- 1986 Mozambican Tupolev Tu-134 crash
Mozambican Presidential Jet
A Tupolev Tu-134, similar to the aircraft that was involved in the accident
Accident summary Date October 19, 1986 Type Controlled flight into terrain Site Mbuzini, Lebombo Mountains, South Africa
Passengers 35 Crew 9 Fatalities 34 Survivors 10 Aircraft type Tupolev Tu-134A-3 Operator Mozambique Air Tail number C9-CAA Flight origin Maputo, Mozambique Last stopover Mbala Airport (MMQ), Zambia Destination Maputo International Airport (MPM), Mozambique
The Mozambican presidential Tupolev Tu-134A-3 aircraft crashed just inside South African territory on October 19, 1986. The aircraft was carrying Mozambican president Samora Machel and 43 other occupants on a flight from Mbala in Zambia to the Mozambican capital Maputo when it crashed 35 nm (65 km) west of its destination at Mbuzini in the Lebombo Mountains. Nine passengers and one crew member survived the crash, but President Machel and 33 others died, including ministers and officials of the Mozambique government.
While there was widespread suspicion—both nationally and internationally—that the South African government was implicated in the crash, no conclusive evidence to this effect has emerged.
- 1 Political background
- 2 Accident flight
- 3 Search and rescue
- 4 Investigations
- 5 Other investigations
- 6 Aftermath
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading and external links
South Africa's State Security Council (SSC) meeting in January 1984 minuted a discussion of their Mozambican working group, which included General Jac Buchner and Major Craig Williamson, where assistance to RENAMO was discussed as a means of overthrowing the FRELIMO government of Mozambique. The TRC later included this minute as circumstantial evidence in their inconclusive report.
On March 16, 1984, the Nkomati Accord was signed at Komatipoort between South Africa and Mozambique. A clause in this agreement prohibited support of third-party resistance groups. In his commentary on the accord, South African foreign minister Pik Botha admitted in an SABC television interview that South Africa had offered limited support to RENAMO in the past.
On October 7, 1986 Mozambique was sharply criticised by South African general Magnus Malan for allegedly allowing terrorists to enter South Africa from its territory. The Frontline States convened an emergency meeting in Maputo on October 12, to address an incursion of Renamo operatives from Malawi. South Africa and Malawi's Banda were denounced as waging a terrorist campaign against Mozambique. Malan replied on October 15 by warning the Front Line leaders that they would share the consequences of ANC terrorist attacks. Mozambique later cited Malan's remarks as evidence to implicate South Africa in the air crash.
A former military intelligence (MI) officer "Ben" alleged at the 1998 TRC hearings that Pik Botha and a number of high-ranking security officials met on October 18, 1986 at Skwamans, a secret security police base shared with MI operatives halfway between Mbuzini and Komatipoort. He said the meeting broke up later that day and Botha departed in a small aircraft.
On Sunday, October 19, three Front Line leaders, Machel, Kenneth Kaunda and Eduardo dos Santos met at Mbala, Zambia, to confront Zairian president Mobutu Sésé Seko concerning his channeling of funds to UNITA, which was in alliance with South Africa.
- All times in this article are local (UTC+2).
Aircraft, flight crew and itinerary
The airplane being used to transport Machel that day, registration C9-CAA, was manufactured by Tupolev in 1980 according to specifications for Mozambique. It had flown a total of 1,105 flying hours since new, and had underwent its last major inspection in August 1984 in the USSR. Service records indicated that it had been properly maintained, and data recovered from the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) showed the aircraft and all its systems were operating normally.
The flight crew of five consisted of a captain, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator and radio operator, who were all USSR State employees operating the aircraft for the Mozambican government. They were well experienced in both day and night flying in Mozambique and in landings at Maputo airport.
On the morning of October 19th Machel boarded the airplane at Maputo, and after a refueling stop in Lusaka, Zambia arrived at Mbala at 11:00. After the meeting with Kaunda and dos Santos, Machel and his party re-boarded the aircraft and departed Mbala at 18:38 for a non-stop return to Maputo. The weather forecast for the flight was favourable, with an estimated time of arrival of 21:25.
At 20:46 the flight made their first radio contact with Maputo Air Traffic Control (ATC), reporting their position and that they were continuing towards the Maputo VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) navigation beacon while maintaining an altitude of 35,000 feet. At 21:02 the crew radioed that they were ready to begin descending, and after being instructed by the Maputo controller to report reaching 3,000 feet MSL or when the runway lights were in sight, began their descent for an ILS approach to runway 23.
