Helderberg victim relatives want new recording analysis

Cape Town- South Africa (PANA) -- Relatives of the victims of the Helderberg plane disaster have appealed to South Africa's Transport Minister Dullah Omar, to institute an independent analysis of the plane's cockpit voice recorder.
This follows revelations that a copy of the CVR which is presently with the US Federal Bureau Of Investigation, revealed more compelling evidence as to the nature of the cargo carried on the Helderberg at the time of the crash.
South African Airways (SAA) is at the centre of an enormous outcry following allegations that the Helderberg, a Boeing 747, was carrying nuclear materials on board when it caught fire and plunged into the Indian Ocean off Mauritius in November 1987, killing all 159 people on board.
A former senior member of South African Airways last year claimed that SAA transported highly-explosive substances and weapons aboard passenger flights in the 1980s.
There has been speculation that the nuclear materials ignited causing the fire.
At the time of the incident, the then apartheid regime was developing its nuclear capabilities and was believed to be trading in arms with Taiwan in contravention of UN sanctions.
Brian Watkins, a retired senior route manager at SAA, accused the government of "murdering the people aboard the Helderberg.
" Watkins said he had wrestled with his conscience over the past 13 years and had finally decided to speak out.
Watkins said shortly before the launch of a commission of inquiry into the air crash that he and his family were threatened with death should he reveal what he knew.
Watkins claimed that dangerous cargo such as weapons, ammunition and explosives were transported on the Taiwan, London, Frankfurt and Lisbon routes.
He said the captain of the Helderberg, Dawie Uys, was visibly tense a couple of days before the flight and had his will reviewed.
The South African government is under pressure to re-open the investigation into the disaster.
Beeld newspaper last year reported that it had obtained a transcript from the flight recorder of a nine-minute conversation between Uys, and cabin crew, in which mention was made of a "Boy George" which allegedly appears to be a code name for an atomic or nuclear bomb.
The recording shows that the cabin crew was shocked to learn of that there were explosives on board the plane.
Minutes later, two smoke alarms were activated in the hold of the plane.
The pilot began an emergency descent and the plane crashed into the ocean shortly afterwards.
The high frequency tape was previously inaudible, but new technology in the US has enabled investigators to decipher the recording.
In a statement on Thursday, the relatives said the minister of transport had promised a speedy and transparent investigation into new evidence on the issue.
The relatives want the minister to make the original CVR available to a credible independent organisation for enhancement and transcription.

13 july 2001 11:01:00

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