Presenter: Good evening and welcome to another episode of our show. I assume that last night was ordinary for the majority of our viewers. However for 6 families, 3 of them Maltese, last night was the anniversary of a tragic event. On the night of the 3rd of December a Piper Lance aircraft disappeared while flying from Djerba, Tunisia to Malta. We already aired a programme that covered this tragedy on 12th May of this year, however considering the lack of plausible explanations and the fact that this is the 3rd anniversary; we decided to go ahead with another programme on this subject.
The commission that is investigating this accident has not submitted their report, in fact this commission last met on August 1997. On this episode we will talk to some of the family members, the Tunisian Ambassador and Malta’s minister of Transport Censu Galea.Initial discussion with Daniel and Cecilia Aquilina
We’ll start off with an interview with Matthew Aquilina’s brother and mother.
Question: How were you notified of the accident? Explain to me what happened that night 3 years ago.
Answer: On the 2nd of December, 1995, Matthew called home and told us that some severe weather was affecting Tunisia and because of this the flight could be cancelled. He also insisted that if he was to depart, he would call us in advance, as he habitually did. While he did call us 3 more times that night, he never indicated to us that he was flying home. We naturally assumed that the flight was cancelled because of the unfavourable weather. On the morning of the 3rd December, since there had been no call we believed that he had stayed overnight and would soon call us with a new arrival date.
Question: And, you were 19 years old at the time?
Answer: Correct and Matthew was 22. At noon, the television happened to be on and by chance saw news of the disappearance. However at that time we did not believe Matthew was on board. Now, something strange was the fact that Mandy Boomer, all the way from Ireland, was alerted before us by the authorities, while we in Malta learned from the news.
Question: What was your first reaction when you suspected that Matthew might be on that aircraft?
Answer: There was some panicking at home and loads of emotions. We called his employers in Tunisia. We called his usual hotel in Tunisia and the staff told us they didn’t see him, even though they knew him. We called everyone we knew trying to get a confirmation that Matthew was indeed on that aircraft. By 6 o’clock that evening we had confirmed the unfortunate news however none of the authorities had come forward and informed us that Matthew Aquilina was on board.
Question: Matthews’s mother, let me take you back 3 years. As Matthew’s mother, what were your emotions when you first found out about the disappearance?
Answer: I started crying then I began hoping that he wasn’t on board the aircraft. I began saying to myself that he would call us before he left if he boarded the aircraft. But since the aircraft was enroute from Djerba I was at the same time realistic that it might be him. We spent the whole day calling people trying to get the passenger list, but no one would share that information with us.
Question: But what was going through your head?
Answer: Maybe he was on that aircraft. Maybe they had ditched at sea. Maybe they were afloat on a raft and other desperate images. But I was also optimistic since Matthew was adventurous and a strong swimmer. He also abseiled and skydived and so I always believed that he would strive to survive.Theories surrounding the disappearance
Presenter: Alright, let’s give a bit of perspective on what we would like to discuss today. I wanted to discuss the various theories of what might have happened on that night. Just to help our viewers get a bit of perspective, here is a graphic that we produced. This production was made by Coris Borg.
Saturday, 2nd December, 1995.
The story begins on Saturday 2nd December 1995, in adverse weather. At 6:44 A.M. a Piper Lance, piloted by Carmel Bartolo lifted off Luqa aerodrome’s runway, enroute to Djerba. On-board the aircraft were 4 passengers. On this segment of the route, everything was normal, and the passengers arrived safely. Matthew Aquilina who was at Djerba waiting to come to Malta made 3 calls to his father, mother and aunt respectivel, to inform them that it would be unlikely that he would fly home that night. Before hanging up, Matthew told his aunt that if he would fly out that night, he would call before departing. This call however was never made. Mike Williams, another passenger, also phoned his friend in Malta, Ray Mercieca, the guitarist and singer of the group “Characters”.
