Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Conspiracy theory on Tun Fuad Stephens' fatal flight

Today let's revisit the conspiracy theory surrounding the disastrous aeroplane crash in Sabah that is said to have changed the course of political history in Sabah.

I refer to Malaysia-Today's article (picked up from Star Online) Conspiracy still in the air. The journalist for the article is Philip Golingai.

Golingai quoted from a P.J. Granville-Edge's book, The Sabahan: The Life and Death of Tun Fuad Stephens, about what happened as the aircraft was crashing.

According to Golingai, P.J. Granville-Edge, Tun Fuad's niece, wrote:

“Fuad probably only suspected something was wrong when his plane began to vibrate. Perhaps, he suddenly felt a sharp jolt of fear.”

“The Nomad’s nose dropped. The plane began a one-and-a-half turn spiral plummet. It did not pull out of that twisting nose-dive and crashed into shallow water.”

Please note that P.J. Granville-Edge employed the qualifier 'probably' in her projection of Fuad's last minute feelings, but it's noteworthy that she mentioned these following words:

"... something was wrong when his plane began to vibrate" and “The Nomad’s nose dropped. The plane began a one-and-a-half turn spiral plummet. It did not pull out of that twisting nose-dive and crashed into shallow water.”

I am not sure where or who she had gleaned those words from, but I bet it would be someone who knew/knows something technical about the accident, because those were descriptions of an aerodynamic feature known as the 'stall'.

An aeroplane or a helicopter or a kite flies by virtue of the aerodynamic feature known as 'Lift', which itself is a product of the Reaction of the aeroplane or helicopter or kite ensuing from the Action against the air (or wind) - in other words, a manifestation of Newton's 3rd Law of Motion where Action (aeroplane moving through air by its engine[s] or boy running through air pulling his kite) is equal to and opposed by Reaction. The useful Lift is the vertical component of Reaction whilst nasty Drag is its horizontal component.

Next time when you drive around or to be more safe for you, when you're a passenger, open your car window and put your open palm out in the airflow, and then tilt your open palm at various angles to the airflow, and assess which angle gives you the maximum and minimum reactions of lift (upwards) and drag (backwards). Of course both will happen at the same as that would be the Reaction to the Action of your palm bring pushed forward by the car.

Safe flight is possible only when Lift is managed effectively by the pilot to the required amount, and likewise with Drag. That's as far as I dare proceed with the fangle technical stuff (of aerodynamics), which would be best left to pilots or aerodynamists.

But suffice to say, the control and management of both Lift and Drag becomes crucial during the take-off and the landing phase of a flight. If a pilot mismanages them, say during take-off or/and landing, a Stall may occur, with the symptoms and consequences occurring as per P.J. Granville-Edge's description of "... something was wrong when his plane began to vibrate" and “The Nomad’s nose dropped. The plane began a one-and-a-half turn spiral plummet. It did not pull out of that twisting nose-dive and crashed into shallow water.”

A more crude but impactful, though technically incorrect, description of a plane suffering an unrecoverable stall would be 'dropping from the air like a stone (or a ton of bricks)'.

What is meant by 'unrecoverable stall'?

A stall by itself is generally recoverable even if the pilot takes no action provided there is enough height (or altitude); left to itself the aeroplane will eventually recover into what it has been trimmed (or set up) for.

When there isn't enough safe altitude, say when the aeroplane is near the ground like around 500 feet or less, the pilot must take swift and correct actions to recover from the stall. It's doable and practised regularly at lengths by every working pilot.

Thus an 'unrecoverable stall' is one where the pilot doesn't have enough altitude to take his recovering actions or has taken incorrect actions (unlikely for a skilled pilot), or there is aggravating circumstances like an imbalanced loading which hinders the pilot from executing the required recovery actions.

The conspiracy theory achieved some traction from a Ku Li (Tengku Razaleigh) story, in which he recalled that Harris Salleh, then the Sabah deputy chief minister, persuaded him not to take that fatal flight but instead go to Pulau Banggi to see a cattle ranch. Thus Ku LI left the ill-fated plane together with Rahman Ya’kub (then CM of Sarawak) and Tengku Bendahara of Pahang.

