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:
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.
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.