Desmond Boomer

Desmond Boomer

A 38 year old Belfast born engineer working in the Libyan oil fields

Michael Williams

Michael Williams

A 49 year old English born engineer

Matthew Aquilina

Matthew Aquilina

A 22 year old Maltese national returning to Malta

Tadeus Gorny

Tadues Gorny

A 48 year Polish national working in the Libyan oil fields

Phillip Farrugia

Philip Farrugia

A 43 year old Maltese national returning to Malta

Carmel Bartolo

CArmelo Bartolo

The pilot, a 47 year Maltese national

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  • The Times Malta - Pilot had offered Free Flights

    Piper Lance inquiry

    Pilot had offered free flight - witness

    Sharon Spiteri : June 6th 1996

    The pilot on board the light plane which went missing on its way here from Djerba decided to fly passengers to and from Tunisia for free a few hours before he left Malta, the inquiry heard yesterday.

    The revelation came as the managing director of Unique Travel took the witness stand to explain how he and Carmel Bartolo had an arrangement to fly Libyan oil rig workers to and from Malta. Richard Tua claimed the agreement was verbal and had nothing in writing to show for it except billing invoices. He gave details before the inquiry chaired by Dr. Philip Sciberras with Captain Franz Sturmeir and engineer Luis Giordmaina yesterday afternoon.

    The inquiry is examining the evidence in a bid to get to the facts surrounding the disappearance of the single engined Piper Lance plane piloted by Carmel Bartolo and carrying passengers Philip Farrugia, Matthew Aqualina, Michael Williams, Desmond Boomer and Tadeuz Gorny on December 3rd 1995. Tua said his company's services were sought by other companies employing people on Libyan oil rigs to make their transport arrangements since Libya’s air space was affected by sanctions. He said he had been chartering Bartolo’s plane for about 20 months before the incident. On December 2nd at about 4:30pm he turned up at his office and told him he wished to make the round trip to Djerba for free.

    Tua said he was not really surprised at the request because had been going through a bad patch and "the rumour was that he was going to lose everything". "When I asked him the reason for the free flight, he told me he wanted to reintroduce the service because he had not been flying for a couple of weeks", Tua said. Bartolo had also prepared papers declaring that the flight was to be complimentary and asked Tua to hand it to the passengers to sign, the witness said.

    The witness was rapped by board members who remarked at the way he managed his affairs. "I find it very unethical that you knew this company was going through problems and yet you let these go on", engineer Louis Gordmaina told Tua. "Are you a responsible operator?" Did Maple (the company who contracted Unique Travel for travel arrangements) know Excelair had problems", Tua was asked. The managing director replied that Maple knew of the problems and had told him that if they were not solved he would have to seen some other service. He admitted his clients complained at times. "Did you know he was going to use the Piper Lance?", Tua was asked. "Yes I was aware of it," he replied. "Then you both knew what you were doing"

    "So you chartered the plane? If Bartolo met someone in Djerba, say, could he just take him up on the plane or was he meant to tell you?" "Technically he had to ask us to carry passengers" Tua said. "But you had four passengers on your list. And five were on the plane", it was pointed to him. The fifth passenger was Philip Farrugia. "The fifth passenger was not meant to travel on that flight. He was not on the manifest", Tua admitted.

    Raymond Micallef, who sometimes helped out Bartolo, told how he volunteered his services out of enthusiasm for free. He said private pilot license but was hoping to get his commercial. Micallef said he had suggested to the use of the Excelair to his employers, MedServe, sometime in 1992 or 1993. Excelair had offered him a job but he never piloted the Piper Lance. Captain Richard Day, who was Excelair’s chief pilot for a time, said he thought Bartolo's flight skills were of a reasonable standard for the level of flying he was doing. Day's employee was terminated early in October 1995 but he was able to give a few details about Excelairs flying practices.

    Patrick Cessar from the Foreign Affiars Ministry said a second formal request for the a copy of the tape recording the conversation between Bartolo and Tunisian Air Traffic Control was made on May 8. He said no progress had been registered so far on Malta's request for Tunisia to hand over a copy of the tape and to allow the original tape to be sent for analysis at a scientific laboratory.

    Joseph Aqualina, Matthews father, recognised his sons signature on a Tunisian hotel check-in slip.

    The inquiry continues.

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