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‘Passengers had been dead for several hours before plane went down’


Forthcoming book about Helderberg crash keenly anticipated

Ex-Perskor journalist Jaap Swanepoel and his wife, Isabel, died in the mysterious Helderberg plane crash on 28 November 1987 – Wednesday exactly 25 years ago.

When this was recalled in K’rant recently (click HERE) it reminded Philip Deetlefs that NORMAN CHANDLER*, husband of honorary Perskorhaan Marinda, is writing a book on the topic, having covered it extensively for The Star. Philip persuaded Norman to give the readers of K’rant a sneak preview of the contents of the keenly awaited book scheduled to be published by Easter 2013. 

Here is an extract from the book.

Suddenly the pilot saw a light rushing towards his Boeing 747 combi, the Helderberg.The next moment the Boeing went into freefall.

The passengers would not have known. They had been dead for many hours as a result of mercuric poisoning when five canisters of an explosive substance used to power Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) had become dislodged during a turbulent flight over the South China Sea.

The pilot had had no time to think any further. He was dead himself as the giant plane smashed into the ocean, splitting into many pieces which rapidly sank to the bottom of the sea. The deepest part of the Indian Ocean.

No one has been told of what the pilot may have said to ZUR radio in far off Johannesburg as the South African Airways plane went down.

The final radio transmission has the final 11 minutes blotted out – either deliberately to hide the evidence or through a dreadful error.
That is the story which has never been told, hidden away in the confidential files of the National Party government which then ruled South Africa with an iron fist.

It has taken 25 years for the truth to come out, and even now there is fear in the hearts of South African Airways and the current South African government that the revelation could bring the airline crashing down and result in billions of dollars being claimed as compensation by families of the 159 passengers who were killed. (Click HERE to view a listing.)

The story begins that night at Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport near Taipei in Taiwan.

Weeks earlier a group of South African operatives had secretly obtained a propellant from a scientific establishment in south-west United States. The operatives took it to Japan (no one to this day knows how) and then from Tokyo to Taipei to secretly place the cargo on board the South African Airways plane in direct defiance of international aviation regulations which forbid the carrying of explosives on any aircraft.

That did not bother the government of the day. All it wanted was the ability to propel rockets and ensure continued white rule in South Africa irrespective of resolutions of the United Nations and the pressures building up within and outside the country.

Jaap Swanepoel
It was a desperate time as the National Party clung to power and fought off any opposition, be it white, black or yellow.

To do so, the government despatched operatives to all corners of the world to seek out potential suppliers – and pay those with huge amounts of American dollars.

It is known that the operatives were in the United Kingdom, West Germany (the two Germanys had not yet united), Israel, the United States and other countries. Even Russia – the hated communist country - was not left out.

Isabel Swanepoel
That South Africa was developing Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) with nuclear warheads cannot be denied.

The first to be fired fell into the South Atlantic Ocean in the early 1980s and the flash was picked up by a Russian military satellite which alerted Moscow to what had happened.

The Russians asked the Americans if they had fired a test missile but the answer came back that that was not the case.

Eventually South Africa, very reluctantly, owned up to it – to the astonishment of the world as no one had expected the country had the technology let alone the money to develop ICBMs or a nuclear deterrent. It later transpired that the possibilities had been discussed and put into practice by South Africa’s Atomic Energy Board (AEB) and the military establishment in the late 1960s.
A newspaper report of the time was strenuously denied by the AEB but already South Africa was working on its nuclear capabilities – much like Iran of today.

Special nuclear facilities were under construction at a place called Pelindaba and in the remoter desert regions of the then-northern Cape Province (now Western or Northern Cape, depending on the locale).

K’rant readers will have to wait a while for the publishing of the book!

* Norman and wife Marinda (affectionately known to the Perskor newspaper crowd, of which she had always been part, as Blackie Swart) started The Ngami Times in Maun, Botswana in 1999 – he as managing director and editor and she running the administration and finances.

He is an experienced South African-born journalist, with more than 55 years in the trade, who has worked on newspapers in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Britain as well as working for two years in Public Relations. He has reported extensively on many issues in Africa, South America, Europe and Asia.

His investigative reporting on the 1987 SAA Helderberg airliner crash appeared as a series of articles in the Weekend Star in 1994 – 1995.

The investigation into the Helderberg disaster took him many weeks and he travelled to countries such as Taiwan, Mauritius, Madagascar and South Africa. In the course of his research he extensively interviewed many people within the SA Airways, Armscor, the Mauritius medical fraternity, South African and British intelligence, the US defence department, air traffic controllers in several countries, the Australian defence department, armaments laboratories in the US and rocket and bomb manufacturers.