The conspiracy insinuation has been that Harris Salleh knew the plane would crash and save Ku Li from doom by persuading him to disembark.

But we need to ask those conspiracy theorists how Harris Sallah had somehow managed to arrange for the crash to occur during the landing phase and in what was likely from a stall.

A far more drastic and deadlier sabotage (since this is a discussion on a conspiracy theory) would have been for the plane to crash during take-off (perhaps by fixing one engine to fail, though a qualified pilot can easily handle an asymmetric engine situation - okay then, both engines to fail) or during a later stage of flight by an explosive device, say, set to trigger by a barometric capsule when it passed a certain altitude. The latter scenario would have been more desirable so that most evidence would be lost in the sea.

Quite frankly, I wonder which pilot believes that one could or would fix an aeroplane to crash at its landing stage without an explosive device, bearing in mind this was in the mid-70's? Generally, a crash after take-off is far more deadly for the occupants than during a landing phase.

Thus I'm not predisposed towards any suggestion of planned assassination of Fuad through sabotage of the aeroplane, unless Harris Salleh or one of his bomohs has fantastic mind control where he could cause the pilot to mishandle the aeroplane and also black out during the landing.

I'm more inclined to believe it was an unfortunate accident.

But let's examine the Nomad aeroplane or its notorious history. Wikipedia informs us:

The Nomad design was considered problematic and early Royal Australian Air Force evaluations were critical of the design. An early, stretched-fuselage variant crashed, killing GAF's chief test pilot Stuart Pearce (father of actor Guy Pearce), and the assistant head designer. The Nomad has been involved in a total of 32 total hull-loss accidents, which have resulted in 76 fatalities.

As far as its safety records indicate, conspiracy theory aside, it has been not a good aeroplane. Currently, there is a new model being worked out, but as late as 2009, only one was flying in its home country Australia, which tells you something about the Nomad.

My uncle, when in the military, knew some air force people who informed him of the loading problems of the Nomad. Aeroplane loading problems can be divided into two areas, weight itself and balance.

The latter is the far more dangerous issue because an unbalanced loading and thus an imbalanced aircraft can present control problems for the pilot. The control problems become more acute during landing especially if the fuel which had earlier offset (minimised) the imbalance has been burnt off.

What about the pilot? Obviously his skills, experience and knowledge can minimise or even counter the threat of a stall or even an aeroplane suffering from an imbalance state. But as we have read, even the original test pilot for the Nomad aeroplane was killed, what more with a Sabah Flying Club pilot, Captain Gandhi Nathan.

Though my uncle didn't personally know Captain Gandhi, he knew of him from his (my uncle's) several visits at the invitation of his air force friends to the Royal Selangor Flying Club within the old KL airport grounds, which was subsequently turned into a TUDM (RMAF) station when the KL airport was shifted to Subang. Unc even had a few drinks together with Captain Gandhi though as part (guest) of a group consisting of those air force friends and some Royal Selangor Flying Club members.

As my uncle recalls, Captain Gandhi was not an air force trained pilot nor was he trained in Perth, Scotland (not the Perth in Australia), where I was informed the very early Malayan Airways (daddy of SIA and MAS) sent most of its pilot cadets to be trained.

Captain Gandhi was trained at the Royal Selangor Flying Club. After obtaining his Commercial Pilot Licence, he joined Sabah Flying Club which under Tun Mustapha Harun had all sorts of aircraft (aeroplanes and helicopters) and provided a career opportunity for low-hour pilots like Captain Gandhi who wasn't trained by the air force or an overseas commercial flying training school. Pilots from the latter two groups monopolized the airline recruitment.

Sabah Flying Club pilots
4th from left is Harris Salleh, then as Hon President of Club

That's my take on that unfortunate accident. I believe it's best to evaluate whatever information we have before we allow our political allegiance persuade us into imagining there was a sinister conspiracy.



