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


Paul Lehman introduced to the inquiry

The following is taken from notes that Cormac Boomer took prior to and during the sitting of the inquiry where Paul Lehman presented his evidence to the inquiry.

Valletta 1:00p.m. Wednesday 14th May, 1997.

From the outset I (Cormac Boomer) have always believed the disappearance of the aircraft, it's pilot and five passengers, had a background of international terrorism which involved at least one government and a number of other governments in a cover-up. The storm on the evening of the 2nd December, 1995, and the morning of the 3rd was a weather condition which in my opinion facilitated the claim that the plane and it's occupants crashed into the sea.

If to-day (14/5/97) the Board of Enquiry confirms that the debris found by Tunisian fishermen in the Gulf of Gebas in September 1996 is that of 9H-ABU, this for me will only add further to the as yet many unanswered questions which have surrounded this incident from the outset and brings into sharp focus the conflict, nature and sources which that evidence provokes.

C. J. Boomer.

The following is taken from notes that Cormac Boomer took prior to and during the sitting of the inquiry where Paul Lehman presented his evidence to the inquiry.

Valletta 1:00p.m. Wednesday 14th May, 1997.

From the outset I (Cormac Boomer) have always believed the disappearance of the aircraft, it's pilot and five passengers, had a background of international terrorism which involved at least one government and a number of other governments in a cover-up. The storm on the evening of the 2nd December, 1995, and the morning of the 3rd was a weather condition which in my opinion facilitated the claim that the plane and it's occupants crashed into the sea.

If to-day (14/5/97) the Board of Enquiry confirms that the debris found by Tunisian fishermen in the Gulf of Gebas in September 1996 is that of 9H-ABU, this for me will only add further to the as yet many unanswered questions which have surrounded this incident from the outset and brings into sharp focus the conflict, nature and sources which that evidence provokes.

C. J. Boomer.

Opening the precedings


The Chairman opened the proceedings by briefly outlining the results of theBoard's visits to Tunisia on 21st March and 11th April, 1997, their meetings with Tunisian officials, their inspection of the debris and listening to the tapes and the making of arrangements for the repatriation of the debris to Malta. The reports were submitted to the Courts to be included in the transcripts, the Chairman informed the Court that a Document which they had received, a hotel registration document, indicated that passengers Matthew Aquilina and Tadeaus Gorny together with the pilot Bartolo stayed overnight in the Hadji Hotel, a small hotel close to the airport.

According to the airport officials the pilot, Bartolo, reported on Sunday morning to Air Traffic Control with his Flight Plan, he was given a verbal and printout of weather conditions and informed Air Traffic Control he was returning to the Hotel to pick up two passsengers for his return flight.  Apparently he and his passengers were not observed returning to the airport or boarding the plane prior to departure. Questions which arise from the foregoing, no mention is made of passenger's Boomer,Williams or Farrugia, where did they stop over, was it in the airport complex, if so, did anyone see or speak to them, what is the procedure for checking where a private operator is concerned, and again did anyone observe passengers board the aircraft prior to departure.

Following the Chairman's submissions which the legal representatives of the families and the government accepted without question, Mr. Paul Lehman, the Piper Aircraft Senior Investigator, was introduced to the Court. Quoting from a long and detailed report he informed the Court he had spent two full days inspecting and photographing the debris in detail, checking and comparing component serial numbers against the Company records of the plane which was built in 1977. He then proceeded to read from his written report, cross referenced by photographs he had taken of each section - item of the debris.

The Debris

He emphasised the amount of debris recovered was a very small section from the front left underside of the Pilot‘s cabin cockpit between the cabin bulkhead which incorporated the forward luggage compartment and the bulkhead of the after luggage compartment, a length of approximately 7 ft. The items section he specifically singled out for comment , explanation are: 