Over the next eight minutes the aircraft maintained its required track toward Maputo with minor lateral deviations. Then at 21:10 the airplane commenced a turn away from Maputo to the right, lasting almost one minute in duration and a resulting heading change from 184° magnetic to 221°. At this time the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) recorded the navigator stating the distance remaining to Maputo as 100km, then a comment from the captain about the turn, and the navigator's response that the "VOR indicates that way".
Around 21:15 the navigator stated the distance to Maputo as 60km. Over the next few minutes there were several comments from the crew that the navigational aids at Maputo were unavailable, including the captain saying "there is no Maputo" and "everything switched off", and the navigator saying that the Instrument Landing System (ILS) and Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) were "switched off" and that the Non-directional beacons (NDBs) "do not work".
By 21:18 the aircraft was approaching 3,000 feet, and upon reaching that height informed the Maputo controller that they were maintaining that altitude, however the airplane continued to descend. The Maputo controller granted clearance to the flight for an ILS approach to runway 23, but after the flight crew reported the ILS out of service the controller changed the clearance to a visual approach to runway 05. During this time the navigator stated the distance to Maputo as 25-30km, the captain remarked that something was wrong, and the co-pilot said that the runway was not lit. The crew radioed the Maputo controller and asked them to "check your runway lights". Around 21:21 the navigator stated the range to Maputo as 18-20km, and flight repeated their request to Maputo to check runway lights. Then at an altitude of 2,611 feet AGL the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) sounded and remained on for 32 seconds. The captain cursed, however the descent continued. 
During the last 22 seconds of the flight the crew twice more radioed Maputo about the runway lights, affirming that they were not in sight, which was acknowledged by the Maputo controller. Meanwhile the captain stated "cloudy, cloudy, cloudy" and the navigator exclaimed "no, no, there's nowhere to go, there's no NDBs, nothing!". The captain then added "Neither NDBs, nor ILS!", which were the last words recorded on the CVR. The aircraft first impacted a tree at 21:21:39, approximately 35 nm west of Maputo in hilly terrain at an elevation of 2,185 feet, at a location of 25°54'41"S 31°57'26" E. At the time of the accident it was night, a few minutes before moonrise and very dark. The last weather report passed to the aircraft indicated 10km of visibility with 3/8 cloud cover at 1,800 feet. 
Search and rescue
After being unable to contact the flight on the radio the Maputo controller alerted authorities and Mozambican military units prepared for search and rescue. Since the last radio communication with the aircraft had been four minutes before its estimated time of arrival the initial search area was defined around Maputo. Throughout the rest of the night and early morning helicopters flew search and rescue missions in an attempt to find the missing airplane, and in addition a marine search of Maputo Bay was carried out.
The actual accident site was in a remote corner of South Africa not easily accessible, approximately 150 meters inside the South Africa - Mozambique border. A police officer was alerted at approximately 23:00 by a villager from Mbuzini, and the first responder to the scene was a member of the Komatipoort Police Station who arrived at 23:40. The first medical personnel reached the site at 01:00. Shortly after 04:00 a helicopter and medical crew from the South African Air Force base at Hoedspruit arrived and proceeded to evacuate the survivors to Nelspruit hospital.
Of the five members of the flight crew only the flight engineer survived. All four Mozambican cabin crew were fatally injured, as well as 26 of the 35 passengers, including President Machel. Besides Machel, his private secretary Muradali, possible successor Fernando Honwana, transport minister Alcantara Santos, Marxist scholar and diplomat Aquino de Bragança and photo-journalist Daniel Maquinasse were among the dead. Along with the flight crew, two foreign nationals from Cuba, one from Zaire and one from Zambia perished in the accident. One survivor died 2 1/2 months after the crash from their injuries.
South African response
South Africa’s minister of Law and Order, Louis la Grange, contacted South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, at 4:30 on October 20, 1986 to inform him of the crash.
La Grange revealed that ‘30 to 40 persons’ may have died which may include president Samora Machel and suggested ‘very sensitive handling’ of the situation. Pik Botha relayed the information to State President P.W. Botha and together they decided that Pik Botha should visit the scene as a matter of urgency.
In accordance with the South African Air Control Act, aircraft accidents are required to be investigated by the SA Department of Transport. Thus Pik Botha consulted Hendrik Schoeman of the Department of Transport, once Machel’s death was confirmed. After Botha and Schoeman had visited the crash site, Botha cited special circumstances and other international protocols as reasons to become involved.
