June 25, 2012: DE: If the weight problem merits consideration, then it must have factored at the last stage when most of the fuel had burned up, making the plane lighter and imbalance to creep in due to cargo at the back becoming heavier.
J: The approach configuration was at a lower speed than normal cruising speed.
Of course, the cargo is not going to be lighter.
Same weight but the COG would have been shifted to the back.
DE: Did the plane have to jettison some fuel before descent?
J: No. Only very big aircraft. The landing weight and the take-off weight of a heavy aircraft is always different. That is why some jettison fuel in order to be on the right landing weight.
But not light aircraft like Nomad because sometimes you may not have a full tank and in this case since Labuan-KK is not that far. You carry just enough. When Gandhi went to Labuan, I don't think he carried a lot of fuel because it is only a half-hour flight and whatever fuel is just enough to go back and forth and also for diversion.
Oh, yes. Gandhi did come back to KK in the morning that day to carry Fuad for the Big Walk event.
So, he may have used up some fuel and maybe carried some more fuel for Labuan.
DE: Let's say the Nomad may have run out of fuel. If then, what happens?
J: It can glide, no problem. Can make a good landing on the runway.
Maybe a heavy landing because of lack of power.
DE: How about engine failure?
J: If it was engine failure an aircraft like the Nomad would somersault if no quick action is taken.
One engine failure usually is dangerous on takeoff for any aircraft. But it can still fly on one engine.
Depends how high you are for recovery. One engine failed means no control over one engine and the aircraft becomes imbalanced on the straight and level flight.
Should the left engine fail, it will swing to the left.
A lot of aircraft crashes are due to engine failure after take-off.
If cannot control fast, it will crash. Normally we refer to it as one engine having failed.
DE: What if both the engines failed?
J: Can always glide and land.
DE: There have been investigations following several Nomad crashes by the Australian authorities who found that there were design flaws in the aircraft, leading it to be labelled as "the Widow Maker".
J: So I have been told. I have not read the reports but we need to know what is the specific design flaw or defect in the aircraft they are talking about before we can say for certain that this crash could also be a case in point.
DE: Johari (Stephens' son) was in the co-pilot seat after having requested for it from Kevin.
He supposedly had flying experience.
Being in the co-pilot's seat could he have tried to help Gandhi at that moment or was he in a position to do so?
J: This guy (Johari) even if he wanted to help, would have been unable to because he had experience only flying a single engine aircraft.
As to your other question, we don't know the situation they were in at the time.
DE: What is the likelihood of both engines failing?
J: Usually this will be because of fuel exhaustion.
DE: Meaning normally it doesn't result in two engines failing.
Only one and it can result in a crash. And should both fail, can always glide.
J: Yes. But usually in a twin-engine aircraft, we don't always get equal amount of fuel in both tanks.
Usually, one engine will quit first if the tank is empty. The other engine will run on the remaining fuel and the pilot will do his best to find an appropriate landing area fast and before the other engine quits.
DE: What if Gandhi's Nomad lost one engine on final approach?
J: Since Gandhi was flying alone, the workload would have been too heavy for him in such a situation.
There will be a slim chance of recovery at that altitude. Looking at the position of the crash site, which was closer to the runway, it indicated that the Nomad was already on a short final (low altitude).
DE: What is your understanding based on footage of the crash and when you spotted it from the air?
J: It was split in the middle. Possibly the nose hit the ground first because the tail not so damaged.
From the air, I noticed that the Nomad was sitting on its belly.
DE: You are puzzled until today.
J: Yes, honestly. Weight problem it seemed unlikely unless some heavy things were placed in the cargo section at the last minute without Gandhi's knowledge as by then I had already taken off in my Seneca.
Everything was okay. Like I told you, the level flight was perfect, descent perfect.
Only on the final approach between 1,000 and 500 ft, this thing happened. Nobody knows what happened until today.
DE: It's a pity there was no known attempt to get the B737 pilot to tell what he saw or from those manning the Tower then.
J: The Tower must have seen because it will have to say 'you are cleared to land' and the next thing you know, it's crashed.
DE: What about the active rumour mill of possible sabotage?
J: Why would anyone sabotage it? For what reason?
As a pilot, I've carried lots of passengers. It never occurred to me.
Sabotage from who? Insiders? Outsiders? I cannot accept sabotage as a factor. I just don't know what's the reason even until today.
Nobody knows. People can say this and that but nobody knows exactly what really happened.
DE: Some Sabah politicians like Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan have cried possible sabotage.
Among others, they point to Fuad deferring his intention to sign the 5pc oil royalty agreement with Petronas to later the same night in KK (while the plane crashed enroute that afternoon).
They also ask why the crash findings were not made public and the agreement signed within a week of the tragedy. Then, there are those who have insinuated Harris of involvement. He cleared his name in court and was awarded RM1 million in damages this year against another ex-CM, Datuk Yong Teck Lee.
Besides 1976 was the year in which the Berjaya party led by Fuad defeated Usno and there were a spate of bombings in the State Capital. The tragedy happened within 100 days of the election victory.
Hence, some find it convenient to pick and choose any combination of theories to suit their fantasies. What if an explosive was placed on board?
J: If their suspicion is that an explosive was placed on board, I don't think so. If you were to place explosives, you have to know your timing.
Unless there was a suicide bomber inside. You cannot walk into an aircraft and place this thing.
People would notice you. Labuan Airport was manned by the Air Force and there are a lot of restrictions, although still people may have been able to walk in and out easily.
Outside, it's timing again. There must be a mechanism, if at all, for it to go off. Besides, nobody knew exactly when the Nomad was supposed to take off. Not even Gandhi who had to wait until it was full.
DE: There was a strong rumour of a politician walking up the aircraft and then going down saying its full.
