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Old 8th Aug 2001, 11:16   #1 (permalink)
The Guvnor
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Exclamation Helderberg: The Mystery Solved?

Later today, I hope to be able to post an edited report on what really happened with the Helderberg; together with details of the (probable) covert cargo that was being carried.

Watch this space!
Old 8th Aug 2001, 13:20   #2 (permalink)
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wow, another story from the man himself.i can't wait..........
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Old 8th Aug 2001, 13:58   #3 (permalink)
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Any chance you might actually get around to running an airline????
Old 8th Aug 2001, 14:02   #4 (permalink)
The Guvnor
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The technical report on the probable cause of the fire came from IASA:

I've put together about six pages that I will have posted on the IASA web-site tomorrow after proof-reading (and I will then pass on to you the URL's). Much of it will be familiar to you - but some of it may not. I've reproduced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Findings and Transcript so that anyone who comes across it on the IASA site can put their own opinions in context. But I would guess that you are familiar with that. Let me make a few observations about why this crash was destined to be confusingly tainted by plot/counter-plot and ongoing intrigue.

a. In the climate of fear and suspicion that prevailed at the time under PW Botha's apartheid goverment and with the hostilities in Angola and Namibia, people could be forgiven for naturally assuming that there was more than met the eye regarding the Nov 87 Helderberg crash. In fact it became a signal example of how hard it is to keep secrets under wraps.

b. Armscor was shipping in all sorts of munitions (explosives and propellants) via SAA because of the arms embargo, the war and because they had tacit support from the US (because of US political opposition to Soviet supported Cuban troops fighting in Angola against South African led forces). This Armscor shipping secret was shared by enough people that it eventually had to become public property, as it did.

c. On 22 Sept 79 (as a reward for helping the Israelis test their own weapon) South Africa had acquired nuclear weapons status when their first low yield weapon was detonated in the South Atlantic. Like the Israelis, SA politicians thereafter saw the possession of their semi-covert tactical nuclear capability as another factor in being able to wield greater political and military influence in Africa.

d. Helderberg was a 747 Combi (i.e. a hybrid freighter by design). As such it was one of the last designs preceding the 747-400 and 747-400F and likely had the Kapton wiring that the -400 had introduced in it, just a little later (rather than the poly-x wiring of the early 747 Classics - that was later found to age poorly in the TWA800 investigation). The Helderberg had a significant cargo-carrying capacity and that is why it was only carrying 159 passengers. The cargo was likely to have included much highly combustible material. This was reflected in the Captain's remarks and the crew's derisory CVR comments - once they heard what they were carrying.

e. The first Helderberg investigation was conducted with an acute awareness by SAA, Armscor and the SA Government that Lloyds would likely deny any claims pay-out - if it were to emerge that SAA had been regularly shipping munitions covertly . This was later admitted to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Inquiry by the SAA CEO.

f. Suspicion surrounded the Tupolev crash that caused the death (in 1986) of Samora Machel and complicity by SA was universally assumed. This extrapolated into similar suppositions regarding the later crash.

g. So if it was to happen that the Helderberg had developed a wiring-initiated fire beneath the cabin floor - which (like Valujet 592) propagated into its cargo and brought the plane down, was it likely that such a simple, straightforward explanation would or could ever be accepted in the climate of suspicion that existed at the time? If it ever was, this was later quashed by the later technical breakthrough that managed to decipher the unreadable portion of the CVR - wherein the Captain unmistakably informed others on the flight-deck (shortly before smoke was first smelt in the cabin) that they were carrying a nuclear weapon (Boy George).

So to answer your query about whether it possibly was a wiring-initiated fire, I would have to say it was more likely than any other cause put forward. The reason why other theories fail is that they offer no initiator, just the combustibles. The only exception to that was the supposedly spontaneous combustion abilities of the ammonium perchlorate rocket propellants. However I would suggest that it would have been appropriately packaged simply because of this. The Red Mercury and Lithium batteries are also dangerous cargo from a flammability point of view. The reason why cargo area fires start and burn well are twofold:

1. Cargo areas get knocked around a lot (because of the amount of traffic and the manhandling that goes on in them). The wiring can suffer disproportionately.

