When I am finished with all the data I have to crunch through, I will put up what I think the sequence of events were and why. I will only put up my theories on the last 8 to 9 minutes of the flight so the more knowledgeable people that have access to a 747-244 simulator can test what I imagine happened.
It’s going to take a bit longer than I anticipated to finalize this page. My problem is that we have a transcript used by the Margo Commission which appears to be patently incorrect. Then we have another from the TRC via the ex-FBI agent, which also has some very serious flaws. Of course it doesn’t help that neither transcript matches the other. Then there is Captain Tony Snelgar, who states that he was the last person to talk to Dawie Uys and that there are 8 minutes of Mauritius ATC conversation missing from ALL the transcripts. This is a difficult process. How can one write a possibly viable, yet speculative history of events if you don’t have all the information from as many sources as possible?
I do however have a draft speculative history of the last 15 minutes of the flight written up, but I am not happy with it as I see too many holes and there is far too much missing from the Margo transcript. One has to remember that in the last 10 minutes of flight, it would have been bedlam to some extent. Uys would have been firing orders out, procedures had to be followed and information transferred to the cockpit, crew, Mauritius ATC and ZUR. I am very shocked that in that final 10 minutes of flight, there isn’t 10 pages of transcript as people must communicate in a crisis. The crew was a team searching for a solution and you can’t find a solution if you are not communicating. I don’t know why no one has brought this up. It’s just stupid to believe that those few lines from the Margo Commission is the real CVR transcript.
What I am trying to do at this point is correlate the conversations that allegedly actually occurred with the crew activities that probably took place in order to derive a fairly reasonable, but still speculative sequence of events.
One item of serious interest; In the information originally gathered it was alleged that the plane broke up “mid-air” above 1500 feet. In Boeing’s “official” statement, they claimed the plane broke up when it hit the water. The plane breaking up mid-air is consistent with theory and with the debris pattern including adjustments for wind speed/direction, ocean current speed/direction and of
course, aircraft velocity and direction. If the plane (as Boeing states) broke up on hitting the water, the debris pattern should be compact and centralized with an initial clustered grouping of about 300 meters in diameter and a throw area of around 600 meters in diameter (if the plane came in on an angle). If total control of the plane was lost, eg. a dead drop, the debris pattern should be even smaller. The actual debris pattern is 1100 meters wide (East/West) and 1500 meters long (North/South). It’s just something to think about.
If anyone out there can get me the REAL copy of the ORIGINAL CVR and the MAURITIUS ATC recordings, I’ll run them through my studio and transcribe them personally and I will turn it into MP3 and/or WAV files, and put in on this site so anyone can analyze what I have found.
In addition, if anyone knows where Tony Snelgar is, or if they would be able to contact me, I’ll put their/his transcript of those missing minutes from Mauritius ATC on this site with no edits or modifications.
My Theory on What Happened at the End
(THIS IS THEORY BASED ONLY ON WHAT I KNOW ABOUT THE EVENT
FROM MY EXPERIENCE WITH ARMSCOR/CI, WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW FROM RECORDS INCLUDING TIME-LINE DISCREPANCIES AND INCONSISTENCIES IN INFORMATION
I’ve written it like a story since it is just hypothesis based on limited facts and is based on
the present CVR information which may or may not be real,
so this rendering is a first draft)
"The only difference between reality and fiction
is that fiction has to be credible." - Mark Twain
Dawie Uys performed a systems check and then glanced out the window at the velvet of the night, thinking ‘we’re almost there, we’ll be OK', he hoped, but he knew in his heart it couldn’t be true. The call from Pretoria scared the shit out of him, the flight orders came as a shock. He had a hard time believing that ‘they’ would threaten him with his family, a man whose loyalty should never have been questioned. And what did they know anyway, they weren’t in the plane, they had no risk. It was he, his crew and his unknowing passengers that were ultimately in danger. And what if he was caught with this cargo, could he defer to his orders from Pretoria, from the government? Unlikely, he would be criminally charged and lose his license, the others in SA would walk away clean, as if they were wearing Teflon suits. The ‘shit’ would never stick to ‘them’.
