June 17, 2012: CAPT Mohd Jawid Noorul-haq, 60, is the only person today intimately connected to the Double Six tragedy of 6.61976 that claimed the lives of newly-elected CM Tun Fuad Stephens and State Ministers Datuk Salleh Sulong, Datuk Chong Thien Vun, Datuk Peter Mojuntin and Asst Minister Darius Binion.
The others among the 11 who also died in the crash in low tide at Sembulan where the memorial now stands were Datuk Wahid Peter Andau (Finance Ministry Perm Sec), Dr Syed Hussein Wafa (Sabah Economic Planning Unit Director), Isak Atan (Tengku Razaleigh's Private Sec) Cpl Said Mohd (Fuad's bodyguard), Capt Gandhi Nathan (pilot) and Johari Stephens (Fuad's eldest son).
Capt Jawid was the last person to see them alive as they boarded the ill-fated Nomad N-22C that day.
Chief Editor James Sarda managed to track him down for this exclusive to re-examine the events that happened in the 36 hours leading to the crash as never been told before.
This was supposed to be the second of two parts but due to additional information, the final part appears next week.
DE: Which means your Seneca left Labuan earlier.
J: I left earlier.
DE: How early?
J: When I landed in KK, I got word that an aircraft had crashed.
So it could have been 5 or 10 minutes earlier.
DE: How was your trip from Labuan to KK at that time?
How was the weather?
J: Very good weather. Some clouds over KK, maybe Petagas or Putatan side but it was good weather.
And while I was more than halfway, I could hear on the aircraft radio that the Nomad and Piper Seneca (piloted by Edmund Mosium) were in contact with the KK Control Tower.
We could hear them under one channel. I said to myself, 'Oh, they are behind me.'
I didn't know exactly what time they took off.
The Piper Seneca of Edmund was heading straight to Kudat from Labuan.
He is now with MASWings.
We were in contact on the same frequency when suddenly, they (Tower) lost contact with Edmund.
I couldn't remember why exactly they wanted to contact Edmund on the radio.
I can only assume that was the time when the Nomad wanted to make a descent.
But being on a higher level than Edmund's Seneca, Gandhi was not allowed to descent first until Edmund's position was established or else the Nomad would cross Edmund's flight path.
Higher aircraft are not supposed to go down unless, for instance, they find out 'what is your position and the pilot says he is in Likas'.
Then he is allowed to descend because Likas is way beyond the runway.
DE: Since the Tower could not get hold of Edmund, they had to stop the Nomad from descending fast until they were sure of Edmund's position?
J: After several attempts they finally got him (Edmund).
Only then the Nomad must have been allowed to descend. I don't know where he (Gandhi) initiated his request to descend but he must have been somewhere in Papar or after Papar.
Because of some clouds in the Putatan or Petagas area, maybe the Tower also had no sight position of Edmund's Seneca at that time. Even if they had, they still had to have his position.
By the time they (Tower) got him (Edmund), he was, I believe, beyond Likas or the Sabah Foundation building and only then the Nomad was allowed to descent. By then the Nomad was already closer to KK Airport, maybe around Petagas area. Meaning the Nomad would have had no choice but to make a steep descent in order to get to the proper position for the final approach.
Which is something like 1,000ft depending on how far you are from the runway.
DE: So, in your view and given the known circumstances, there was little possibility of the Normad having made a normal descent that day.
J: Possibly not.
DE: Will you consider this as a normal happening or something to be expected as a pilot?
J: This can happen when there is heavy traffic or when you are suddenly cleared for descent.
He (Gandhi) was unable to make descent earlier, like I said, because the Tower had no contact with Edmund. It does happen.
Suddenly this guy (Edmund) is gone and he (Gandhi) was cleared for descent.
He was higher than Edmund and maybe tried to make a steep descent. I am not apportioning blame on anyone but for various reasons these things do happen.
DE: Does this last-ditch manoeuvre require more fuel?
J: No, in that case he (Gandhi) has to use less fuel because he has to throttle back more.
DE: Could it be that while the Tower was trying to establish Edmund's position, he (Gandhi) was forced to circle and use up more fuel?
J: I don't think he was circling. He must have been maintaining his height.
Extra flying means more fuel burn but not so much. He could always cut down his power setting.
Besides, the Nomad can fly four to four-and-a-half hours endurance and Labuan is not far.
But then again, how much fuel Gandhi had in the aircraft, nobody knows.
Anything can happen like on the final stretch itself when he really brings the power down.
Remember, this thing (crash) happened when he was aligned with the runway on the final approach and was preparing to land.
At that moment, he was between 1,000 and 500ft probably.
Only the Tower would know because they could see how far you are.
You could tell, 'oh the guy did not make a good approach, too high'.
From the distance to the touchdown point on the runway, you could tell how high the aircraft isÉwhether it is normal configuration or not.
In this case we don't know but I assume he had to make a steep descent in order to make a proper final approach. And after that only God knows.
DE: Did Edmund also take passengers with him on the flight to Kudat?
J: I should think so, yes. There was also a Chopper that went there.
DE: What time was it?
J: Before 3pm. Maybe around 2.30pm.
DE: Your plane, like you said, was also full.
J: Yes, five passengers.
DE: What happened after you landed?
J: I went to the Flying Club to have my late breakfast because I only had a cup of coffee in the morning.
I ordered omelette Gandhi-style.
This guy used to order omelette with this and that like onions and red chilli in it.
It became a famous recipe at the club. Everybody used to order 'I want omelette Gandhi-style' but he's the one who invented it.
