LONDON :The plane crash in Bahawalpur desert twenty years ago which killed former President General Zia-ul-Haq along with the US Ambassador Arnold Raphael and spawned several conspiracies theories has now been blamed on the mechanical problem, says a report in The Times. According to the daily, American, Soviet, Indian and even Israeli intelligence agents were among those blamed for sabotaging the PAF C-130 Hercules plane.
The Times has uncovered a far less complicated explanation. According to US investigators, a mechanical problem, known to be relatively common with the C-130 military transport aircraft, was to blame. “There were a lot of conspiracy theories and there still are, understandably in that part of the world, Robert Oakley, who took over as US Ambassador to Pakistan after the crash and helped to handle the politically fraught investigation, told The Times.
Washington sent a team of US Air Force officers to assist the Pakistanis in the investigation. The two sides reached sharply different conclusions. Nancy Ely-Raphel, Ambassadors widow and Brigadier-General Wassom’s wife, Judy, were both told by US investigators that the crash was caused by a mechanical fault. “It seems there was a mechanical failure for a C-130 in Colorado and the same thing happened,” Mrs Ely-Raphael said. “A C-130 had gone into gyrations in the air over Colorado. It was not as close to the ground. They pulled it out.
“It was the steering mechanism, is the way he described it to me. It did not crash but it went through these gyrations up in the air and the pilot pulled it out. I had always thought C130s were the workhorses of the air. I was quite surprised when the Air Force described to me what they had discovered,” she said.
Wassom told the newspaper she has had to abandon her suspicions that it was sabotage. “My personal feelings about it were that it was not an accident. However, I was told I do not know how much after that the Army had investigated and that it was an accident,” she said. “They gave me some kind of mechanical reason for it.”
Oakley identified the mechanical fault as a problem with the hydraulics in the tail assembly. Although US Air Force pilots had handled such emergencies, the Pakistani pilots were less well equipped to do so. These pilots did not have much experience flying C130s and they flew so low, he said. The paper noted that a former US Ambassador to India was relieved of his post after telling Washington that he believed the Israelis, concerned about nuclear ambitions, were behind the crash.
The Pakistani report said that the broken cables found at the crash site were of the proper length and had been pulled out in the accident. Analysis by a US lab found extensive contamination by brass and aluminum particles in the elevator booster package. But the report said: Failure of the elevator control system due to a mechanical failure . . . is ruled out. It cited the aircraft-maker Lockheed as saying that even with the level of contamination found in the system; they have not normally experienced any problems other than wear.
The report concluded: This confirms the boards’ findings that the contamination of the elevator booster package may at worst cause sluggish controls leading to over control but not to an accident.
In the absence of a mechanical cause, the Pakistani inquiry concluded that the crash was an act of sabotage.
The daily said Pakistani investigators found no conclusive evidence of an explosion on the aircraft, but said chemicals that could be used in small explosives were detected in mango seeds and a piece of rope found on the aircraft. The use of a chemical agent to incapacitate the pilots and thus perpetuate the accident therefore remains a distinct possibility, the report said. Ely-Raphel, according to the paper, however, insists that the poison-gas theory is preposterous. There was nothing pointing to any kind of gas whatever in any of the reports I read, she said.-SANA