There were 6 people scheduled to fly on the aircraft; Carmelo Bartolo (pilot), Mike Williams, Matthew Aquilina, Phillip Farrugia, Thaddeus Gorni (Polish) and Desmond Boomer (Irish).
Sunday 3rd December
At Malta’s airport, controllers received the Piper Lance’s flight plan from Djerba. This flight plan includes scheduled departure and arrival times from airports. The aircraft was expected to depart from Djerba at 4:40 in the morning, and was scheduled to arrive in Malta at 6:30 in the morning. So far it has been established that by 5:11 the Piper Lance entered Maltese international waters, as was planned. At 5:30, air traffic controllers at Djerba contacted Malta to inquire whether the Piper Lance has established contact with Maltese controllers. At 6:18, Maltese airport officials sent an alert message to the 3 neighbouring Flight Information Regions to see if the missing aircraft had contacted or diverted to one of their airports. Tripoli and Lampedusa responded that no contact had been made. Tunis reported that the last communication from the aircraft was at 5:11.
At 6:30 the Armed Forces of Malta’s Search and Rescue division was notified. At 7:01 Maltese authorities alerted officials at Tunis, Djerba, Tripoli, Lampedusa to initiate the Search and Rescue process. 3 hours later, Tunisian authorities informed Maltese authorities that 5 aircraft were involved in a Search and Rescue operation. Two Maltese aircraft and an Italian helicopter also joined in the search. The operation went on all day and was suspended at 1830.
Monday, 4th December.
A minister, Dr. Michael Frendo announced that a public inquiry would be launched to investigate the case. Searches also resumed, and a US Navy P-3 Orion also joined in the search. After 5 days of searching, which proved futile, Maltese authorities suspended the Search and Rescue operation.
To this day, the families of those men on board that aircraft are still unsure of what actually transpired.How have lives been affected
Presenter: 3 years have passed. How have these 3 years affected your lives?
Cecilia Aquilina Our feelings were all over the place, but we always hoped that somehow Matthew survived. In fact someone from the ministry of Transport had called and informed us that they saw someone on a life raft, waving to rescuers…
Presenter: But 3 years have passed since Cecelia. Are you still clinging to hope?
Cecilia Aquilina Yes I still do hope. Well, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t to be perfectly honest. Sometimes I think that there was an aviation accident, sometimes I hope he’s still alive.
Presenter: On 24th January 1997, you wrote a letter to the then current Prime Minister, Dr. Alfred Sant which stated: “2 independent sources in December of 1995 and May 1996 said that the people on board the aircraft are still alive in Libya”. You believed that your son is alive to such an extent that you wrote this. Why do you believe this?
Cecilia Aquilina Well, partly because there was Andrew Williams’ (the son of Mike Williams, who was a passenger on the aircraft) story. Andrew Williams came to Malta after the searches started. He said that “they” told him that his father was still alive, but he shouldn’t share this with anyone. Then he called his uncle Jeff, who later confirmed this when I went to meet with the family members. Furthermore, when I visited Tunis, I met a person who said that someone from the Embassy had told him that the passengers were in Libya.
Presenter: But why do you believe these conspiracy theories? Do you think they are true? May it not be the case that you wanting to believe this is due to false hope?
Daniel Aquilina: When someone in your family is involved in something like this, you are bound to get people say that you are thinking with your heart and not your brain. Well, when we used our minds, we were riddled by so many uncertainties, unanswerable questions and silence that it is obvious that something isn’t right.Discussion with the pilots brother
Presenter: Welcome back, today we are discussing the disappearance of the Piper Lance exactly 3 years ago. With is now is Philip Bartolo, who is Carmel Bartolo (the pilot)’s brother. What do you think transpired?
Philip Bartolo: Well, I have my theories, but most of them are rendered invalid because they don’t match with official findings of the inquest so far.
Presenter: Be thorough. What makes you believe that this aircraft did not crash?
Philip Bartolo: I have doubts if he even departed Djerba In the first place. And actually, even from the inquest, from the Tunisian side I don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to suggest that they departed. For example, we have been waiting for the (ATC) tapes to verify that there was a flight.