Just when I was about to enter the clubhouse, I saw a MAS B737 making an overshoot.
It was on Runway 20, from the Likas area and trying to land.
The pilot of the B737 must have seen something in front of him and maybe the Tower might have told him to overshoot. It landed, eventually, but I told myself that it was unusual.
DE: The pilot of the B737 must have either spotted the Nomad going down or, perhaps, it was immediately after it crashed and he wanted to avoid it.
J: Yes, he must either have spotted the wreckage or the crash might have just occurred.
While waiting for my food (at the Flying Club Restaurant), Datin Rupiah (Harris' wife) came over and said she heard there was a plane crash. I said, 'No, an aircraft doesn't crash.' What I meant was that all aircraft are supposed to be safe. They don't crash just like that because the weather was good.
Everything was okay.
She said again, and again I said, 'No.' Then I went outside just to have a look because I thought if there was, then it might have hit the runway.
I saw two or three fire engines at the end of the runway.
I didn't see any wreckage and went back inside. I said, 'Datin, I didn't see anything there.'
She said, 'Ada,' and I said to her again, 'No.'
DE: Did you ask how she knew?
J: No, because there were already people in the club. Maybe, they were talking about it and she picked it up. Then she said, 'Are you flying again after this?' I said, 'Yes.' She asked, 'Where are you flying?'
And I said, 'To pick up Datuk Harris in Kudat.'
DE: She was at the Flying Club but Harris was in Kudat.
Which means Harris did not or was unable to inform her of his movements that day.
J: Maybe she was thinking Harris would have gone to the Flying Club instead of Kudat and was waiting for him there. Anyway she asked me again 'You are going to Kudat to pick him up, then give my message to him, ask him to go back by land. Ask him not to fly.' 'I'll do that,' I said.
DE: There as no landline phone communication available, I guess.
J: Susah (difficult) then in 1976 no handphones like today.
After my late breakfast, I took off in the same aircraft (Seneca).
When I took off, I made a left turn and that's when I saw the crashÉthe wreckage of the aircraft.
It was not on the runway but over water.
I could see all patah (broken). I was climbing up to 3,000 feet and it was around 1,500 or 2000 ft when I spotted it.
DE: What were the first thoughts when you saw the Nomad in the water?
J: I said to myself, 'this is serious.' The way I looked at it, it was quite bad.
The water was quite shallow. That was the first thing I noticed.
Because of the damage done, it must have hit hard ground.
DE: Did you see any ambulance, people?
J: I'm not sure because it was still the early stage. There could have been.
DE: Any movements in or near the plane involving the passengers in case some had survived and were crying out for help?
J: Outside but not survivors. People from the villages.
Sembulan, was a water village where the monument now sits.
There was a bridge there and some people might have seen from those houses.
DE: But you did not see anyone from the plane waving hands, seeking help.
J: No, nobody. That was about maybe half an hour after the crash.
DE: You did not see any people getting onto their boats and heading to the crash scene.
J: No. I saw people walking about, but not many.
Quite shallow so probably they didn't want to use their boat.
DE: Was there anything like smoke coming out of the plane?
J: No. I saw from the air that the Nomad looked like it had split into two.
Not very clear from that height while climbing up but that was what I thought I saw.
Then I went straight. I felt like there was no hope (for any survivors). That was how I looked at it.
DE: Have you had any experience flying a Nomad?
J: At that time no. Only Seneca. Later, I did fly the remaining Nomad when I joined Sabah Air.
DE: Did you try to figure out how it might have happened?
Like whether it was due to overweight?
J: The aircraft took off from Labuan. It did a good flight and cannot be the reason. No weight problem.
DE: Even though you personally saw the plane being stuffed with duty-free goods?
J: Not banyak barang although I saw each passenger carrying something.
Ada barang. They must have done some shopping. But it cannot have been the weight.
Otherwise the plane would not have been able to take off.
The COG (Centre of Gravity) would be out. Take off okay, level flight okay, descent okay.
This is on final. Meaning everything was okay except final.
DE: One popular view is that load could have been a factor.
When you left Labuan airport you said there was a five minutes or so gap.
Are you sure by then all the 11 VIP passengers were already in the Nomad?
J: Not all, of course, or else it would have taken off earlier than me but most of them.
They were carrying things and dumping them at the back.
Like I said, small things. There could have been another 2 or 3 passengers who showed up after I left and I doubt also Gandhi would have known what they were carrying because he was seated in the cockpit.
We also don't know when exactly Johari (Stephens' eldest son) managed to get his seat (which he exchanged with Nomad co-pilot Kevin Sario).
Whether it was a few minutes or just before take-off.
And we don't know who closed the door. The last 2-3 guys to board may have brought something big.
DE: Since you said the flight was okay until the final approach, how could the load factor theory still be relevant, if at all, and could this affect the descent?
J: That is a bit technical. But to put it simply, the moment you change your aircraft's configuration, the COG (Centre of Gravity) will be out.
And since the cargo is placed at the back, the aircraft will become tail-heavy.
In the case of the Nomad, we don't know for sure which part of the aircraft hit the ground first. Whether the nose hit the ground or the body simply slammed (fuselage) and the mid-section broke.
DE: So, in the beginning and for much of the half-hour flight there was no weight problem because the weight of the fuel acted as a stabiliser.
But at the end of the flight much of the fuel got burned out and the weight of the cargo by now rendered the Nomad unable to make a steady descent because the COG was affected.
J: I did not see how the Nomad took off but the fact is that it managed to get this far.
By: James Sarda