On site investigation
The Mozambican government was informed of the situation and invited to send representatives to the border town of Komatipoort. Mozambican minister Sérgio Vieira joined Pik Botha at Komatipoort from where they departed by SAAF helicopter. The helicopter was only able to transport one of two members of the Civil Aviation Bureau, Mr. Pieter de Klerk, who was asked to offer guidance on site.
On arrival, Mozambican minister Sérgio Vieira asked for the documents that were taken from the aircraft to be handed to him. The SA commissioner of police, Johann Coetzee, had already made copies of these, and the documents were transferred to Vieira. The SABC was permitted to take photos at the scene and to do on location reports, the only news agency enabled to do so. The South African government claimed that the Civil Aviation Bureau had no complaints about procedures followed at the site. Nonetheless, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders were removed by the South African Police, who later refused to release them for independent inspection.
South African investigation
On the day after the crash, October 20, Mozambique and South Africa agreed that an international board of inquiry should be established with the participation of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The Chicago Convention determined that South Africa, as the state on whose territory the crash had occurred, would head the investigation. South Africa was obliged to work in partnership with the state of ownership (Mozambique) and the state of manufacture (Soviet Union).
Twelve days following the crash, at 18:00 on October 31, 1986, Pik Botha convened an interdepartmental government meeting, nominally to discuss progress.
After the meeting, Pik Botha made press announcements to the effect that the aircraft was fitted with antiquated instruments and that tests on two dead crew members revealed excess alcohol content in their bloodstream. On a November 6 press conference Botha in addition announced that a document retrieved from the plane revealed a Mozambican-Zimbabwean plot to topple the Malawian government. Pik Botha was reported to have told Lothar Neethling of the SAP to withhold the flight data– and cockpit voice recorders from inspection by both international and Civil Aviation Bureau investigators. Soviet and Mozambican investigators were thus placed at a disadvantage in their investigations.
Director Renee van Zyl of the South African Civil Aviation Bureau then served a writ on Botha and the SAP, and received the two recorders unceremoniously at 15:45 on November 11, 1986. The three international teams signed a protocol of secrecy on November 14, 1986 as Botha’s selective announcements were straining relations between the teams and governments. This allowed the teams to agree on the procedures they were to follow.
Nevertheless Botha reported to Beeld newspaper on November 24, 1986 that he had listened to Maputo air traffic control’s recordings and studied a transcription of them. These he acquired from Foreign Affair’s representative in the South African team.
The South African government established the Margo Commission, chaired by judge Cecil Margo, to investigate the accident. Pik Botha realised that negative international opinion was escalating around the matter and decided to appoint three international members of high standing to the commission. They were:
- Frank Borman, former US test pilot, astronaut and president of Eastern Air Lines
- Geoffrey Wilkinson, former head of the British Department for Transport’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch
- Sir Edward Eveleigh, former Lord Justice of Appeal and member of the British Privy Council
The Margo commission’s findings were based mainly on the flight recorders, testimony by South African officials and the technical report submitted by the SA investigation team. The Soviet investigation team refused to take part in any public testimony and the Mozambican team also withdrew at the last moment.
The flight recorders gave excellent results, the cockpit voice recorder especially revealing much about the interactions between crew members. The investigation was however delayed for several weeks by South African police general Lothar Neethling's refusal to hand the recorders over after he had seized them at the scene of the crash.
The commission nevertheless concluded that:
- "the aircraft was airworthy and fully serviced
- there is no evidence of sabotage or outside interference,
- the cause of the accident was that the flight crew failed to follow procedural requirements for an instrument let-down approach,
- the crew continued to descend under visual flight rules in darkness and some cloud without having contact with the minimum assigned altitude,
- the crew also ignored the Ground Warning Proximity alarm."
The Margo report was accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Claims of a decoy beacon
Suspicion of a false beacon in the Lebombos was first expressed by South African helicopter pilots on the morning following the crash, followed by a similar suggestion in an anonymous call to UPI by a supposed SAAF officer, a day later. The pilots' speculative remark was revealed to Sérgio Vieira, Mozambique's minister of security, in a rash comment by South African police commissioner Johann Coetzee. Neither the Mozambican or Russian teams however, nor any witness testimony given, supplied any evidence or direct allegation concerning a secondary beacon to the Margo commission. The Margo commission's draft report then proposed Matsapa airfield's VOR, combined with pilot error, as playing a likely role in the trajectory followed. The USSR delegation disputed this, saying the signal was obscured by mountains.
