Re: SAA crash in the Indian Ocean

From: (Bruce W. Watson)
Organization: Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands
Date:         07 Dec 93 11:39:09 PST
References:   1
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  or MIME structure (Laurent Teissier p8131 BG22) writes:

>Does anybody remember of an old crash of a SAA 747 in the indian Ocean ?
>What were the conclusions that were drawn if they managed to find the recorders ?
>Thanks in advance.

I believe the plane's name was the ``Helderburg''. I saw a nice (expensive!)
book on this crash, and the ensuing investigation, in a bookstore in South
Africa in Aug. 92 (the book was published by some South African publisher).
I also chatted with some SAA flight crews when I was there. The following
is a mixture of what I gleaned from the two.

As I recall, the aircraft reported a fire about 30 minutes out of Mauritius.
I don't think any of the recorders were recovered, but at some points there
was an open mike in the cockpit (allowing the flight crew's voices to show
up on the Plaisance tower's recordings); they were in quite a state of 
confusion, with all kinds of interesting temperature readings on the main
deck -- fire warnings all over the place; much of the in-cockpit communication,
and some of the (attempted) communication with the tower, was in Afrikaans.

What they did find (among the wreckage), was a melted graphite tennis racquet;
this indicates that there were unbelievable temperatures on the main-deck
(where the racquet was stored). Furthermore, the aircraft was a Combi (with
half of the main-deck being cargo). I think the conclusion was that there
was a fire on the main-deck, caused by a leak of concentrated nitric acid,
a ton of which was improperly packed, and did not appear on the manifest (since
it was destined for use in the weapons industry --- something not allowed 
during the sanctions era).

Some Mauritian fishermen reported seeing the breakup, and flaming yellow
arc of the aircraft --- although, it turns out that they may have been 
prompted, and they were drunk at the time.

Hope this helps,

Bruce Watson                     || favourite oxymoron: "-- rather, it simply                ||   complicates our implementation." from          || C++ Primer, 2nd ed. (p.501) by S. Lippman