  1. Lower cockpit forward
  2. Forward luggage compartment
  3. Motors for Aileron control
  4. Aileron control handle in cockpit
  5. Seat belts, their condition — serial numbers - securing bolts — and locked in on passenger position.
  6. Landing gear handle - this was in the down position - which suggested the pilot had his landing gear down to increase wind resistance to slow down the rate of descent.
  7. The rudder pedals (name and serial numbers)
  8. 2 of Aileron Servo Motors, the type which are only fitted to PA 32.
  9. The Auto Pilot Model AM3P, fitted during original construction, had been changed to another model in 1989, (the aircraft was built in 1977) no explanation for the change of this component.
  10. The handle which controls the angle of the flaps was found in the down position indicating a breaking - slowing down intention. 
  11. The plane's individual serial number was found inscribed in black indelible marker on a section of the main spar where it crosses the floor below the pilot's seat.
  12. At this point Mr. Lehman went through the photographic evidence again explaining the relationship to the working of the plane and it's relevance to the compiling of his report.
  13. During this session Mr. Lehman repeatedly referred to the letter — comments of Mr. Rodney Wood of Yorkshire England, Mr. Wood was a passenger on the outward flight, Malta to Djerba, on the morning of Saturday, 2nd December, 1995, Mr. Wood sat in the co-pilot's seat, he was very critical of the condition of the pilot's cabin, in particular the wiring of the control panel which was uncovered and lying with loose ends protruding into the cabin, Mr. Wood, in his letter (of which I have a copy) refers to a short screaming noise he heard during take off, that the plane encountered severe storm conditions during take off, there were ice particles and severe cold in the cabin, the pilot displayed concern and at one stage asked Mr. Wood to hold together two wire ends so that he could read some instrument on the panel, Mr. Wood felt the flight should have been aborted, towards the latter part of the flight he reported smelling burning rubber and when collecting his luggage from the forward compartment which houses the engine he observed the fanbelt which drives the alternator was badly frayed (his words, all torn) and the pilot put his hand in and tore it off easily in front ’of everyone.

The Alternator Belt

lt would appear there is no record of maintenance or repair work having been carried out while the plane was in Djerba, Mr. Lehman said the fitting of the belt would require special tools and would not be a simple job, when asked by the Chairman to explain what would be the effect on the plane if the belt was not fitted, Mr. Lehman said as with a car the alternator charges the battery from which all the auxillary's i.e. lights — servo motors - instrument panel - navigation instruments - pump motor for fuel supply etc., the fully charged battery as with a car would hold a sufficient supply to start up the main engine which would then run on it's own independant ignition system, but if the main alternator was not functioning because it did not have a drive belt the supplies to the auxillary service points would quickly run out, and in the case of the main engine the fuel pump motor would fail and the main engine would stop, the pilot would then be without power or control and the plane would go into a dive, he would not be able to determine if he was in a position of level flight in relation to the horizon since his (G.P.S.) Global Position System and other flight instruments are without power hence even if he was flying (gliding) level he would quickly loose height, the failure of the electrical  supply would also effect his radio and his ability to transmit or communicate.

Mr. Lehman then explained his reason for believing a power failure did occur, a plane flying at night or semi—darkness would normally have it‘s wing tip navigation lights on. The strip element in this component becomes very hot even in cold conditions, if the wing tip were to come suddenly into contact with water this would cause a small explosion to occur in the bulb element and cause a severe electrical short in that light circuit which is connected to an indicator light in the control panel. He produced a photograph of this minute bulb which he said was the only one left intect in the panel, it was in perfect working order, this indicated to him the plane was flying without navigation lights. He stated the total amount of debris found was very small in relation to the size of the aircraft and was from the underside of cabin/left side of plane looking forward, this contained two small sections of outer skin of the aircraft, and from studying the angles of metal stress and rupture on these items he had calculated that the plane impacted at very high speed with the water at an angle approximately 35 degrees (very sharp angle) nose down and tilted slightly to the left hand side.

This impact would exert tremendous force on the fabric of the aircraft and he referred to the photographic evidence of the condition of seat belt securing mechanism which is attached to the floor, this showed hole elongation and pull stretch on the fixing bolt. ln response to questions from Dr. Scribberas, Mr. Lehman stated the cause of the crash was quote "indeterminable" There was no sign or indication of scorch which would be the result of fire or explosion, neither was there any sign of lightning strike. ln reply to the question, Could the damage you have observed have been caused by someone dumping the plane in the sea, answer in my opinion No, the nature and extent of the damage caused by this impact could not have been caused by dumping the plane in the sea because the angle of entry, speed or dive and ` force of impact would have been different as would have been the resulting damage. When asked if he had seen or examined the pilot's wallet found with the debris, he answered No, this was not part of his brief. He then produced an envelope which he informed the Court contained a strip of cloth, he said this was the only item of fabric apart from the one yellow strip of floor covering that he found, it was imbedded in a crevice down stream of the after bulkhead in a nest of broken wires.

At this time Mr. Lehman had been in the witness box for about one and a quarter hours delivering his report and answering questions put to him by the Officers of the Court, including Borg Barthet, the Attorney General. From the nature of these questions I am of the opinion Mr. Lehman submission as given was completely independant and had not been discussed with anyone prior to delivery.  The Chairman set in motion a question and answer session for the legal representatives of the relatives and other interested parties. The questions were of a general clarification/ further information nature (not many and not very illuminating in content.)