2. Fires that start out of sight (in a remote unmonitored cargo area) have a far greater chance of taking hold than one that starts in the flight-deck, toilets or galleys.

The reason why the CVR recording was curtailed early (around dinner time, just 2 hours out of Taipei on their 9 hour journey) is that the fire may have started early on, an electrical malfunction perhaps and started the crew querying Springbok Control. However it's likely that they were ordered to continue (rather than divert) when nothing further then manifested itself. Sometimes a fire in an enclosed area can become smoulderingly quiescent for long periods simply due to low oxygen levels in an unventilated compartment. The later outbreak near to top of descent was probably caused by the ammonium perchlorate shipping containers being breached (this propellant being an oxidizer that would then have rapidly promoted the fire). It is likely that the earlier problem was simply manifested as an electrical problem, not a fire, and that they then secured some electrics that were later restored (after the fire outbreak, or possibly that then re-initiated the fire). i.e. As they approached the descent-point for Mauritius, the captain would have been anxious to restore electrics for weather radar, NAVAIDS, comms etc - and that re-powering of the wiring may have rekindled the fire by provoking the original fault. It also explains why the CVR started up again (and is the only explanation for the CVR being in two distinct periods of the flight, within the first two hours and then continuing straight in and recording the final moments - all on a 30 minute looped tape). I belong to the school that refuses to believe that Captain Uwe would have agreed to carry on, notwithstanding SAA radio'd or standing orders, if there had been an identified fire on board. However the fact remains that SAA was likely to have been very apprehensive about the aircraft going anywhere but Mauritius, even back to Taipei - simply because the contents of the cargo holds would have become common knowledge. The evidence for what was said and what was done and any orders or decisions made via ZUR (Springbok Control) was likely to have been on that purloined ground station tape. That tape had to disappear because it would have contained clear evidence about the munitions being carried - and the orders to carry on to Mauritius. And they even know who disappeared the ZUR tape - and that he later met an untimely death. The man who knew the truth, but kept quiet, was rewarded by being upgraded from a lowly radio operator in 87 to the SAA Area Manager in Miami in 1991.

So the existence of a cover-up is almost without question - and a judicial cover-up by Judge Margo at that. However don't confuse this aftermath intrigue and threats to persons with the cause of the accident itself. It could very likely have been a wiring-initiated fire but the ramifications of it having brought the plane down necessitated an emergency concealment of not only the type of cargo, but the fact that SAA had been sanctions busting for years in this way. If this had been publicly revealed, then SAA would have lost many of its routes and destinations. A very similar cover-up was carried out by Air NZ after the Mount Erebus DC-10 disaster - simply because they quickly became aware that the accident had been caused by the airline's latest navigation software upload.

I hope this agrees with the other facts (as you know them) and accords with simple logic. The fact that a cover-up was instigated by the crash simply does NOT mean that the fire on board could not have been fairly straightforward in its origins. Because it was a Combi carrying dangerously flammable cargo, any fire on board was going to be that much harder to handle, particularly if it developed sight unseen.

Now as to the likely nature of the contrabrand cargo that was being carried:

In my view (as you’ve said) there are two separate issues here. One is the illicit cargo that was being carried; the other is what actually caused the fire. So far, most of the theories have concentrated on the cargo causing the fire but I really do not believe that to be the case.

The principal cargo theories are as follows:

1) a complete nuclear device

2) ‘red mercury’

3) ammonium perchorlate

4) proximity fuses or other munitions of war

5) guidance systems for South Africa’s nuclear missiles

Let’s examine these.

1) A complete nuclear device

This is the least likely of all of the cases, as at the time South Africa had six completed warhead systems (plus a further one under construction) lying in storage at the National Accelerator Centre near Stellenbosch. The delivery systems (Jericho-1 SRBM surface to surface missiles, jointly developed by Armskor and an Israeli Aircraft Industries subsidiary) were in storage at a SAAF base ready for transport to the launch site in the Caprivi Strip.

There would have therefore been no need for another device. However, it one had been on board, it would most certainly have merited the level of response that occurred immediately following the loss of the Helderberg from the US Navy.

