Plaisance Airport - Mauritius
and the Helderberg Crash

November 27, 1987: SAA Flight 295 was heading towards Plaisance Airport-Mauritius (now Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport) for a stopover call on its way home to Jan Smuts International Airport, Johannesburg (now OR Tambo International Airport.)

The plane, a Boeing 747-244B Combi named Helderberg, took off from Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, Taiwan on the same day with 140 passengers and 19 crew members on-board.

The flight to Plaisance Airport-Mauritius started without any apparent abnormal occurrence and no-one could ever imagine then that a tragic event was going to happen in the early hours of the following day.

The flight ended in a catastrophic crash in the Indian Ocean, just off Belle Mare Beach on the eastern coast of Mauritius, killing everyone who boarded the Helderberg.

A pre-crash photo of the Helderberg
The Helderberg, ZS-SAS
(Photo: Kjell Nilsson - Airliners.net)

While South African Airways Flight 295 was approaching Mauritius, a communication from the aircraft’s cockpit informed Plaisance Airport’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) about an in-flight fire in the cargo area and requested an emergency landing.

Below is a transcript of the communication between Helderberg’s cockpit and Plaisance Airport’s ATC.

23:48:51

295

Eh, Mauritius, Springbok Two Nine Five.

23:49:00

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, eh, Mauritius, eh, good morning, eh, go ahead.

23:49:07

295

Eh, good morning, we have, eh, a smoke, eh, eh, problem and we're doing emergency descent to level one five, eh, one four zero.

23:49:18

ATC

Confirm you wish to descend to flight level one four zero.

23:49 20

295

Ja, we have already commenced, eh, due to a smoke problem in the aeroplane.

23:49:25

ATC

Eh, Roger, you are clear to descend immediately to flight level one four zero.

23:49:30

295

Roger, we will appreciate if you can alert, eh, fire, ehp, ehp eh, eh…

23:49:40

ATC

Do you wish to eh, do you request a full emergency?

23:49:48

295

Okay Joe, kan jy...vir ons (Okay Joe can you...(for us)

23:49:51

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance.

23:49:54

295

Sorry, go ahead.

23:49:56

ATC

Do you, eh, request a full emergency please a full emergency?

23:50:00

295

Affirmative, that's Charlie Charlie.

23:50:02

ATC

Roger, I declare a full emergency, Roger.

23:50:04

295

Thank you.

23:50:40

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance.

23:50:44

295

Eh, go ahead.

23:50:46

ATC

Request your actual position please and your DME distance?

23:50:51

295

Eh, we haven't got the DME yet.

23:50:55

ATC

Eh, Roger and your actual position please.

23:51:00

295

Eh, say again.

23:51:02

ATC

Your actual position?

23:51:08

295

Now we've lost a lot of electrics, we haven't got anything on the aircraft now.

23:51:12

ATC

Eh, Roger, I declare a full emergency immediately.

23:51:15

295

Affirmative.

23:51:18

ATC

Roger.

23:52:19

295

Eh, Springbok Two Nine Five, do you have an Echo Tango Alfa (ETA – Expected Time of Arrival) Plaisance please?

23:52:30

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance.

23:52:32

295

Ja, Plaisance?

23:52:33

ATC

Do you have an Echo Tango Alfa Plaisance please?

23:52:36

295

Ja, eh, zero zero, eh eh eh three zero.

23:52:40

ATC

Roger, zero zero three zero, thank you.

23:52:50

295

Hey Joe, shut down the oxygen left.

23:52:52

ATC

Sorry, say again please?

00:01:34

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:01:36

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:01:45

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:01:57

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:02:10

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:02:14

295

Unintelligible transmission

00:02:25

295

Carrier wave only

00:02:38

295

Eh, Plaisance, Springbok Two Nine Five, do you copy?

00:02:41

ATC

Eh, negative, Two Nine Five, say again please, say again.

00:02:43

295

We're now sixty five miles.

00:02:45

ATC

Confirm sixty five miles.

00:02:47

295

Ja, affirmative Charlie Charlie. Clearance and weather info.

00:02:50

ATC

Eh, Roger, Springbok eh, Two Nine Five, eh, re you're recleared flight level five zero. Recleared flight level five zero.

00:02:58

295

Roger, five zero.

00:03:00

ATC

And, Springbok Two Nine Five copy actual weather Plaisance Copy actual weather Plaisance. The wind one one zero degrees zero five knots. The visibility above one zero kilometres. And we have a precipitation in sight to the north. Clouds, five octas one six zero zero, one octa five thousand feet. Temperature is twenty two, two two. And the QNH one zero one eight hectopascals, one zero one eight over.

00:03:28

295

Roger, one zero one eight.

00:03:31

ATC

Affirmative, eh and both runways available if you wish.

00:03:43

ATC

And two nine five, I request pilot's intention.

00:03:46

295

Eh, we'd like to track in eh, on eh one three.

00:03:51

ATC

Confirm runway one four.

00:03:54

295

Charlie Charlie

00:03:56

ATC

Affirmative and you're cleared, eh direct to Foxtrot Foxtrot. You report approaching five zero.

00:04:02

295

Kay

00:08:00

ATC

Two Nine Five, Plaisance.

00:08:11

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five, Plaisance.

00:08:35

ATC

Springbok Two Nine Five Plaisance (No answer)

Note: 295 - South African Airways Flight 295; ATC - Plaisance Airport-Mauritius Air Traffic Control

Following the crash it was widely suspected that the South African Government, an apartheid regime under an arms embargo at that time, was using South African Airways' aircrafts to smuggle arms and that the ignition of a missile rocket was the cause of the fire on board SAA Flight 295.

The press and public opinion, on the other hand, surmised that terrorist acts brought down the Helderberg.

The official report of the commission of inquiry chaired by Judge Cecil Margo determined that the loss of the airliner was due to a fire that occurred in the main deck cargo hold.

Helderberg ZS-SA

Helderberg:The reconstructed main deck cargo compartment

(Photo:www.securiteaerienne.com)

The reason for the loss of Flight 295 was not specified. The report detailed two possibilities:-

  • The crew became incapacitated due to smoke penetrating into the cockpit.
  • The fire weakened the aircraft's structure and the tail separated leading to crash.

The cause of the fire could not be determined.

Passengers On Board South African Airways Flight 295

Nationality

Passengers

Crew

Total

Australia

2

0

2

Denmark

1

0

1

Germany

1

0

1

Hong Kong

2

0

2

Japan

47

0

47

South Korea

1

0

1

Mauritius

2

0

2

Netherlands

1

0

1

South Africa

52

19

71

Republic of China

30

0

30

United Kingdom

1

0

1

Total

140

19

159

Source: Wikipedia

Underwater photos of wreckage: Helderberg – ZS SAS

Photos: Oceaneering International, Inc.

Wreckage of Helderberg – ZS SAS  Wreckage of Helderberg – ZS SAS Wreckage of Helderberg – ZS SAS  Wreckage of Helderberg – ZS SAS

Monument at Belle Mare Beach: In fond memories of ZS-SAS' victims

Monument at Belle Mare - Helderberg Crash

South African Airways erected a monument at
Belle Mare Beach in memory of the 159 passengers
and crew who tragically lost their lives.


Docudrama of Helderberg’s crash – Cargo Conspiracy

Cineflix produced an episode in its Mayday series (also known as Air Crash Investigations in the United Kingdom and Australia and Air Emergency in the United States) to document the crash.

The documentary, aired in 2008, is titled “Cargo Conspiracy” (also titled "Fanning the Flames" and "Mystery Fire" in some countries)

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