Sitting there in the captain seat at 36,000 feet, Dawie was in conflict and pondering his fate, he really had no choice but to do what ‘they’ wanted. Maybe he could quit and fly for some other airline out of the US or Australia where they wouldn’t dare put this kind of pressure on him. He had talked to his wife about this situation, on many occasions. His wanting to leave, but she was reluctant, she wanted to stay near family and friends, and South Africa was such a beautiful country. While he sat thinking, an event was occurring in the passenger level cargo bay.
Hours before in Taiwan, an operative had placed a package on the Helderberg. It was constructed of ammonium perchlorate and aluminum powder with lithium batteries and a magnesium tape filament. The device was put in place in accordance with his handlers wishes. They had to kill a man, a colonel and stop his weapons programs, otherwise, South Africa would remain as it always was, an apartheid state which could not be easily influenced or controlled. The other raw materials on the plane were part of a weapon that could change the future by delivering technology to Armscor that could turn the tide in the conflict in Angola. They couldn’t let that happen, it would ruin everything, all those long term plans that had been running for 25 years. To do what had to be done, South Africa could not be strong and independent, it had to corrupt, weak and pliable.
The incendiary device that had been placed in the forward cargo pallet, had begun its deadly task according to the programming of the ignitor system. The ignitor was a simple thing really, a pressure sensor with a small circuit board. It started counting down after the plane reached 30,000 feet and would ignite the ammonium perchlorate when the counter reached zero or if the plane dropped below around 15,000 feet. Changes in airspeed, head or tail winds and delays couldn’t be accounted for, so the op handling the device added an extra 30 minutes to the count, just in case, as he had heard the night before that there was a headwind across the Indian Ocean. Either way, the plane would never land at it’s destination.
The timer setting produced the desired results, the plane was very close to the expected position and would drop into one of the deeper parts of the Indian Ocean off the north east coast of Mauritius at depth of more than 4000 meters. That would make recovery difficult, but not impossible. ‘They’ weren’t worried however, the US would have to be involved in the recovery due to the depth and there would be no way the US would release the DFDR or the u239 after it was recovered from the ocean floor. They wouldn’t even be mentioned as the US knew the South African government would never openly admit to using commercial flights to transport dangerous or military related materials. There was after all, an embargo and an admission of guilt would mean that 159 people were murdered.
The device flared and burned at only feet per second, consuming and converting almost everything inside the pallet in less than 60 seconds, as the temperature went well over 1200 degrees centigrade. The lithium batteries were expanding and sputtering, and throwing flammable material as the burning cavity expanded. When the fire breached the container skin, it was already too late, everything was burning inside the pallet. Noxious superheated gases poured out into the passenger level cargo area, spewing clouds of thick HCL laced smoke at more than 1000 degrees into the air shared with the passenger compartment through the common ventilation system.
Then at 23:41, a smoke detector was triggered and flashed an indicator light on the control panel.
It would have taken the Flight Engineer 30 to 45 seconds to confirm there was smoke in the passenger level cargo bay, maybe less. Because of the cargo/passenger air exchange system, smoke may have already been coming out the vents, but he still had to go back and find out how bad the fire was. When he felt the handle of the door it would have been very warm and he would have known there was serious trouble. On opening the door, he would have seen the red-orange glow of a progressive and accelerating fire through the smoke that would have made him start to choke immediately, as the acidic vapors started entering his lungs.
Opening the door would have thrown the passengers into a panic. It’s possible that the FE might have asked the stewardesses to maybe start moving all of the passengers away from the cargo area, while he (the FE) retrieved a gas mask and went inside, closed the door and tried to put out the fire with handheld extinguishers.