2) Red Mercury

Despite much investigation and constant rumours of its existence, none has been produced. There is however an interesting Weekly Mail & Guardian article here: http://www.sn.apc.org/wmail/issues/950120/wm950120-36.ht ml which links the SADF to red mercury. The flammability of such material would be questionable – certainly mercury is extremely corrosive.

The very high alleged value – coupled with its alleged strategic uses – would merit the level of operation that happened immediately following the loss of the aircraft.

3) Ammonium Perchlorate

Dr Klatzow claimed that this was what was being carried during the TRC inquiry into the loss of the Helderberg, which was held in-camera.

This has been described as an accelerant used in explosives technology. Certainly, it’s defined as a powerful oxidising agent by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), a part of the United States Department of Labor. http://www.osha-slc.gov/dts/hib/hib_data/hib19910925.html They also acknowledge its explosive characteristics.

Somchem, an Armscor subsidiary located near Somerset West was already producing large stocks of AP from 1980. It is therefore unlikely that they would need to import more – and if they did, it would be in the mass-production quantities they would require for their munitions work. These sorts of quantities would have been sent by sea or if urgently required, by dedicated cargo aircraft.

Water damage would render it useless and would effectively dissolve away any traces. There would be no need for the level of response that occurred.

4) Proximity Fuses or other Munitions of War

Again, these would generally be carried on dedicated freight aircraft. Passenger aircraft operated by SAA and Trek Airways/Luxavia were used to carry materials that contravened UN and other sanctions; but anything that was deemed to have too significant a risk would be conveyed in military or contracted aircraft, usually described as ‘agricultural equipment’ or ‘machine spare parts’.

Munitions of war, whilst imperilling a successful insurance claim, would not generate the level of response by a major power that occurred.

5) Guidance Systems for South Africa’s Nuclear Missiles

Whilst South Africa had developed jointly with the Israelis the warheads and the delivery systems (the Jericho-1 SRBM), in 1987 they did not have a suitably accurate and reliable guidance and telemetry system to get the missiles to their target. The Israelis had been provided with suitable packages (which are sizeable) for their deterrents developed and built at Demona, in the Negev Desert. They agreed to provide two of those to South Africa, as part of a secret deal agreed in late 1987.

First, though, we need to look at the regional geopolitics of the time – November 1987. Between October 1987 and June 1988, in the fiercest conventional battles on African soil since Erwin Rommel was defeated at El Alamien, the South African Defence Forces (SADF) fought pitched tank and artillery battles with the Angolan army (FAPLA) and its Cuban supporters at Cuito Cuanavale. This small base located in southeastern Angola became important in the military history of Africa, for there the South African army, supposedly the best on the continent, was trapped with its tanks and artillery and held down more than 300 miles from its bases in Namibia. Failing to take Cuito Cuanavale with over 9000 soldiers, even after announcing that it had done so, losing air superiority, and faced with mutinies among black troops and a high casualty rate among whites, the South Africans reached such a desperate situation that President Botha had to fly to the war zone when the operational command of the SADF broke down.

Against this background, President P W Botha, through his Foreign Minister, Pik Botha, issued the Government of Angola an ultimatum – remove the Cubans; the East German and Soviet ‘military advisors’, pilots and aircraft by midnight on December 31 1987 or come January 1st 1988 Luanda will be smoking radioactive rubble. The South Africans were terrified that if they did not tip the military balance once more in their favour, then an invasion by East bloc forces spearheaded by Cuban and Angolan troops would be likely by Easter 1988.

The link here gives a detailed summary of South Africa’s nuclear capabilities and the status of events at the time. http://www.geocities.com/sadf_scrapbook/sanuc.htm with another site here: http://www.bullatomsci.org/issues/1994/ja94/ja94Albri ght.html

The systems would not have been shipped directly from Israel as that would have been politically disastrous both for them and for the Americans. The only viable solution was to use a friendly third country – and fellow pariah state – Taiwan as the transhipment point.

