Aussie report: Pilot’s ‘poor ability’, overloading among causes of Double Six crash

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Australia’s investigation into the 1976 Double Six tragedy, which reports of the pilot’s “poor ability” and overloading of the plane, mostly tallies with Malaysia’s findings.

However, one of the revelations of the Australian report was that another Sabah Air pilot left the plane to make space for one more passenger to sit in the co-pilot’s seat – the son of then Sabah chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens, Johari.

The report said the other pilot was “not endorsed on the Nomad and was not involved in its operation apart from brief periods in straight and level flight in the cruise when he was permitted to handle the controls”.

The report also revealed that the Australian-made plane was loaded beyond its capacity at the aft (rear) of the plane, causing the pilot to lose control before crashing.

While the findings were generally consistent with Malaysia’s report, the Australian records outlined other details of the investigation.

Malaysia’s report on the disaster was disclosed on April 12, stating that errors by the pilot Capt Gandhi Nathan could have led to the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Australia’s investigation also said that poor operation by Sabah Air and a failure on the Civil Aviation Department’s (CAD) part to completely fulfil their obligations as the local certification authority were among the factors contributing to the crash.

Government Aircraft Factories (GAF), the manufacturer of Nomad aircraft, in the report also said that Sabah Air was operating illegally as its operations manual submitted to the CAD was never approved.

“Sabah Air had submitted, as required, to CAD the draft of an operations manual some time towards the end of 1975.

“It was never approved by CAD and in this regard, Sabah Air was operating illegally,” it revealed.

The 52-page report revealed that Fuad might have unintentionally put Capt Gandhi as the pilot despite his “sub-standard ability” as identified by then Sabah Air chief pilot M Nadan.

Nadan was then among those laid off by Fuad after he took office as the chief minister six weeks prior to the tragedy.

The report said that a “Capt Wahab” was then appointed as the Sabah Air general manager and he was Capt Gandhi’s former flatmate and the two were good friends.

“Nadan reported that he had knowledge of Wahab removing his last flight report on Ghandi from Ghandi’s file,” it said.

The report also disclosed that there could be some truth in Nadan’s statements following a study on Capt Ghandi’s logbook that found that many more flight checks had been carried out than there were flight test reports in his file.

However, Wahab accused Nadan of victimising Capt Ghandi.

On the pilot who had flown to Labuan with Capt Gandhi, the report read: “The pilot who had accompanied Capt Ghandi to Labuan was off-loaded and a passenger occupied the co-pilot’s seat.

“This tenth passenger was the son of the chief minister and he was an inexperienced student pilot.

“Captain Ghandi did not supervise the loading of the passengers – he sat in the pilot’s seat during this period,” it said.

On the loading of baggage, the report revealed that Nomad aircraft pilots in Sabah Air simply “eyeballed” the location of baggage and proceeded for take-off if it looked “satisfactory”.

“One of the two remaining Nomad pilots in Sabah Air was interviewed both formally and informally.

“When questioned about using the loading charts in the flight manual, he said they did not use them because they were too difficult to understand,” the report said.

The passenger seat layout was also not reflected in any of the available loading charts in the flight manual of the aircraft, the report added.

The Australian report also stated that Malaysia did not immediately accept technical findings that the aircraft had no mechanical or body defects and asked for views from other independent sources on the aircraft’s condition.

However, after getting independent verification, Malaysia accepted the report of the Australian investigation into the aircraft.

The Australian report had ruled out that the aircraft flaps were defective.

Eleven people were killed in the crash, including Fuad, state ministers Datuk Salleh Sulong, Datuk Peter Mojuntin and Chong Thien Vun.

Australia had earlier declassified and released its report on the 1976 Double Six tragedy.

In a tweet on Wednesday (April 26), Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Dr Justin Lee said the records were now declassified and available online on the National Archives of Australia website. – The Star