A breakdown in communications followed, causing Gen. Earp of the South African Air Force to authorise military pilots to penetrate Mozambique airspace to test the Matsapa theory. They returned with confirmation, though the final report relied on additional testimonies of commercial pilots who flew on C9-CAA's track. They likewise confirmed clear VOR signals from Matsapa. Mozambican pilot Dias, who supported the Matsapa theory, illustrated his interpretation of events to Mozambican officials on a flight from Lisbon to Maputo. Mozambican authorities however remained unconvinced and suspended air controller de Jesus on May 5, 1998, for allegedly having been bribed to tamper with Maputo airport's beacon on the night of the crash.
The Soviet delegation issued a minority report saying that their expertise and experience had been undermined by the South Africans. They advanced the theory of complicity of South African security forces and that the plane had been intentionally diverted by a false navigational beacon signal, using a technology provided by Israeli intelligence agents. The Soviet report focused on the 37 degrees' right turn that led the plane into the hills of Mbuzini. It rejected the finding of the Margo Commission, saying that the crew had read the ground proximity warning as false since they believed themselves to be in flat terrain as they approached landing.
Independent Mozambican investigation
Mozambique contracted an independent and highly qualified Canadian (or British) investigator by the name of Young.[when?] Relying on flight plots by Mozambican expert Caiger, Young questioned the false radio beacon theory as an explanation for the wrong trajectory. In his opinion a false VOR beacon operating on the same frequency would have directed the aircraft on a curvilinear path. This was contradicted by the straight paths recorded for both the C9-CAA presidential aircraft and the C9-BAA aircraft which followed minutes afterward.
TRC report 2001
Twelve years after the crash, when the apartheid regime had been replaced by a democratically-elected South African government, a special investigation into Machel's death was carried out in 2001 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The TRC investigation was criticized[who?] for taking place in camera and without any aviation specialist being present. The testimony was further led by a prominent radio journalist rather than a judge. The TRC's investigation did not find conclusive evidence to support or refute either of the earlier reports. Nonetheless, some pieces of circumstantial evidence collected by the TRC lead to questions being raised[who?] about a number of the Margo Commission's findings:
- A former Military Intelligence (MI) officer alleged that Pik Botha and a number of high-ranking security officials held a meeting at Skwamans, a secret security police base shared with MI operatives halfway between Mbuzini and Komatipoort, on the day before the crash. They left late that night in a small plane and some, including Pik Botha, returned there after the crash.
- C9-CAA entered a military and operational zone in South Africa (a restricted airspace, which was presumed to be under radar surveillance.) However, no warning that the plane was off course or in South African airspace was given to the aircraft.
- South Africa's State Security Council (SSC) minutes from January 1984 indicate that the Mozambican working group, including General Jac Buchner and Major Craig Williamson, discussed how to help RENAMO overthrow the FRELIMO government of Mozambique.
A police video in the TRC's possession shows South African foreign minister Pik Botha telling journalists at the crash site that President Samora Machel and others killed in the crash were his and President P.W. Botha's "very good friends", and that their deaths were therefore a tragedy for South Africa.
Confession by Hans Louw
In January 2003, the Sowetan Sunday World reported that an apartheid era killer and former CCB member, Hans Louw, serving a 28-year term at Baviaanspoort Prison near Pretoria, had confessed to participating in a plot to kill Machel. A false radio navigational beacon would have been used to lure the aircraft off course, with Louw forming part of an alleged backup team to shoot the aircraft down if it didn't crash. The newspaper also alleged that another of the plotters, former Rhodesian Selous Scout, Edwin Mudingi, supported Louw's claim. However, after an investigation by the Scorpions, a South African special police unit, it was reported in July 2003 and in October 2008 that they could find no evidence for South African complicity.  
South African minister of Safety and Security, Charles Nqakula announced on February 2, 2006 that the Machel death crash inquiry would be reopened. He told reporters in parliament that all of South Africa's law enforcement agencies were expected to be involved in the probe, in co-operation with their Mozambican counterparts.
A Mbuzini wreath laying ceremony on October 17 was attended by Graça Machel and addressed by Nelson Mandela. Mandela declared the initial simple memorial a South African national monument and hailed Machel as a universal hero whose life exemplified the highest ideals of internationalism and universality. Mandela cautiously claimed that the precise chain of events leading to Machel's death were uncertain and elusive, and repeated an earlier promise that no stone would be left unturned to establish the full truth.
