- Wartawan Nabalu News
Australia confirms pilot error in ‘Double Six’ plane crash
26 April 2023
By Wartawan Nabalu News
KOTA KINABALU: The Australian government has declassified its investigation report on the 1976 plane crash that killed then Sabah's chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens and 10 other state leaders, confirming that it was due to pilot error and overloading of the aircraft.
The report, which was based on a report by the aircraft manufacturer Government Aircraft Factories (GAF), stated that Sabah Air was operating illegally as it had not obtained approval for its operations manual from the Civil Aviation Department (CAD).
It also stated that the pilot, Captain Gandhi J. Nathan, had a poor ability and had allowed for the aircraft to be overloaded in the rear section, resulting in a low centre of gravity position that made it difficult to control.
The report also ruled out sabotage or engine failure as possible causes of the crash, and said that pathological tests on the pilot showed no evidence of alcohol or drugs.
The Australian report was released today on the National Archives of Australia website, following Malaysia's declassification and release of its own report on April 12.
The Malaysian report, which was completed on January 25, 1977 and presented to the Cabinet in March 1977, had remained classified under the Official Secrets Act 1972 until Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced its declassification on April 5.
The declassification of both reports came after a lawsuit filed by former Sabah chief minister Tan Sri Harris Mohd Salleh in July 2022 to seek for the Malaysian report to be made public in order to clear his name from allegations of involvement in the tragedy.
Harris, who became Sabah chief minister the day after the crash and held the position until April 1985, had been accused by some politicians and media of being complicit in an assassination plot against Tun Fuad and other state leaders.
Harris had denied the allegations and won a defamation suit against Sabah politician Datuk Yong Teck Lee at the Federal Court in 2017.
The plane crash, known as the Double Six tragedy, occurred on June 6, 1976 near Kota Kinabalu International Airport when a Sabah Air plane carrying 11 people from Labuan crashed in Sembulan while approaching the airport.
The victims were Tun Fuad Stephens; Sabah housing and government minister Datuk Peter Joinod Mojuntin; communications and public works minister Datuk Chong Thien Vun; Sabah finance minister Datuk Salleh Sulong; deputy chief minister’s assistant minister Datuk Darius Binion; finance minister’s secretary Datuk Wahid Peter Andau; economic planning unit director Dr Syed Hussein Wafa; Malaysian minister of finance’s private secretary Ishak Atan; chief minister’s bodyguard Corporal Said Mohammad; chief minister’s son Johari Fuad Stephens; and pilot Gandhi J. Nathan.
The tragedy changed the course of Sabah's history as Tun Fuad had just won a landslide victory against his predecessor Tun Mustapha and was about to sign a lucrative oil deal with Petronas.
The incident also sparked conspiracy theories and political turmoil in the state, with some suspecting foul play.