To me, this is the most logical nature of the contraband cargo being carried – and pretty much the only thing that fits in with the known facts; as well as being sufficient to cause Captain Uys to continue to Mauritius – which at the time was under effective control by South Africa; and to create the rapid response on the part of the Americans. It is obvious that neither the South African government nor the American government wanted the aircraft to land anywhere that would result in the inadvertent exposure of the systems to the eyes of third parties – nor, since sanctions were in force in the USA against South Africa, did the US want the aircraft landing in one of its military bases where the presence of the systems may be picked up by Soviet spy satellites, intelligence officers or even US military personnel who were not ‘in the know’ and opposed to South Africa. It would have brought down the Reagan Administration.

The morning of the loss of the Helderberg, Plaisance Airport was closed and sealed off when a USAF C141 Starlifter brought in one of the latest USN mini-submersibles. At the same time, South African Airways and Boeing jointly chartered a German oceanographic research vessel which initially headed directly for the wreckage site and then veered away – presumably to give the Americans time to finish locating whatever they were after.

I personally have little doubt that, had the guidance systems been delivered, they would have been installed on the nukes and in all probability used. Their non-delivery caused the people at the top of the South African government to take stock and realise the awful consequences of what might have happened – and I have hearsay evidence to show that this was indeed one of the things that FW de Klerk used against PW Botha’s supporters during the leadership battle for the National Party the following year. Indeed, this was probably one of the reasons that he was so keen to dismantle the nuclear programme on his assumption of power in order to prevent it falling into the hands of the ANC – and more importantly, their erstwhile backers.

[ 28 August 2001: Message edited by: The Guvnor ]
Old 8th Aug 2001, 14:19   #5 (permalink)
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no wonder this airline is never going to happen btw, when is the starting date now?
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Old 8th Aug 2001, 15:12   #6 (permalink)
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blowawayjet - mind keeping to the subject of the thread? If you want to do one on "When is the Guv's airline going to start" then feel free to do so.
Old 8th Aug 2001, 15:18   #7 (permalink)
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so when is the starting date then???
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Old 8th Aug 2001, 16:53   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks Guv
Makes for interesting reading...and the truth shall set you free....
[email protected]#$%g Go away!
Wheres Wizz?
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Old 8th Aug 2001, 16:56   #9 (permalink)
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apparently the six devices were actually five and a half, very primitive, Hiroshima type weapons, and if my memory serves me, the delivery system was Buccanneer, but was never tested, even with 'blue' bombs.

I agree, nothing short of a nuke would have had the US in there like a rat up a drainpipe.

Question, though...would every pallet of cargo be opened and inspected after a fire in the cargo hold? The bomb/BGS would have been disguised, would the chances of discovery have been higher if the Heldeberg had diverted?

Or was the divert not permitted for reasons of operational urgency? November 87 was quite a time up north...as the man says, would PW have actually nuked them?

Anyone read the book, 'The Mini-nuke Conspiracy'? good reading. In addition to providing fair insight into the whole Red Mercury thing, it alleges that mini-nukes with a yield of a kiloton or less were actually used in Angola by SA forces.
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Old 8th Aug 2001, 17:47   #10 (permalink)
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According to newspaper reports the bombs were designed for airborne delivery, were 1.5m long, 70cm wide and aerodynamically shaped. Each bomb weighed approximately a ton and had an explosive force of between 14 and 18 kilotons, roughly equal to the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By implication this meant that the bombs would have been dropped by conventional fixed wing aircraft. The SAAF possessed three types of aircraft at the end of the 1980’s that were capable of fulfilling this role. The French Mirage F1 AZ, fighter-bomber, the Buccaneer S MK.50 and the Canberra B(1) 12. The last two aircraft being "light" bombers of British design and manufacture. Whereas the Mirage F1 had a limited range, the other two aircraft had sufficient unrefueled range to strike at targets in Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. The Mirage and Buccaneer could be refueled in flight while the Canberra did not possess this capability. It is interesting to note that the SAAF acquired five Boeings 707 tanker, transport, and electronic warfare aircraft from IAI-Bedek of Israel in the mid 1980’s. These tanker aircraft were seen as force multipliers by the SAAF, enabling the Mirage F1 AZ’s and the Buccaneers to increase their operational ranges. This enabled them to attack countries as far afield as central and northern Africa.

