Maputo — An air safety investigator, sent by the US State Department to report on the aircraft crash that took the life of Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel in 1986, has confirmed that the South African apartheid regime did indeed possess a mobile navigational beacon, which could have been used to lure planes away from their correct flight paths.
He told AIM that he wants an independent body such as the United Nations to investigate whether the crash of Machel's aircraft, a Soviet manufactured Tupolev 134incident, was "a crime against humanity".
Samora Machel was killed when the Tupolev crashed into a hillside at Mbuzini just inside South Africa, on 19 October 1986. He was returning to the Mozambican capital after attending a summit in the Zambian town of Mbala, when his aircraft took an unexpected turn away from Maputo and into the Lebombo mountains.
It is widely believed that Machel's plane was lured off course by a pirate navigational beacon (VOR - Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range) operated by South Africa's apartheid military.
The US expert, Dr Alan E Diehl, was sent to South Africa in January 1987 to find out what had caused the death of President Machel and 34 others on that fateful night. Working under cover, his mission was to assist South African air safety investigators and to report back to his government if there was any truth to allegations that Machel had been murdered.
Diehl told AIM that the US State Department was particularly keen to know whether there was any heightened threat to the life of US President Ronald Reagan should it be true that Machel had been assassinated. Apparently, there was a concern that there might be an attempt on Reagan's life in revenge.
Dr Diehl is an award winning aviation safety expert whose duties have included training the crew of Air Force One, the US Presidential aircraft.
During his fortnight in South Africa, Diehl was briefed by the US and South African governments, and was shown material filmed by the official South African television company SABC. However, he did not visit the crash site as it had already been cleared of evidence.
Reviewing this information, Diehl concluded that gross errors by the President's air crew were partly caused by poorly designed cockpit equipment in the Tupolev and mental fatigue resulting from a long wait in the tropical heat in Zambia prior to the flight.
However, his view changed towards the end of his stay, when he opened up a delicate discussion with a senior member of South Africa's civil aviation authority. He asked directly for the location of South Africa's mobile VOR. According to Diehl, "I could tell he was extremely nervous when I asked where it was".
In his recently published book "Air Safety Investigators: Using Science to Save Lives - One Crash at a Time1", Diehl reveals that "I was aware, when a standard VOR needed to be repaired, a portable transmitter was temporarily placed next to the standard unit. This mobile VOR then transmitted signals on the same frequency while the standard unit was inoperative, allowing vital air navigation to continue uninterrupted".
He added, "a powerful mobile VOR could also theoretically have been used to intentionally dupe unsuspecting pilots".
Aware of the allegations that the plane had been drawn away from its flight path to Maputo and into the mountains by a false beacon, he directly questioned the senior official, who replied that "it had been in the hands of the police at the time".
Diehl quotes the official as saying: "one night just prior to the crash, this VOR was being moved by an aviation department truck. Unfortunately, some of the vehicle's lights were inoperative.
When a police car spotted them, they insisted the truck with the VOR go to a police impound lot where it stayed for several days".
The name of the official, along with other contemporaneous notes, was included in Dr Diehl's report to the US State Department.
Diehl now wants the United Nations or a similar international body to investigate the death of Samora Machel and his fellow victims, telling AIM: "this may well have been a crime against humanity and requires full disclosure. I hope that the US State Department will release my report to the investigating authorities".
He added: "furthermore, such information should help answer the pleas of Graca Machel and indeed many other concerned citizens of Southern Africa who have long sought an explanation for this tragedy".
Some people at the time doubted that the technology was available to divert the aircraft. However, Diehl has not only revealed the existence of a mobile VOR beacon in South Africa at the time of the crash, but that it had been in the hands of the police and that the civil aviation authorities were aware how sinister this looked.