    1. fantastic of Harris Salleh to be able to foresee there would be a "small" problem leading to the pilot with poorest skill f*ing up the approach. The Australian Government Aircraft Factories (GAF) should have employed Harris as a soothsayer, and who knows, Guy Pearce father, Stuart Pearce and 75 others might have avoided death in Nomad crashes.

      and I wasn't aware that an HONORARY president of a club personally detailed pilots to fly specific flights

    2. If the honorary president was also a senior qualified pilot among the group, would he not have some authority? As Sabahan Auzzie Engineer has mentioned of an explosion before the crash and I have read some reports of the plane being made to circle the airport eventhough there were no other planes taking off or landing, would it not lead to more questions?

    3. An interesting post on the tradegy could be read here

  2. Tun Fuad Stephens, bless his soul and also to the rest that perished. The past is the past barring X-Files conspiracies. From him, nothing good in between until Joseph Pairin Kitingan. Aahhh JPK, another story of mid-air "unrecoverable stall." JPK & the story we know about PBS, the ups and down of the CM & party... conspiracy known to all. This is the story of Sabah's crash...

    Project IC, Sulu invasion, UMNO's entry into the state... what more do the Kadazan-Dusuns or Sabahans want? Let's not speak of retrospect but of the future. Its not what it would have been but what do we want it to be.

    Psss... rumors, rumors... Kuli back in the picture?

  3. Sabahan Aussie Engineer10:45 pm, June 12, 2013

    My take on the Fuad Stephens Nomad crash is a combination of an aerodynamically and mechanically suspect aeroplane design AND a sabotage.

    There were certainly strong motives for very powerful Federal people and their Sabah allies to have Stephens dead.
    And suspicious cicumstances surrounding the crash, such as multiple eyewitnesses hearing an explosion BEFORE seeing the aircraft crash - sound takes time to travel through air, so by right the plane has already crashed by the time you hear the sound, just like lightning vs. thunder.

    By 1976, the GAF Nomad already had a reputation as a Widow Maker, having suffered a number of fatal crashes. Australia had near zero experience actually designing modern aircraft, though the GAF had plenty of history building and assembling all kinds of planes from proven foreign designs.
    In those days before computerised aerodynamic simulation, aircraft designs were dependent on model testing in wind tunnels. Certain flight conditions which could lead to fatal loss of control sometimes got overlooked, or were difficult to test, or the solution difficult to test out.

    There were also indications which only surfaced later that GAF management ignored engineer's warnings of design weaknesses, because it would have been very costly to fix the design.

    Now...a suspect airplane design, a State leader whom powerful people had reason to wish dead...and you have the right conditions for a "Perfect Crime" that isn't even suspected of being a crime...

  4. The Australian aircraft investigating team (an independent body reporting directly to the Transport Minister) confirmed there was no mechanical damage.

    You're correct that the Nomad did not have a good safety record, thus with that in mind, one shouldn't attribute the crash to a local political-criminal conspiracy of political assassination. It was likely a fatal aerodynamic stall as had a]happened to other Nomad operators including Australian ones.

    And we need to ask, where was the evidence of such conspiracy for the 1976 crash?

  5. Nothing will convinced those with a prejudicial, close minded person who has other agendas in trying to push the conspiracy theory.

    It is almost impossible to engineer this accident other than the captain decides to commit suicide. If really someone wants kill them, then the way to do it is by shooting via a ground to air missile or air to air missile

    Maj Rtd Dr Mohd Rafick ( p/s- I was in the Air Force for 13 years and was involved 2 aircraft fatalities investigations involving airforce aircraft)

  6. Rafick,
    you are back. When are you going to make your blog public? Honestly, you simply can't because of the timing. Just as the JFK assisasination or better still why harold wilson all of a sudden resigned in 1976, there are whole lot of questions to be answered.

    Even the attempted assasination on Chen Shui Bien still not answered even till now.
    My question is why kaytee wanna publish this article. See the timing, see how I am able to smell a rat out of this
    To ensure Ku Li is in the clear so as to justify Ku Li taking up Premiership & thus, kaytee's nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim would be given cold turkey


    1. looes, why don't you read my next post before you make such wild allegations, wakakaka

    2. Out already meh! Which one! It's not allegation. It's speculation. Why simple la? Why come up with this article & suddenly this article appear?