Of the three aircraft mentioned the most likely candidate for the first nuclear attack would have been the Buccaneer. The Buccaneer had a two-man crew, two engines, could be refueled in the air and had excellent navigation equipment. An indication of its nuclear attack capability can be found in the fact that a Buccaneer dropped the first H2 "Smart"-Bomb to be used operationally by the SAAF during an attack on the Cuito bridge in Southern Angola on 12 December 1987. Unfortunately the H2, TV guided weapon failed to destroy its target but a second attack on 3 January 1988 proved more successful. Further evidence supporting the Buccaneer can be found with the last surviving "airworthy" Buccaneer 422, which today is on display at the South African Museum for Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg. This particular aircraft is reported to have undergone a major overhaul costing many millions of Rand (said to be 13m) in about 1987-89. One may speculate whether this "major overhaul" was to prepare it for the delivery of the first nuclear bomb?

During 1987-1988 only five Buccaneers remained airworthy with the SAAF. The aircraft finally being withdrawn from service in 1990. According to a leading overseas aviation publication that the Buccaneers had the ability to carry the British WE 177 nuclear bomb in its rotating bomb bay. It must be born in mind that part of the training program and operational conversion course undertaken by SAAF, Buccaneer pilots who went across to the UK in the 1960’s was the delivery of a nuclear weapon.

[ 08 August 2001: Message edited by: The Guvnor ]
Old 8th Aug 2001, 18:49   #11 (permalink)
The Guvnor
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BTW, watch BBC World tonight for the HardTalk interview of SA 'SuperSpy' Craig Williamson by Tim Sebastian.
Old 8th Aug 2001, 22:06   #12 (permalink)
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Another great bit of newspaper copying Guvnor, shame there's no input of your own there! I just wish I was trying to run an airline, so that I'd have enough time to read and post all over the internet!
Old 8th Aug 2001, 23:15   #13 (permalink)

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Thanks Guv. Those other two links are also interesting, but blooming long accounts, 25 pages.
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Old 9th Aug 2001, 11:23   #14 (permalink)
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Thanks Guv. Watched the BBC last night. Nothing startling there. Anything more on PA103?
Where's Whiz.

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Old 9th Aug 2001, 13:05   #15 (permalink)
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Cheers Guv, very good albeit rather scary! Seems the others would've been too young too remember!
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Old 9th Aug 2001, 13:06   #16 (permalink)
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Facinating stuff!

The nuclear program:

Despite Israeli and South African denials, a detailed study made by U.S intelligence eventually determined that the blast was caused by the testing of a neutron bomb in the three kiloton range, This was the "enhanced radiation" weapon intended to stop Syrian troops from storming the Golan Heights. The September 22 event was the first in a series of such tests. One Israeli source claimed that three tests were actually conducted at the time, all supposedly under thick cloud cover. But " it was a ****-up," he said. "There was a storm and we figured it would block VELA, but there was a gap in the weather - a window –and VELA got blinded by the flash."
This is highly probable. Given that the Israeli nuclear program was closely allied to the South African effort it's difficult to believe that the Israelis developed a high yield neutron delivering device in issolation. (A neutron bomb is designed to kill with the minimum of destruction to property and structures.) No record of any work on a device of this type has ever been admitted to by the SA Government; moreover, the tallies of fissionable material produced by the enrichment plant are considered accurate but only after the Government had allowed itself several years to cover its tracks.

Therefore it's likely that the nuclear weapons program was wider in scope than that admitted to by the De Klerk govenment. In all probability excess nuclear material was transfered to Israel during the four year cover up period.

Officially, the primitive "gun type" (or plunger type) devices admitted to were probably not deliverable by artillery (impractical & too heavy) or by ballistic missile (too heavy). Trying to build a "gun type" a-bomb that can be fired from an artillery gun is also improbable because of the high g forces experienced by the shell on firing.

So the likely nuclear delivery system available was an aircraft. As correctly pointed out you could drop one of these babies out the back of a C130 or similar if your dedicated bombers weren't up to the task.