Presenter: What significance do these tapes have?
Philip Bartolo The conversations between the pilot and air traffic control are recorded. If there was a flight, these communications would be present.
Presenter: So these tapes are in the hands of Tunisian authorities?
Philip Bartolo Certainly, since the departure airport was Tunisian. They are supposed to be in Djerba Airport.
Presenter: So why didn’t the Tunisians send these tapes to Malta?
Philip Bartolo I have no idea.
Presenter: Now, we are seeing a picture of the wreckage here. In September of 1996, 9 months after the accident, this wreckage was found. Now, this is the wreckage of an airplane, but according to you the family members, is this 9H-ABU?
Philip Bartolo I saw this wreckage at the airport, and from what the American Piper aircraft company representative stated, I do believe that it is 9H-ABU. However, the question that still lingers is, was my brother flying it that day? I never have had sufficient proof that my brother flew that day. The inquiry didn’t even convince me that he was flying.Introduction of Minister of Public Transport & Communication, Censu Galea
Presenter: Ok, now, a link the Minister of public transport and communication Censu Galea. Hello Mr. Galea, do you hear me?
Censu Galea: Yes I hear you.
Presenter: The first question regards these ATC tapes. They are supposed to contain communications between Carmel Bartolo and controllers in Tunis. Why have these tapes never been handed over to the Maltese?
Censu Galea: Well, firstly, one needs to explain that although the original tapes have not arrived in Malta, in the past 3 years, after what I believe to be a great amount of work from all the officials involved, we have a copy of these ATC tapes. Let me say it again, right now there is a copy of these tapes in Malta.
Presenter: They are going to be analysed I hope?
Censu Galea: Certainly. Obviously we have to leave that to the experts. There are foreign experts in this field who analyse with a fine comb every word. This allows them to piece together what happened in those final moments.
Presenter: But why did 3 years have to pass for these tapes to be passed on to the Maltese? And coincidentally, how did they arrive only 3 days ago before this programme?
Censu Galea: Well, all I can say is that it’s true that 3 years have passed however officials were always persevering through as you might expect red tape and other hitches.
Presenter: Alright now let’s talk to the Tunisian ambassador. Good evening your Excellency, can you hear me?Introduction of Tunisian Ambassador
Tunisian Ambassador: Good evening!
Presenter: The minister has just announced that the tapes of the conversation between the pilot and Djerba have arrived in Malta. The question that has arisen already is why has it taken your government 3 years to pass these tapes on to the Maltese government?
Tunisian Ambassador: Well first of all I would like to thank you for inviting me to participate in this programme today and I would like to first of all express the Tunisian authorities’ sympathy with all the families and we would like to stress the fact that we have been doing all we could to help them from the very beginning we have been assisting the plane from its take off and we also made sure after it passed the Tunisian FIR that the Maltese had contact with it. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case and since then we have been contributing.
Presenter: But you’re Excellency, that wasn’t what I asked. A bit quicker.
Tunisian Ambassador: Because it’s the first time that a Tunisian representative was invited in this programme. Last time there was nobody… First of all, the tape has been requested within the proper form. That is the rogatory international commission since March. The request came to the Embassy in the 13th of April 1998.
Presenter: So the Maltese government requested the tapes in April 1998?
Tunisian Ambassador: yes within the rogatory
Presenter: What is rogatory?
Tunisian Ambassador: It’s an international rogatory commission which is the proper procedure to hand over such materials.
Presenter: But does that mean that the (Maltese) government had not requested the tapes before then?
Tunisian Ambassador: No it was requested bilaterally and the Tunisian authorities have asked for the institution of a rogatory commission, which is actually the proper way to hand over materials of that sort. And that’s also in accord with our commitment in international agreements we have signed. It took time because these procedure was treated within the Tunisian administration, its technical departments and the justice department and it took some years.