Questions from the families

There then followed a question and answer session from the relatives, Ms. Cecelia Pelligrini Petit (Mother of Matthew Aquilina) Philip Bartolo, son of the pilot and myself. Ms. Pelligrini Petit drew Mr. Lehman's attention to the fact that throughout his submission he had referred constantly to "the Piper" she asked are you referring to the missing aircraft 9H-ABU, is this debris from that plane, answer "Yes, this debris is from 9H-ABU and I can only conclude from the evidence of the seat belts that there were two people on board, seated in the pilot and co-pilot's seats." He emphasised again the amount of debris was very small in relation to the plane and it would be impossible to say if there were other passengers on board, unless further pieces of debris were found. When called to the Stand I asked Mr. Lehman if in his experience a crash of this nature would normally leave residue of human remains, his answer was "Yes, I was very conscious of this aspect of my examination of the debris, it is our normal procedure, we would look for pieces of fingers or items with small bones which would lodge in crevaces of the struts and such places. I can assure you I carried out a minute inspection and found no trace of human remains. Mr. Bartolo, jun., asked a series of questions related to the controls etc., of the plane which Mr. Lehman answered without hesitation or difficulty.

Mrs. Antonia Bartolo, wife of the pilot, was called to the Stand, where she was shown the pilot's wallet and it's contents. She said it was similar, she identified his credit cards, business cards and house keys and two copies of his pilot‘s licence. She could not explain the original and the presence_ of a duplicate with the words "Pilots Privilege" added on, she also stated it was her husband's practice to carry his house keys in his left trouser pocket, she could not understand why the keys were found with the wallet. Mrs. Bartolo was shown the small piece of cloth retrieved from the debris, but indicated she had not seen it before, it conveyed nothing to her.

This ended the formal proceedings and there then followed informal discussions between relatives, their legal representatives Mr. Lehman and Officials of the Board.

Questioning the evidence

 I (Cormac Boomer) inspected the photographic evidence and indicated to Mr. Lehman that I found it difficult to accept that the human body could exert such distortion on the seat belts and the retaining mechanism. I suggested that in such an impact the seat belt around the softest part of the body would become as a knife or scythe cutting through the body on impact. Mr. Lehman explained and Captain Sturmier confirmed the instant force of  impact would in these circumstances be sufficient to cause the distortion which is evident on the seat belts and retaining mechanism, Captain Sturmier, who is a member of the Board and an operational pilot with Air Malta, further explained that 9H-ABU, being an unpressurised aircraft, the loss of engine · power would cause the plane to enter a sharp steep descent at increased speed which would cause the pilot and passengers to black out immediately and be unaware of the impact when it occurred.

Prior to this sitting I had requested via the Foreign Office in Dublin that the photographic evidence of the debris, reportedly found in the Gulf of Gebas in September, 1996, which was made available for viewing at the November 1996 Sitting of the Court, be made available to me for further inspection, the Court did not respond to my request.

On Thursday 15th May I and the relatives of the Maltese families visited the Department of Civil Aviation at Luqa Airport where we viewed the debris, and were guided through the layout of the various components by Mr. Lehman. I photographed the components collectively and individually in particular the remains of the cockpit/steering column and controls. I asked him about the seat belts and where exactly in the wreckage the piece of cloth was found. As with Cecelia, Daniel and Gillian I came away from the Civil Aviation Department in a subdued rather depressed mood, as we tried to assess and understand the implications of what we had heard and witnessed during the 14th and 15th May, l997.

Unanswered Questions

In any re-assessment of the information conveyed to us on the 14th/15th May, 1997, the comments contained in the Preface to this write-up — report, become increasingly more relevant, as it serves to highlight a theme that has been constant throughout the investigation into this tragic affair, i.e. "That answers given only give rise to more questions," some of which are as follows:

  • The statement by Rodney Wood that in his opinion 9H-ABU was not in a satisfactory condition to undertake the flight, that in his opinion the flight should have been aborted.
  • (1) Why did the pilot undertake such a hazardous journey in an aircraft which obviously caused him concern, especially in adverse weather conditions where his own life and that of his passengers was at risk.
  • Was this concern shared by the other passengers, one of whom was an Official of British Gas and gives rise to the question, Why would a pilot of considerable experience risk take off and flight in storm conditions in an unsound aircraft. 
  • Were Malta Civil Aviation Authorities negligent in their supervision of private operators such as Carmel Bartolo and his Company, Sun Aviation
  • Did familiarity between Authority and Operator breed contempt and give rise to a failure on the part of the Authorities to properly — diligently enforce safety regularions.
  • The airworthiness of the plane was further diminished by the action of the pilot in removing the damaged altinator belt following touchdown at Djerba (Ref: R. Wood report.)
  • Mr. Lehman in his report indicated the belt could not have been replaced without specialised tools and knowledge.
  • Would this repair require the plane to be taken out of service.
  • Are we expected to believe this pilot was so lacking in knowledge and understanding of the technical and mechanical workings and operational behaviour of his aircraft that he would take off in adverse weather conditions for a 90 minute flight over open sea in a situation where the life blood of his aircraft (the electrical supply in the storage battery) would drain away in 20 minutes after take off, thereby putting his own life and that of his passengers at risk.
  • To suggest the scenario in "1" is to defy logic and commonsense.
  • On the subject of passengers, how many were on board and what were their names.
  • Why has there been so little assistance and information from Tunisian Authorities in respect of passengers, the check—in and embarkation proceedings where a private operator is involved.
  • Why did we have to wait until May l997 to receive from the Tunisian Authorities a document which indicates the pilot and two passengers stopped over on the evening of 2nd December l995 at the Hadji Hotel close to Djerba Airport.
  • Why the discrepancy in the dates on this document.
  • Why is there no documentary evidence to indicate where the other three passengers stayed overnight on 2nd December, 1995.
  • Why did debris mysteriously surface in the Gulf of Gebas in September l996 (9 months after the disappearance) following a campaign in the Malta Press claiming the plane did not go down in the sea. 
  • Why did the Tunisian Authorities, when they found the debris, not seek the assistance of Piper Investigation Branch to establish it's identity, why wait 7 months before returning the debris to Malta.
  • What explanation is there for the fact that an eight day search (December 1995) by a five nation team, together with civilian operators, failed to find any trace of plane, personnel or their belongings.
  • Question above gives rise to a further query, where exactly did 9H ABU go down and when exactly was the debris recovered from the sea.
  • Why is the debris viewed and inspected on May 15th so totally different from that in the photographic evidence presented by Mr. Mangion to the Court in November 1996, in particular that piece of debris (the largest piece of fuselage skin) containing a standard design port hole with the glass intact and no stress or crunch marks evident.
  • Why have these items of photography been withdrawn following enquiries concerning the shape and condition of the windows, and why were these items not repatriated to Malta.
  • Why do Malta Authorities and the Court refuse to respond to enquiries about the whereabouts of these items, who authorised the withdrawal of these important pieces of evidence.
  • Why from all the personal property and other personal documentation carried by 5 passengers only the wallet and keys belonging to the pilot is recovered and in remarkably good condition, notwithstanding it is supposed to have survived ten months in the brine of the Mediterranean sea.
  • The statement made by Andrew Williams to his uncle, Geoffrey Williams on 12th December, 1995, which was the subject of a press campaign in Malta in September 1996

Why is this statement being studiously ignored by the Court of Enquiry and Malta Authorities and Government.

Why has not Andrew Williams been summoned before the Court of Enquiry to explain his statement, given that his uncle has confirmed to the Malta Independant Newspaper that this detailed statement was made. It was further confirmed in a signed statement to Scotland Yard Investigators in 1997.

Why should a civil aviation accident (if that is what it was) of this nature be persistently plagued from the outset by rumour — false trails - and an unending stream of contradictory statements and evidence, compounded by a reluctance on the part of the Malta and Tunisian Authorities to respond to the genuine fears and anxieties of relatives.

  • Why the diplomatic wall of silence which states this wall is built so high it's almost as though this incident never occurred.

To return again to the events of 14th/15th May l997, at the end of his submission, Mr. Lehman referred to a piece of fabric cloth, the only piece of such material found in a nest of wires in the debris.

During the informal proceedings I took the opportunity to inspect this item. I was very surprised to note this 18" x 3/8" strip of cotton material, which appeared to come from the seam of a shirt, was in uncommonly good condition (quality and strength) It was a grey colour and had splashes of bright red, blue, green and pink on it, there was no sign or indication of fading of the pigment or the softness/deterioration in the strength of the fibres of the material as I would have expected to find from a cotton material which had supposedly spent 10 months in the brine of the Mediterranean sea. As I have indicated in the Preface "Answers give rise to more questions." 

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