Apparently, he forgot to bring down his briefcase with him.
J: I did not hear about it and if true more likely it was documents or money. I heard there was plenty of money floating in the sea following the crash. Later police cordoned off the area but the water village people were said to have happily collected them.
DE: The answer was never known 36 years ago and may stay that way.
J: Yes, in my view it could have been anything but explosives, unless there is information that we don't know. It would have been interesting to know how much barang (things) this aircraft carried.
DE: You then proceeded towards Kudat.
J: Yes but over Kota Belud I circled a few times not sure what to do next.
But it was not because of the crash. I began to think, "Do I need to go there because they already have aircraft there, Nomad, Seneca and Chopper.
It was a bit cloudy also.
But then I said to myself, 'I need to go' because I had promised Harris to pick him up.
He would expect me to be there. When I landed there, they (Harris and Razaleigh) were not there yet.
I think Harris was on his way back from Banggi. So I was talking to some pilots there, Gordon Cameron (migrated to Canada). I think he was flying the other Nomad and Mosium.
They said, 'Jawid, what happened?' I told them what I saw.
They asked me about Kevin Sario.
I told them, 'Kevin gone,' because I saw him sitting in front or was there when I left.
Kevin was the co-pilot. It was based on the picture I had in my mind of the crash as seen from above, the plane had apparently nose-dived.
Then the Kudat OCPD came, Haji Amirdad. He was waiting for the chopper carrying the VIPs.
Being OCPD he would surely be asked about the crash (by Harris, Razaleigh and Yaacob).
When the chopper landed, he went to say something to them.
DE: Who was saying something to whom?
J: The OCPD to Harris, Razaleigh and Yaacob. There was a slight confusion and panic also.
They didn't know what to do because they were supposed to go back to KK, too.
DE: What time was it?
J: Around 5pm. There was confusion. I saw Razaleigh and even Rahman Yaacob not knowing what to do because I was observing them.
They were walking in circles like dazed, one a Federal Minister and the other a Chief Minister.
DE: And Harris?
J: Harris appeared troubled but he was more steady. He asked Razaleigh and Yaacob to join us (the Seneca back to KK) but they refused.
Originally they were supposed to join the Seneca. Then to assure them, he asked me 'Jawid this plane is OK?' I said, 'Yes.'
Still they were not sure because they were still in a state of panic and confused.
Harris invited them a second time and they again refused.
DE: But the Chopper was there.
J: Because Harris was flying with me, naturally he would invite them to join him.
Second time he asked them, they were not sure and kind of refused. Then I whispered to Harris, 'Datuk, I think we better leave now because it is getting late' and we went to the aircraft.
DE: How did Razaleigh and Yaacob return to KK?
J: I think they went back in the Chopper as I believe the other Nomad and Seneca were grounded there.
DE: What happened next?
J: We decided to leave immediately and Harris said, 'Jawid, I do the flying,' and I said, 'Yes,' because he is licensed to fly this aircraft and to carry people.
DE: How was the trip back to KK?
J: We didn't talk much. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, 'How was the crash?' I said, 'It was quite bad. Then I said to him Datin wanted him to return by road. He said, 'Never mind'.
He was very quiet.
We didn't talk much.
When on the final approach to land, he saw the aircraft (Nomad), he was shocked as well as sad.
Like when one sees a car accident that is so bad there is no hope for survivors. He was shocked until he forgot to put down the landing gear. We had to be reminded about it by the Control Tower.
Then I told him, 'Datuk, your undercarriage belum turun,' and he said, 'Yeah, yeah, okay?'
He was like bingung (confused). Normally the Tower will remind you after you are cleared to land by asking whether you have '3 Greens' like in our case. They check whether you have put the gears down by looking from the binoculars.
DE: If the Tower staff with binoculars failed to notice and you were also less than alert and did not tell him, would the plane have crashed?
J: It would still land on its belly and scrape the runway but safe.
DE: What happened after that? Was there an inquiry?
J: I don't know because this involved Sabah Air and I was with the Flying Club at the time.
But later part I found out the plane was hancur (in pieces).
DE: Based on witness accounts only some of the bodies were intact.
How did you spend the rest of the day after witnessing this major tragic drama unfolding before your eyes?
J: I went home and later went to dinner with my girlfriend (now my wife) at the only Malay restaurant in Kg Air owned by the then CP (Commissioner of Police). Then I saw on TV, Harris being sworn in as Chief Minister, he was still wearing the same bush jacket.
DE: How many years did you spend as a pilot?
J: About 20 years.
DE: In your flying career were there moments when there was any danger while carrying Usno or Berjaya leaders?
J: There was one occasion when tragedy nearly struck and it was while carrying Fuad and two bodyguards to Kudat at the end of 1975.
I was flying a single-engine Romeo-Zulu plane. In fact, I was tired that day and told him to get another pilot but he insisted that I fly him there, saying 'ramai Rungus tunggu' (Rungus waiting).
Finally I said 'ok' and I was airborne about 1,000ft above the coastal road that was under construction near Yayasan Sabah. I noticed that the oil pressure gauge had dropped and kept dropping.
I said 'Tun, there is something wrong with this aircraft and we must go back'.
He asked 'kenapaÉini sabotage ka?' I said 'biar diam dulu Tun (quiet first, Tun) and thought of making an emergency landing on the road.
But then Fuad was big size and he was on my right side.
Should anything happen, he would be blocking the only exit.
I called the Tower saying there was a problem and was allowed to land immediately.
Upon landing I noticed a fire engine on standby.
I told Fuad not to bising about it or make it known because Berjaya was in the opposition.
I said I would look into it. I later found out all the oil in the aircraft had drained out.
By: James Sarda and Mary Chin