But it wouldn’t have helped, the fire in the now ruptured pallet was out of control. But to him, it appeared to slow somewhat, it seemed that the fire died down, he couldn’t see any flames through the thick billowing smoke and superheated gases that were collecting against the arched roof of the fuselage. The fire had consumed a great deal of oxygen in the cargo area and was semi-smoldering, waiting to re-erupt. The FE then made his way back up to the flight deck to make his report to Dawie Uys, on just how bad it was in the passenger level cargo bay and what had happened.
At 23:49, Dawie Uys contacted Mauritius ATC and said, “Er, good morning, we have, er, a smoke problem and we are doing an emergency descent to level one five, er, one four zero.”
Mauritius ATC responded, “Confirm you wish to descend to flight level one four zero?”
Dawie returned, ”Ja, we have already commenced, er, due to a smoke problem in the aeroplane.”
And ATC again, “Eh, roger, you are clear to descend immediately to flight level one four zero.”
By the time his initial conversation was finished, smoke had already started filling the passenger compartment. The passengers were in the process of slowly dying. Their lungs were being scarred and scored by HCL vapor, particulate matter and other chemicals in the smoke which would cause them to bleed out from their lungs, they would quickly start drowning in their own blood if they stayed in this environment. It would affect the older people on board first, but once the damage had been done, death could be expected in a number of minutes.
AT 23:50 Dawie contacted ATC again, now that the FE had explained just how bad the fire problem was, “Roger, we will appreciate it if you can alert, er, fire, er, er, er.”
MA ATC, “Do you request a full emergency please? A full emergency?”
Dawie, “Affirmative, that's Charlie Charlie.”
MA ATC, “Roger, I declare a full emergency.”
Dawie, “Thank you.” But he knew in his heart that it was already too late.
On the report of the passenger cabin filling with smoke Dawie would probably have deployed the oxygen masks and then after a minute or so rethought the strategy and would have turned off the air exchanger/air supplier in the plane. But in the cargo area, the smoldering fire was kept going due to an increase in the oxygen content from the ventilation system. The flight was going from bad worse and he felt he might have to ditch in the open water. But there were too many things going wrong at one time and he couldn’t see the horizon through the night sky. So he tried to make the best of it, slow the plane down so that they could eventually open a door and possibly clear the smoke. They thought the fire might be under control after the FE had used the extinguishers since it seemed to be only generating smoke, but it had somehow caused electrical damage to the plane.
23:51 MA: (asks for a position report)
CA: Now we have lost a lot of electrics. We haven't got anything on the aircraft now.
MA: (asks for an ETA and positions updates)
CA: (gives both)
MA: (advises that both runways are available)
CA: Er, we'd like to track in er, on, er, one three.
MA: Confirm runway one four?
CA: Charlie Charlie.
It’s a desperate situation, Tony Snelgar gets on the radio on from Mauritius ATC to try an help Dawie get the plane down safely since much of the controls are not functioning or operating sluggishly. Two heads are better than one, but in the conversation Dawie tells Snelgar what he knows about his cargo.
After deciding on a plan, Dawie would have had his crew move as many passengers as they could right to the front of the plane, hopefully away from the greatest amount of smoke and to maybe give him better control (if he had much) should the engines fail. At least he might get the plane into a controllable glide and ditch belly down in the ocean. It takes 3 or 4 minutes to move all the passengers forward.
00:03 MA: (gives clearance and asks to report passing FL050)
Dawie is far to busy to answer, he has to keep the plane on course and it’s just not responding well. At FL160, the smoke problem is getting very very serious, many of the passengers are now unconscious. The FE is getting ready to go back and open a door, they are still too high but the plane speed has bee reduced to less than 250 knots and they are ready to take a chance, maybe the only chance.
00:04 CA: Kay. [Last radio contact with ATC]
[fire alarm bell sounds, followed by interphone chime]
FE: What's going on now - cargo?