      Just like this incident incolcing plane crash...

      Why Ku Li was asked to leave the plane? So sudden one?

    3. Looes74
      Other than the bad timing of the incident (which was then tied to motives), has anyone pushed forward any decent piece of evidence?


    4. Looes

      Ku Li was not asked to leave the plane. He was invited to join another plane which will fly to Pulau Banggi.

      Based on record, the negotiation was tough but it was close to settlement. The deceased CM would have signed the agreement. Haris being the acting CM, signed it as it was meant to be signed.

      Jeffry Kitingan interest is "sabah for sabahan" and forget about Malaysia. He wants to take sabah out of the coalition. As politician he is just drumming up support.. not much different from Anwar who claims to win 52% of the people support?

      Did 52% of the voters voted Anwar across the country or PR won a majority of 3% votes from the high density population in KL,Selangor and Penang?

      I wonder why we havent charge Jeffry Kitingan for sedition or treason against the nation


    5. My dear Raffick,
      Jeffrey kenna ISA liao for you know what. What more yoyu wanna do to him. Death by 1000 slice

      But frankly if it's Pairin who espouses Sabah for Sabahan, it carries more weight. Kinda reminisce with the earlier battle that Pairin got to go through in order to become CM Sabah. Wanna charge for Treason. Why not Harris Salleh or better still Tun Mustapha? How these jokers brought in pinoys muslim & also indons illegally in order to bolster their position for power.

      While I may agree that Pakatan has focussed its popular votes massively in penang, selangor & KL. One must not forget that PR has won popular votes in Kelantan. Better still PR has won popular support in Perak even though it lost majority seats

      (Please refer to malaysiakini statistic tabulation)

      PR Perak has won almost 55% votes as compared with BN 45%.

      Sabah is kinda like northern ireland just as Sarawak is kinda like Scotland. Hehehe, James Brooke got scottish blood through his mum. As in Northern Ireland, the unionist & seperatist baying for power. Likewise in Sabah & it has further complaicated by the fact large influxs of pinoys & indon have been brought in to maintain absolute power by UMNO. How not folks such as Jeffrey not be so adamant in wanting more power for the sabahans?

      I can't accept that Fuad Stephen is willing to sign this document. Not privately. Fuad Stephen was pretty close with LKY during the days of Malaysia solidarity convention. We all know that money was the important factor of the singapore divorce from Malaysia.

  7. i dont know how true this conspiracy is but one thing that is fuelling this conspiracy is the fact that on june 14, 1976 harris signed the petronas agreement giving them 95% of the value while sabah gets 5%. the date is too close thats y ppl all going gaga over it.

  8. In Malaysia, many conspiracy theories have been proven to be true, or true to a large extent.
    - May 13' 1969 was an UMNO plot linked to a power grab by Tun Razak.
    - the 1972 Tanjung Kupang crash was the work of a Minister's rogue bodyguard.
    - the BMF Scandal involved senior figures in UMNO
    - the disastrous Maminco attempt to corner the Tin market was a conspiracy by the Malaysian government, namely Dr.Mahathir.

  9. I saw the tragedy unfold on the 6th June 1976. I was a temporary teacher with La Salle Secondary School (as it was called then). Some students playing football in the feild near the Teachers's Hall shouted to me about a plane in trouble. I rushed to the veranda... and there it was ... I saw the plane DROP like a bird shot at in mid air.Drop like a stone! The nose did not drop down... the whole plane just dropped.

    1. Wow. You are actually a witness of this whole incident.

  10. I hope there will be a leader as strong and brave as Tun Fuad Stephens to take charge of Sabah. Sabahans must unite as it is our own right to our own land. 5% of our own oil is complete BS. 15% more from our own oil costed us brave leaders. Yet Peninsular Malaysians mock us that we live on trees and when Abu Sayaf came to terrorize the place. We should have the right to our oil, to have an army, to have a navy and to have a leader who thinks for Sabah

    1. wow you want your own republic. that' secession, which makes it a seditious thought