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SAA flight 295 | Helderberg crash

On the 28th November 1987 SAA (South African Airways) flight 295 (a commercial flight) crashed into the Indian Ocean near the island of Mauritius (with everybody on board dieing), whilst on its way from Taipei to Johannesburg (via Mauritius).

What happened?

Nine hours into the flight the relief crew took over and started preparing for a stop on the island of Mauritius. Less than an hour before flight 295's stop in Mauritius (but more than 300km away) the smoke alarms went off, signalling smoke in the cargo hold on the main deck, directly behind the last row of passengers. When the crew get to the fire it is raging. Whilst the crew try to extinguish the fire, passengers were having trouble breathing through the toxic fumes. Captain Uys requested a full emergency (from the Mauritius Air Traffic Control) and initiated an emergency descent. Following a checklist to get rid of the noxious smoke, Captain Uys first recirculated air in the cabin (which had the unintended consequence of introducing the noxious gases into the passenger cabin) and then at 4500m (an altitude where passengers can breathe the outside air) opened cabin doors to let toxic gases out...but this had the unwanted consequence of providing oxygen to feed the fire. As the crew struggled to land the plane, some passengers died from smoke inhalation. Three minutes after the last communication with Mauritian Air Traffic Control, the Helderberg crashed into the Indian Ocean, killing those passengers who were still alive.

Aircraft

The aircraft, called the "Helderberg", was a Boeing 747-244B Combi (short for combination), a class of Boeing which allows for cargo and passengers to be loaded on the same deck (there is a cargo area below the passenger deck as well as behind the last row of passengers). The cockpit sits one level above the cabin. The fire was one of the few that have occurred on widebody aircraft and the first ever on a 747 Combi. SAA discontinued its use of the 747 Combi, following the accident, and the FAA created new standards for the 747 Combi which made it economically non-viable.

Cargo

47 tons of cargo had been loaded onto the plane. A surprise inspection in Taipei was carrried out by a Taiwanese official, who did not find anything suspicious amongst the cargo.

People on board

159 people. Captain was Dawie Uys. The 159 people included 71 South Africans, 30 citizens of the Republic of China, 47 Japanese, 2 Mauritian, 2 Hong Kong, 2 Australian, 1 Danish, 1 West German, 1 South Korean, 1 Netherlands and 1 UK citizen. Notable passengers included Kazuharu Sonoda of Magic Dragon fame, and his wife Mayumi Sonoda.

Eight bodies were found in the water, all suffering from extreme trauma, and all showing traces of soot in their tracheae. At least two of the passengers died from smoke inhalation.

Flight route

Chiang Kai Shek International Airport (Taipei, Taiwan) to Johannesburg Jan Smuts International Airport (South Africa, now known as O.R. Tambo International Airport).

Communication with Mauritius Air Traffic Control

Time

Speaker

Dialog

23:48:51

295

Eh, Mauritius, Mauritius, Springbok Two Niner Five

23:49:00

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, eh, Mauritius, eh, good morning, eh, go ahead

23:49:07

295

Eh, good morning, we have, eh, a smoke, eh, eh, problem and we're doing emergency descent to level one five, eh, one four zero

23:49:18

ATC

Confirm you wish to descend to flight level one four zero

23:49 20

295

Ja, we have already commenced, an, due to a smoke problem in the aeroplane

23:49:25

ATC

Eh, roger, you are clear to descend immediately to flight level one four zero

23:49:30

295

Roger, we will appreciate if you can alert, an, fire, ehp, ehp eh, eh

23:49:40

ATC

Do you wish to, eh, do you request a full emergency?

23:49:48

295

Okay Joe, kan jy...vir ons (Okay Joe can you...for us)

23:49:51

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance

23:49:54

295

Sorry, go ahead

23:49:56

ATC

Do you, eh, request a full emergency please, a full emergency?