Daniel Aqulina: Mr. Ambassador I’m concerned by the fact that the Minister Galea before said that it is a copy of the tape and not the original. During the board of inquiry sitting it was mentioned by an expert that if it is a copy and not the original tape then it’s close to useless because you lose a lot when analysing that tape in a specialized laboratory. Is there some reason why the original tape wasn’t sent over?
Tunisian Ambassador: There is no reason. Usually I think you deliver a copy and I can assure you that the Maltese commission has been over to Tunisia and have heard the same tape, the original tape, in Djerba. It is a tape which is Tunisian where there is not only the registration of the communication of the Piper Lance but also with other planes flying within the Tunisian FIR. And I possibly can’t see how we can deliver the original tape, but we have made sure the Maltese commission has heard the original.
Daniel Aquilina: yes but the intention is to send the original tape over to Farnborough in the UK to have it have specialized analysis of the tape so it wouldn’t be just a matter the board of inquiry listening to the tape, but it would be an expert’s proper analysis of the tape. And for that the original would be required and not a copy. Would the Tunisian government be ready upon request by the Maltese government to send over the original tape?
Tunisian Ambassador: Well we have done what we thought to be the right thing to do within this request. I cannot answer now over the television to the Maltese authorities. It is not a proper way. If the Maltese authorities are not satisfied with this copy I think they will communicate to us by appropriate means.
Presenter: Let me go back to the minister for just a second. One thing that the Ambassador said is very interesting. Minister, the Ambassador is saying that the official request as per procedure for the tapes only took place this year. Is this correct?
Censu Galea: It appears that there was some discussion to the means by which the tapes were requested. From the Tunisian side there was an insistence that the procedure be carried out in a certain manner, while the Maltese wanted it to be carried out in a different way. The request in the form perceived as proper by the Tunisians did in fact take place on the date stated by the ambassador.
Presenter: I know that you have barely settled in your office (Mr Galea was elected as Minister only a couple of weeks before this programme) however, in your opinion, do you think that this request should have taken so long?
Censu Galea: It’s difficult to generalise and say if something as complex as this should have of taken 3 years or not. I know that it is a delicate subject and while I do sympathise with the loved ones of those who were on board the plane, it must be emphasised that there are procedures that drag on for years but must be followed.
Daniel Aquilina: But it took 3 years Minister…
Censu Galea: Mr. Aquilina, while I sympathize these things do take time. We tried speeding up as much as possible. And these last 3 years haven’t been wasted, there was a lot going on behind the scenes, the board of inquiry for example travelled to Tunis twice.Discussion of issues surrounding the wreckage
Presenter: from the available information, it appears that the first time the Maltese authorities officially contacted the Tunisian ones about this case was in May 1996. Why did 6 months have to pass? And the first time the board of inquiry went to Tunis was a year and a half later. Furthermore, the last time that this board of inquiry met was in August of 1997. Things are progressing at a snail’s pace. Things need to be speeded up there are 6 families who deserve answers. Let me interrupt this conversation now, here is the footage of the aircraft wreckage. On September 20th, 9 months after the disappearance of this aircraft, the Tunisian authorities informed the Maltese that the aircraft wreckage had been found. 3 weeks later, this wreckage arrived in Malta. This wreckage, pictured here was analysed by Paul Lehman, a representative of the aircraft manufacturer. Now Mr. Lehman reported that while he can’t determine the cause of the accident, he could report with certainty that this aircraft impacted the water at an angle of 35 degrees, and had at least 2 people on board. Now you the family members, why don’t you believe Lehman’s report?
Cecilia Aquilina: We asked Paul Lehman in court if it was possible that this aircraft was put (dumped) into the sea. He didn’t provide a suitable answer; he just asked us “Why should anybody want to do that?” He also told us that 2 of the seatbelts were torn from the impact. But there where 6 people on the aircraft, so what about the other seatbelts?
Presenter: He said that he could just vouch for 2 people; it doesn’t mean that there weren’t more. Philip?