Therefore a ballistic missile guidance system would not win or lose the war unless used as a bluff. (Assuming that there are winners and losers in nuclear war)

The Helderberg

No CVR transcript (including the enhanced version) published to date can possibly be complete. And the transcripts do not align with the version supposedly considered by the TRC. The start - stop theory, based on the disconnection of an electrical bus seems plausible.

As for the suggested cargo:
  • "Red Mercury": Snake oil as far as I know; there no such thing. Various mercuric salts are red in colour so the "red" moniker is not terribly useful.
  • Ammonium perclorate: Stupid to import it when it's easily manufactured.
  • Complete nuclear device: C'mon!
  • Munitions: hmmm.

The guidance system theory has a few merits: if the Americans were concerned with the Russians obtaining it, that would justify their response. But if it were such a sensitive device then what were the South Africans doing with it in the first place?

Next - and this is a biggie - why is the present SA regime trying to perpetuate the cover up? What's in it for them? Was the source of the fire not merely a fault on the aircraft but perhaps deliberately set?

[ 09 August 2001: Message edited by: The Unteleported Man ]
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Old 9th Aug 2001, 16:54   #17 (permalink)
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See another bomb went off in Jerusalem today..now if the Israelis have a nuke and the Yanks know about it..Id be worried about being Palestinian at this stage..I might just stop my stone throwing and suicide bombing...
Not that the Israelis would use a small
1 Kiloton bomb on their neighbours now...
we shall wait and see till someone really gets the "MOOR"in I suppose.

(tried to edit for kak spelling..but gave up in the end)

[ 09 August 2001: Message edited by: 4granted ]
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Old 9th Aug 2001, 17:45   #18 (permalink)
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I was in the SADF in the '70's and had occasion to READ a TOP SECRET letter from the Atomic Energy Commission to the head of the SADF which detailed a series of (successful) tests at many of the SADF's ranges.

Many nuclear experts will attest to the major hurdle in a viable device being the timers. SEVERAL of these timers were successfully tested by the AEC and the culmination was a successful "mini" nuclear device being detonated in the S Atlantic.

I am not sucking this out of my thumb.

Furthermore, the SADF had great pleasure in giving a gift of a small plowshare which had been fabricated from the case of a nuclear device, a rather clever idea borrowed from the book of Isaiah. In the bible, Isaiah predicted, “They will beat their swords into plowshares..."

I have one. No, you will not find it on Ebay.

A little know FACT is that South Africa is the only country to have successfully develloped, tested and deployed nuclear weapons and then unilaterally disarmed.

As for SAA being a carrier of these devices, components or other nuclear related material, I think not. All of the nuclear related activities were conducted in the utmost secrecy, with very few people being party to the process.

What was on board? Rocket fuel.

The ZUR clerk V.N. was promoted (at a meteoric rate) as a result of his complicity in the cover-up, but has subsequently fallen from grace and works in the travel industry in SA.

Many of my friends and colleagues are at the bottom of the ocean, 65 miles from Plaisance. For what?

Hope you sleep well, Vernon.
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Old 9th Aug 2001, 18:52   #19 (permalink)
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Just a quick addendum - nuclear artillery shells were definitely designed by Dr Gerald Bull (the designer of the G5 and subsequently the Iraqi Supergun).

When you say timers, Vonkprop, then you're talking about the kryton switches - things that look like glass spiders?

Don't agree with you about the rocket fuel theory ... simply because it wouldn't have merited the response by the Americans that happened. Only something super-super sensitive would have done that.

The Unteleported Man, the Israelis gave the guidance system to the South Africans (almost certainly with Ronnie's blessing) but having lost it would have been desperately keen to recover it again before any wreckage recovery effort - not so much from the point of fiew of the Sovs nabbing it, but someone spotting it and saying "hang on, that's the guidance system off a US xxx missile ... what's it doing going to SA?" Given that the Iran Contra hearings were on at that time, such accusations would have resulted in the impeachment of many senior Republicans.
Old 9th Aug 2001, 19:25   #20 (permalink)
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Met, spoke to and discussed the "base bleed" artillery shell with Dr. Bull. Artillery was NOT the nuclear delivery system.
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