Federation Chamber- Grievance Debate- African Air Disaster
Posted on Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Mrs MOYLAN (Pearce) (21:09): I appreciate the opportunity to raise a grievance in this debate this evening on behalf of one of my constituents. It has been almost 8½ years since South African registered plane ZS-KOX crashed while returning from a flight to Victoria Falls in Zambia. On board were Justine Watters, her husband, Matt Watters, Matt's mother, Shirley Watters, and their friends from United Kingdom, Justin and Rebecca Ward. All, including the Canadian pilot, Mike Channer, perished.
The Watters family were constituents in my seat of Pearce, as is Justine Watters' father, Mr Sam Morton, who I understand is in the parliament this evening. Mr Morton is an extraordinary person who, in the midst of his own considerable grief, was one of the first people to get to the crash site, where he began the gruelling process of recovering the bodies of his much loved family, their friends and indeed the pilot. Sam Morton has been a constant source of comfort to the other families affected by this disaster and has pressed tirelessly for action from the South African government, both to have the matter properly investigated and to ensure that such an event could not happen again.
Shortly after the return flight began, the propeller of ZS KOX fell off at 8,000 feet and six minutes later the plane crashed. Mr Morton has been very grateful for the cooperation and assistance of Mr Joseph Kabotolo, Mr Chitalu Kabalika—then the director of the Zambian Department of Civil Aviation—and Ms Karen Van Boxtel, stationed with the British FCO in Lusaka, for the kindness and help they rendered the bereaved families following the tragedy. The Zambian Department of Civil Aviation, along with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and its American counterpart, conducted an investigation into the reasons for the crash. The findings were disturbing as the causes were found to be:
…i n-flight detachment of the propeller assembly attachment st uds, improper torque of the propeller studs (f ailure to lock the studs allowed the studs to back out of the propeller hub assembly in the separation of the propeller from the aircraft ), f ailure to follow correct propeller installation procedure; and failure to use identifiable manufacturers ' approved parts.
There were suitable landing sites available to the pilot but he had no power source and visibility was extremely reduced due to engine oil covering the cockpit windows.
As the plane was registered in South Africa the maintenance had to be carried out by a South African registered maintenance company approved by the South African Civil Aviation Authority, or SACAA. Following the accident, Mr Pine Pienaar, then chief executive officer of Nelair Engineering, confirmed in writing that the propeller of ZS KOX was removed by Nelair 130 operating hours before the crash and inspected 30 operating hours before the crash. Nelair carried out the last three mandatory periodic inspections, which included removal and refitting of the propeller, in January 2004. The final mandatory periodic inspection and other maintenance was carried out by Nelair only 19 days before the crash. In 2006, the late Dr Ian Phillips of the South African Department of Transport assisted SACAA in examining the details of the crash. Dr Phillips informed the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that SACAA had audited Nelair and as a result revoked their aircraft maintenance organisation licence, called an AMO. Dr Phillips stated that the cancellation was permanent and that the Department of Transport would vigorously resist any effort by Nelair to obtain their AMO licence again. Since the crash of ZS KOX, Nelair has been involved in two additional incidents involving poor maintenance, of which one was a propeller separation.
If you do a Google search you will find Nelair still advertising as one of the largest privately owned companies in South Africa concentrating on aircraft maintenance and servicing. Since 2006 the matter has been vigorously pursued by Sam Morton—through three prime ministers in Australia, four successive Australian foreign ministers including Alexander Downer, the member for Griffith, the member for Perth, the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, and the British and Canadian governments who have been actively engaged, and all have been extremely helpful. In 2006 I was in South Africa with the assistance of the then Australian High Commissioner Philip Green, who made an extraordinary effort to assist. We tried to set up a meeting with the director-general of the Department of Transport, Ms Mpumi Mpofu. Ms Mpofu was not available for a meeting. A phone hook-up was arranged with her and she subsequently undertook to inform the minister of these events. I also addressed the relevant South African Senate committee, whose members expressed much sympathy and distress over the terrible loss of life.
Mr Levers Mapaso from the South African Department of Transport referred the matter to the National Prosecution Authority for review and it has been with that authority since April 2009. The parts sent to America by the Zambian Department of Civil Aviation for investigation have gone missing. The South African CAA claimed key files were lost, and a board of inquiry was cancelled at the last minute without any clear reasons being given. Time delays and the failure of the relevant South African authorities to notify the South African Police Service within a reasonable period of time that a criminal investigation is called for has resulted in crucial evidence being lost and or unaccounted for. Mr Morton has not given up and continues to press for a just outcome. He has the support of many in this place, including my colleague the member for Brand, who has been very helpful in bringing the matter to the attention of the current government. Mr Morton and the other families are entitled to answers to so many unanswered questions.
Tonight I would again respectfully ask the South African authorities to take all necessary action to properly investigate this matter. I wish also to record my appreciation, as I said, for the member for Brand, who has provided assistance in continuing to pursue this matter in recent years. I extend again my sincere sympathy to Mr Morton and his family and to families of the other people who lost their lives in what should have been an avoidable disaster.
Most importantly, the member for Brand and I had hoped that the South African High Commissioner would be here this evening. Perhaps the high commissioner is somewhere in the parliamentary building. There are questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be investigated. Why wasn't this matter referred by the relevant South African authorities to the South African Police Service in a timely manner? Why was the board of inquiry cancelled without any reasonable explanation? What has happened to the failed parts of ZS-KOX which were examined by investigators and have now gone missing? Finally, what has happened to the key files that are also, we have been told, now missing or unaccounted for?
Mr Deputy Speaker, I put it to you and to others in this parliament: these are very serious matters. They must be investigated and the questions must be answered. Once again, I would like to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and all those who have assisted us over the years to try to get this matter properly investigated and to make sure that this kind of event does not cause such grief to other families as it has caused to the Morton and Watters families and the other families from the UK and Canada.