Why wait so long to declassify ‘Double Six’ report if no element of sabotage, asks Kitingan

KOTA KINABALU: Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan has joined the chorus of voices calling for answers to more questions raised following the full release of the “Double Six” plane crash investigation report.

The Sabah Deputy Chief Minister said while he did not wish to speculate on what transpired around the time of the crash some 47 years ago, nonetheless certain question marks should be answered.

Kitingan, who is also Sabah Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Industry Minister, said he agreed with the views by Datuk Donald Mojuntin, the eldest son of the late Datuk Peter Mojuntin, one of the 11 killed in the crash, that the report released last week raised more queries.

“I myself have a lot of questions. But, who will answer it?” he said, when met during a Harvest Festival event at the Tambunan interior district on Sunday (April 16).

“We have waited for the report for so long. When it was released and declassified, they said there was no sabotage element.

“But why wait for so long to release it? Is it because you are hiding something?” he added.

Kitingan also suggested that there were questions around the accuracy of the report which heavily pointed towards the pilot Capt Gandhi J Nathan, also killed in the incident, as the main source of the plane going down.

“But the pilot has died. How is he going to answer or defend himself whether the report is accurate or not?” asked the Keningau MP.

Besides Mojuntin and Gandhi, nine others perished in the crash on June 9, 1976 namely then chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens, state minister Chong Thien Vun, Finance Minister Datuk Salleh Sulong, assistant minister Datuk Darius Binion, Sabah Finance Ministry permanent secretary Datuk Wahid Peter Andu, Isak Atan (private secretary to Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who was then finance minister), Kpl Said Mohammad (bodyguard to Fuad) and Fuad’s eldest son Johari Stephens.

They were flying in from Labuan when the plane went down in Sembulan here.

The report, which was declassified on April 6 and made public last Wednesday (April 12), stated that there was no evidence of “sabotage, fire or explosion” that caused the Australian-made Nomad N-22B 9M-ATZ aircraft to crash.

It stated instead that errors made by the pilot and the airline company could have contributed to the incident.

Prior to the declassification of the report, the only official statement on the fatal crash came on Oct 28, 1976 from then deputy transport minister Mohd Ali Sharif who said that the crash was due to pilot error and overloading.

Mohd Ali had also dismissed sabotage or any aircraft mechanical fault.

The nearly five-month investigation by the Department of Civil Aviation back then was never released to the public as the government classified it under the Official Secrets Act.

The incident sparked numerous conspiracy theories over the decades, including that it had something to do with Sabah’s oil rights, with repeated calls made by local leaders, including Kitingan, for Putrajaya to make the investigation report public.

Following its release, families of the victims questioned why such a straightforward report was kept under wraps for so long.

Donald called for Putrajaya to probe why the report was kept secret, saying the victims’ families, and Sabahans in general, deserved the answers.

The families as well as local politicians have also called on the Australian government to release documents related to the crash which have been stashed away and hidden from public view.

Meanwhile, former chief minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh, in a statement on Sunday, said the full investigation report has vindicated him from any wrong doing to do with the accident.

“Personally and hopefully, (Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s decision (to release the report) will relieve me the burden of accusations and slander I endured all the years during the memorial service (of Double Six),” said Harris who succeeded Fuad as the chief minister.

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