A Samora Machel Monument was erected at the crash site. Designed by Mozambican architect, Jose Forjaz, at a cost to the South African government of 1.5 million Rand (US$ 300,000), the monument comprises 35 whistling wind pipes to symbolise each of the lives lost in the air crash. It was inaugurated on January 19, 1999 by Nelson Mandela, his wife Graça, and by President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique.
At the 20th anniversary of the crash on October 19, 2006, South African president, Thabo Mbeki declared the memorial a national heritage site. Leading up to the event the Mozambican president Guebuza, who chaired the Mozambican inquiry in 1986, repeated a commitment to discover the truth about the incident, while President Mbeki, in his state of the nation address of February 3, 2006, mentioned that a satisfactory explanation was still lacking.
Nelson Mandela's and Graça Machel's accusations
At the Mandela-Machel wedding ceremony on July 18, 1998, Mandela was however reported to have announced that Samora Machel was murdered, without reference to the South African board of enquiry's findings. Graça Machel believes the air crash was no accident and has dedicated her life to tracking down her late husband's killers. In May 1999, Graça Machel said in an interview on SABC TV's News Maker programme that she remained convinced the apartheid regime was responsible, and challenged former foreign minister Pik Botha to come clean about Samora Machel's death. In reply, Botha told SABC TV on May 16, 1999 that although he had been one of the first people on the scene and was called on to identify Machel's body, the only facts he knew about the crash were the findings of the Margo Commission:
“ "I totally reject any suggestion that I could have been a party to a decision of that nature. It is an extremely sad moment for me. - Pik Botha ”
A study by Jones and Olken claims that the crash had immediate wider repercussions for Mozambique's economy. An annual 7.7% decline in GDP under Machel's communist nationalisation policies, reverted to growth averaging 2.4% per annum under the freer, multi-party democracy in the tenure of his successor, Joaquim Chissano.
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- ^ Thompson, Christopher (October 20, 2006). "Mozambique seeks new probe into Machel crash". Mail & Guardian. http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=287207&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__national/. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
- ^ "Mandela's speech at the commemoration of the death of president Samora Machel". Office of the President, ANC Daily News Briefing. October 18, 1996. Archived from the original on 2009-07-26. http://18.104.22.168/~etools/newsbrief/1996/news1018. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
- ^ van Rensburg, Gallie (September 7, 1993). "Kyk weer na Machel se dood, vra Mandela (Mandela requests another look at Machel's death)". Beeld. p. 8. http://22.214.171.124/argief/berigte/beeld/1993/09/7/8/3.html. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
- ^ "South Africans, Mozambicans urged to follow Machel's footsteps" (Press release). South African government. October 19, 2006. http://www.buanews.gov.za/view.php?ID=06102008151001&coll=buanew06.
- ^ "Samora Machel remembered". SADC Today 9 (4). October 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-07-25. http://www.sardc.net/Editorial/sadctoday/view.asp?pubno=v9n4&vol=474. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
- ^ SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews (October 20, 2006). "Remembering Samora Machel". SouthAfrica.info. Archived from the original on 2009-07-25. http://www.southafrica.info/about/history/machel-monument.htm. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
- ^ "Pik rejects Graça's theory on plane crash". Dispatch Online. May 17, 1999. http://www.dispatch.co.za/1999/05/17/southafrica/pik.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
- ^ Jones, Benjamin F.; Olken, Benjamin A. (2005). "Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth since World War II". Quarterly Journal of Economics 120 (3): 835–864. doi:10.1162/003355305774268165. Archived from the original on 2009-07-21. http://www.nber.org/~bolken/leaders.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
- A Morte de Samora Machel, João M. Cabrita, 2005. Novafrica, Maputo
- Clayburn, Yvonne (1989). Soviet disinformation strategy as applied to Samora Machel death crash. Institut für Afrikanische und Internationale Studien. http://books.google.com/?id=Aj7LHgAACAAJ.
- Mystery still surrounds Machel death
- Photos of the aircraft
Oct 19 Mozambican Tupolev Tu-134 crash
Oct 25 Piedmont Airlines Flight 467
Nov 06 British Int'l Helicopters Chinook crash
Dec 25 Iraqi Airways Flight 163
Incidents resulting in at least 50 deaths shown in italics. Deadliest incident shown in bold smallcaps.
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