FE: It came on now afterwards.
[loud click sounds]
CA: Say again?
FE: Main deck cargo... then the other one came on as well. I've got two.
New Main/Passenger level cargo and lower level cargo smoke detectors have been triggered, the pallet has burned through the floor and fallen into the lower cargo hold and started spilling forward toward the wing root.
CA: (calls for checklist to be read)
[sound of movements with clicks and clunks]
The crew must try and clear the smoke, so the FE opens the door to try and clear the passenger cabin; he has no choice, people are dying. He had to get the smoke cleared.
CA: ****. It is the fact that both came on, it disturbs one.
Dawie suddenly experienced a shift in the planes response, it starts banking starboard towards the north. Since the pallet on main cargo bay had burned through the lower starboard side of the fuselage and was creating drag, like an air brake, the extra air resistance would be forcing the plane to turn right. At the same time, the fire had created a problem traveling up the fuselage toward the wing root when the pallet burned through the main cargo floor and spilled forward into the lower deck. Dawie tries with limited effectiveness to pull the plane back on course quickly by steering to port and manages to get the plane level, but traveling north at FL150. The FE opens the door to clear the smoke. New air, ladled with oxygen, entered the plane and then all hell broke lose.
At the same time, with a great deal more effort because of the sluggish response, Dawie steered the plane into a 30 degree bank to port and had just started turning into a path that would take the plane back on course. The opening of the door would have added a little drag to the port side which would have assisted in the turn.
[intercom chime while CA is speaking]
??: Aag!, ****
CA: What's going on now?
[sudden loud sound & rapid changes tape test tone]
The fresh air rushing into the aircraft from the opened door converted the smoldering fire into an inferno which ignited the superheated combustible gases in the roof arch of the passenger level cargo bay. The fireball traveling up the fuselage set alight everything in it’s path and may have breached the fuselage and caused upper level structural damage. The burning pallet would have fallen from the plane in the ensuing explosion after it had caused structural damage in the center of the plane and possibly the wing root as well as the starboard fuselage. The extra weight in the front of the plane and lift created by the wings, would have caused a cantilever point near the back of the wings and with the structural damage caused by the pallet and the superheated gases shearing the roof of the fuselage, the plane would have broken in half somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 feet.
Being in a port bank with structural damage to the fuselage and possibly the wing root, the wings would have come off as the fuselage broke in two. The wings going more to port and slowing quicker due to air resistance. The fuselage, like a pair of missiles (the front section with the least resistance traveled forward) and the rear section with higher wind resistance and the explosion slowed quicker in its forward motion, would have traveled in approximately a straight line at 250 to 300 feet per second.
Eventually, dropping at roughly 186 feet per second with a slowing forward speed of 250 feet per second due to drag (even if the plane was still semi-intact) could in itself shear off the wings while in a state of reduced structural integrity and produce the debris pattern found on the ocean floor (this includes consideration for ocean currents and the varying physical friction and resistance of individual parts. Time to impact with the ocean surface from roughly 10,000 feet at a vertical descent of 186 feet per second (free fall at 127 mph) would be approximately 53 seconds.
Regardless of whichever way you examine the this crash event, the plane broke up in the air. The question becomes was it a loss of structural integrity due to a design error that just happened to present itself during the convergence of a number of other problems? Could this be possible? The answer is unlikely, but there is a non-zero probability that it could have been a design error, however, the probability is very small.
This will be updated as I get more information from the CVR and other parties. I would like this to be as accurate as possible, so if you have information, please send it to me anonymously or otherwise.
Courtesy of Athnamas
If you feel uncomfortable about e-mailing me, you can use programs like the Anonymizer products at http://www.anonymizer.com or you can use P2P programs like Limewire or Ares to anonymously transfer large CVR WAV files.
It would be nice to have this all cleared up before the 20th anniversary of the actual catastrophe and have some real answers !