23:50:00

295

Affirmative, that's Charlie Charlie

23:50:02

ATC

Roger, I declare a full emergency, roger

23:50:04

295

Thank

23:50:40

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance

23:50:44

295

Eh, go ahead

23:50:46

ATC

Request your actual position please and your DME distance?

23:50:51

295

Eh, we haven't got the DME yet

23:50:55

ATC

Eh, roger and your actual position please.

23:51:00

295

Eh, say again

23:51:02

ATC

Your actual position

23:51:08

295

Now we've lost a lot of electrics, we haven't got anything on the on the aircraft now

23:51:12

ATC

Eh, roger, I declare a full emergency immediately

23:51:15

295

Affirmative

23:51:18

ATC

Roger

23:52:19

ATC

Eh, Springbok Two Nine Five, do you have an Echo Tango Alfa Plaisance please?

23:52:30

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance

23:52:32

295

Ja, Plaisance

23:52:33

ATC

Do you have an Echo Tango Alfa Plaisance please?

23:52:36

295

Ja, eh, zero zero, eh eh eh three zero

23:52:40

ATC

Roger, zero zero three zero, thank you

23:52:50

295

Hey Joe, shut down the oxygen left

23:52:52

ATC

Sorry, say again please

00:01:34

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:01:36

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:01:45

295

Unintelligble transmission

00:01:57

295

Unintelligble transmission

00:02:10

295

Unintelligble transmission

00:02:14

295

Unintelligble transmission

00:02:25

295

Carrier wave only

00:02:38

295

Eh Plaisance, Springbok Two Nine Five, do (did) you copy?

00:02:41

ATC

Eh negative, Two Nine Five, say again please, say again

00:02:43

295

We're now sixty five miles

00:02:45

ATC

Confirm sixty five miles

00:02:47

295

Ja, affirmative Charlie Charlie3. Clearance and weather info

00:02:50

ATC

Eh, Roger, Springbok eh Two Nine Five, eh re you're recleared flight level five zero. Recleared flight level five zero

00:02:58

295

Roger, five zero

00:03:00

ATC

And, Springbok Two Nine Five copy actual weather Plaisance Copy actual weather Plaisance. The wind one one zero degrees zero five knots. The visibility above one zero kilometres. And we have a precipitation in sight to the north. Clouds, five octas one six zero zero, one octa five thousand feet. Temperature is twenty two, two two. And the QNH one zero one eight hectopascals, one zero one eight over

00:03:28

295

Roger, one zero one eight

00:03:31

ATC

Affirmative, eh and both runways available if you wish

00:03:43

ATC

And two nine five, I request pilot's intention

00:03:46

295

Eh, we'd like to track in eh, on eh one three

00:03:51

ATC

Confirm runway one four

00:03:54

295

Charlie Charlie

00:03:56

ATC

Affirmative and you're cleared, eh direct to Foxtrot Foxtrot. You report approaching five zero

00:04:02

295

Kay

00:08:00

ATC

Two Nine Five, Plaisance

00:08:11

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance

00:08:35

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five Plaisance (No answer)

Fire

A graphite tennis racquet which had melted, indicated that the fire was at least 600 degrees celcius (the melting point of graphite).

Time of crash

A wristwatch found in debris (which was part of the baggage) which had stopped gave investigators the probable time of impact as 3 minutes of Air Traffic Control's last communication with the Helderberg.

Investigator

The lead investigator was Rennie van Zyl.

Resources

Here's some useful resources providing information about SAA flight 295.

Cargo conspiracy

The drama of SAA flight 295 is captured in a documentary called "Cargo conspiracy".

Part 1 of Cargo Conspiracy

Part 2 of Cargo Conspiracy

Part 3 of Cargo Conspiracy

Part 4 of Cargo Conspiracy

Part 5 of Cargo Conspiracy

Wikipedia

Wikipedia writeup of SAA flight 295.

Related articles

SAA pilot gets stuck in the sand



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