Philip Bartolo: I saw the parts at Luqa. According to Lehman, the part numbers and serials matched that of the aircraft (9H-ABU). However the fact remains that some wires appeared to be cut/sliced rather than torn. Some questions still remained; did the aircraft even fly that day?
Presenter: But why do you keep asking that, what makes you believe that the aircraft didn’t fly?
Philip Bartolo: Well even the board of inquiry wasn’t able to prove that the aircraft departed.
Presenter: There was a Tunisian Inquiry launched very shortly after the accident. It was concluded on the 18th of December 1995. So in 15 days there was a Tunisian report. You also have the Lehman report. Why do you still cling to conspiracies?
Philip Bartolo: Firstly because the Maltese inquiry took so long to gather evidence, and also because there was never any certainty in the findings.
Daniel Aquilina: I can add a few. There was never an eye witness who testified that the aircraft departed. As far as we know, Djerba airport employees were never questioned. There was also no Radar image…
Presenter: Hold on for a second, let’s talk to the ambassador about the airport employees. Your Excellency, the question being asked here is the Tunisians authorities have done their own report. In fact it was concluded on the 19th of December and not the 15th as I said earlier. Now Daniel here is asking, why is it that that report doesn’t include anything about the circumstances that the plane took off from Djerba. The report which I have read starts from the assumption that the plane took off. Wasn’t there an investigation of what happened at the airport before to eye witnesses, airport employees, how many passengers were supposed to be there, any supervisors. Why doesn’t the report include any of this?
Tunisian Ambassador: Well, I am really not the expert on this matter, but that’s the way the report has been done. Maybe it’s the way the reports are compiled on that matter, so I can’t really…well that’s up to the Maltese commission now to further investigate and complete, because the Tunisian investigation was carried out quite early and reported what it could to respond to the needs. Maybe the Maltese commission will go further on this matter.
Presenter: The fishermen who found the wreckage in September 1996, why weren’t those fishermen questioned?
Tunisian Ambassador: Well again, I don’t want to go in the details of the report. The report is done now and I tell you it has been done in that specific period of time and it is what it is. You cannot cast any doubt why it has been done how it has been done. We have contributed…and I will tell you one thing, that Tunisia has no duty to make any investigation on this matter actually, and that’s according to the international instruments to which both Maltese and Tunisians adhere to. But our contribution is there and we are willing to further contribute.
Presenter: We have a short question from the mother of one of the people who were supposed to be on the plane.
Cecilia Aquilina: Mr. Ambassador, I have been to Tunisia myself after the incident, and the people at the embassy and the incidents department have been very cordial and I would like to make a request once you are telling us that you are able to help us. Maybe you can bring these fishermen who have found the things and the wreckage because we would like to know whether anything else was found, because that would be more proper. No clothing, nothing was found, no bodies, nothing. No luggage. Though isn’t it possible that you can get this fisherman and get an eyewitness from the airport to tell us what really happened that night? Because we still have a lot of questions about it. I am telling you, I’ve been to Tunisia myself, and your people have been very cordial and I don’t see why they shouldn’t help us even more on this, if I may request this.
Tunisian Ambassador: Yes Madame, be sure that I understand your sorrow and distress and I really have difficulty really to address you because it is so difficult to speak about this things. Because I have been hearing so much of this discussion in the program, I will report what you have said, and ask that it would be. The second thing is that I want to say something. There have been 2 Maltese who dies 8 days ago. And one of them was found floating, the second one was underneath the surface of the water.
Presenter: You are talking about the Sicily…
Tunisian Ambassador: Yes, and if I could, because there is a point there. That was Wednesday, 8 days ago. When they found the man, and were holding the corpse, it slipped away from the hands of the Italian police, and sank down the water. They are still searching for him today. And that is not as deep water as where the plane crashed. So you see, it’s not that easy, there is no easy answer. And I will ask also to not take this very singular question, and also leave them to the commission. And if you want an answer, let it be through the commission. I will report what you have said…
Presenter: Quick comment, go.
