated for up to one or two pilots with a maximum of 12 passengers and unless the pilot and its 10 passengers gorged themselves silly during lunch, there is no way the plane could have exceeded its weight limitations.

Was it then a problematic aircraft? Yes, the GAF-Nomad N.22B variant aircraft can be considered so.

Since its production, the Nomad has been involved in a total of 32 total hull-loss accidents, which have resulted in 76 fatalities including its chief test pilot and the assistant head designer during the design and testing stage.

Was this then a conspiracy?

It seems so considering that Fuad wanted a 20 percent oil royalty for the state, and that Fuad may have wanted to take Sabah out of the federation following in Singapore’s footsteps. There is also the third open secret that Fuad wanted to become the Malaysian prime minister at sometime in his political future.

All these spiced up the concoction.

Ground witnesses remembered hearing two distinct explosions.

Additionally, why was Fuad’s aircraft requested to circle the airfield awaiting an imaginary RMAF C-130 Hercules to take off?

(Airport logs did not show the existence of any RMAF plane on the tarmac at the time of the accident, let alone a humungous C-130.)

Sabah’s fortunes changed forever

Shouldn’t the chief minister’s flight take preference over everybody, especially in Sabah and when the chief minister himself is sitting in his own aircraft?

Were there really two explosions (one in mid-air and the other when the aircraft crashed) as indicated by witnesses of the crash?

How is Lee Kang Yu, a trusted aide and trustee to Harris (Salleh) who had fled to Hong Kong prior to his death, involved in the crash?

Why did a senior communication officer (TK Wong) living near the crash site and who was the first to arrive at the site tell everybody that the police arrived almost immediately after him and instantaneously cordoned off the entire area instead of organising search and rescue teams?

Was this perhaps an unfortunate (but fatal) coincidence?

But regardless of what actually transpired, the direction of Sabah’s fortunes were altered forever – from a sovereign state albeit under British rule to a Barisan Nasional “fixed deposit”.



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