Cecila Aquilna Mr Ambassador, please I am making an appeal as a mother. Because these were 6 people, no shoes, no luggage, no bodies. You can’t just expect that 6 bodies just disappear down to the bottom of the sea without anyone finding anything.
Presenter: Wait a second Cecelia, I don’t think that’s a fair question to the ambassador, because he isn’t the one doing the investigations, he simply represents the government of Tunisia in Malta, so you can’t really put him in the spot…
Cecila Aquilna No all I’m asking is where help can be given, because you are giving the example of the 2 people who sank last week. But these people where 6 not 2.
Presenter: But he already said that’s the responsibility of the search party, which we’ll discuss after the commercial.
Cecila Aquilna I thank Mr. Ambassador for his cooperation and maybe if he can give us more help in this matter we would appreciate it.Ivan Gatt - claim that plane was seen departing Malta
Presenter: I welcome you again, we are discussing the disappearance of the Piper Lance 3 years ago. Joining us now is a third family member of someone who was aboard the aircraft, he is Cormac Boomer, the father of Desmond Boomer, who used to work in Libya at the time and had crossed over to Djerba in Tunisia to catch the plane. But before we address you, we interview Ivan Gatt, a pilot who on that night saw 9H-ABU depart Malta for Djerba.
Presenter: When as the last time you saw the Piper Lance?
Ivan Gatt It was the day before the accident. I was sitting here after a day’s work, as I usually do, reading the newspaper. It was a very stormy day. One of the reasons I bought property here in Selmun is because of the view, and as I was reading the newspaper something out there on the horizon caught my eye. It was a light aircraft. You might ask me how I could figure out what it was but we pilots get quite good at spotting aircraft. For example navigational lights are different on a light aircraft from say an airliner or helicopter. So I saw the light aircraft, and I said to myself, “They shouldn’t be up there” because of the bad weather. I didn’t know it was Carmel, and I didn’t know he was heading to the North African coast. I said maybe it was a local flight, even though it was in the evening. Then it headed out and disappeared amidst Cumulonimbus clouds, which is extremely dangerous as it is associated with lightening, hail and turbulence. And in fact you could see some lightening which coloured the sky. I would personally not have chosen to fly in such conditions.Introduction of Cormac Boomer
Presenter: Welcome back, as I said we have with us now Mr. Boomer who is Desmond Boomers father. Briefly, what do you think happened?
Cormac Boomer: It would be very difficult for me to speculate on what happened. I can only go by the nature of the evidence; the written evidence and the evidence of the debris. Really I have no theory on what happened because there is no factual verifiable evidence that the plane ever left the ground on the morning of the 3rd of December 1995. And arising from that, everything else that we are told that is supposed to have happened, notwithstanding that immediately an international search was initiated that absolutely nothing was found. Given that we have 6 people on board with luggage, the plane that is quite a piece of machinery and it breaks up either in the air or on the water and nothing is found.
Presenter: Alright let’s assume that you are right. So what happened to this plane? Did it take off from Djerba? What do you believe?
Cormac Boomer: I don’t believe, given information we have acquired regarding the repairs that would have to be carried out. The timescale would not have of allowed those repairs to be carried out and that airplane made serviceable again. That suggests to me as an engineer that the plane would have to be taken out of service, so if she was taken out of service, what happened to her? Similarly with the passengers, we know that our son, because he phoned twice from Djerba, was in Djerba on the evening of the second. He said that the flight was delayed because of bad weather, and that he was short on money so he would sleep in the airport building. Airports as I know and understand them have video cameras, they have professionals moving around, and where did he go? We have no information.
Presenter: Didn’t he check into a hotel?
Cormac Boomer: Pardon?
Presenter: No, there’s no evidence of it. He travelled for 7 hours with a colleague, (Tad Ghani?) into Djerba from Libya. They were together for 7 hours. Months later we get information that (Tad Ghani?) and Matthew Aquilina stopped in the Hajii hotel for the night before. It is my contention based on the evidence of the debris itself, and it’s the debris that confirms me in all my suspicions. My theory is that…
Presenter: Alright this is a picture of the serial number of the plane, what do you have to say about that?
Cormac Boomer: No, what you are looking at there is the manufacturer’s name plate, which is a very fine aluminium plate which is embossed, painted in black and then rubbed in order to make it readable.
Cormac Boomer: Those are the (seat) belts which are stretched, locked in position and actually wrenched from their bolts. The bolts are actually wrenched from the framework behind the pilot’s seat, and they are wrenched with such force that the bolts are actually bent.
Presenter: We have to remind our viewers that Mr Boomer is actually an engineer himself. And what about the wires, you had some suspicions about the wires.
Cormac Boomer: We are told that the wires, as I said before, we are told that this plane ruptured when she hit the water from 9,000ft. There is no sign of any stress on any of the cables that would suggest that the pilots were wrenched apart, that they were pulled against any of the sharp edges of the web and when you look at them really closely that the cables are cut-off and not wrenched.
Presenter: Why are you so certain that that’s what happened?
Cormac Boomer: Pardon?
Presenter: Why are you saying that they were cut-off you are making some serious allegations here.
Cormac Boomer: Yes I am making serious allegations and make no apology for it. My experience as an engineer indicates to me, because I’ve actually seen this happen, that when you stretch electrical cables to the point when they break, you actually stretch the plastic covering as well, and that covering thins out and goes on the cable and then the cable is frayed. That’s not there.
Presenter: Ok, but you have a report now from someone who works for Piper. And in his report he states specifically 2 things. This plane crashed into water at a 35 degree angle and had 2 people on it. So this plane had 2 people on it and crashed into water. How can you still have doubts that that’s not the 9H-ABU. Why are you still not convinced that that’s the plane your son was on?
Cormac Boomer: I have no doubt that that is the plane and that those parts are from 9H-ABU because as Mr. Lehman said in court, the serial number of those components on those plates conformed to the serial numbers of 9H-ABU.
Presenter: So what are you saying has happened?
Cormac Boomer: Well I can’t say what exactly happened but I would suggest that the plane was broken up.
Presenter: But how do you explain the fact that Paul Lehman is saying that there were 2 people on board the wreckage?
Cormac Boomer: He said that he could asses that there were at least 2.
Presenter: Yes how do you explain that?
Cormac Boomer: I can’t explain that, but Paul Lehman also said that “there was no human residue found in the components”. I specifically asked him about that in court and he said that in such situations they would look for the small bones of fingers and toes that would become wedged in the crevasses and when the flesh left the bones would still be there, even after nine months. There was no sign of any human residue whatsoever.Discussion on the ATC tapes
Presenter: Ok. I would like now to bring in the minister, because I’d like to raise some questions with him, it it’s at all possible. Minister, one question that I wanted to ask is apart from the tapes that arrived from Tunisia, there were other tapes of the conversations of people in Malta’s Air traffic control talking to controllers in Tunisia. The regulations state that these tapes are supposed to be saved. However, for some reason, those tapes of the conversation were erased. Why where they erased?
Censu Galea: What I can comment is that I have information that is contrary to what you are saying. The information I have states that these tapes are still available with all the conversations carried out.
Daniel Aquilina: This is new information for us because in the inquiry, and I quote Joe Sultana who is second in command of the Civil Aviation Authority in Malta “the tape was impounded after the incident and eventually the tapes are still available and still could be heard”. However in a later inquiry he said that the tapes (here in Malta) “Where recycled”. Those are his words in the inquiry.
Censu Galea: According to the information I have, the tapes still exist.
Presenter: Then why did Joe Sultana testify otherwise?
Censu Galea: What Joe Sultana testified, I have no idea, however, according to the information I have in front of me right now, the tapes are in the offices of the department of civil aviation.
Daniel Aquilina: If they found them now its better I guess.
Censu Galea: I don’t know if they were misplaced for a short period, however according to the information I have the civil aviation department has these tapes. I hope that this information is correct.
Cecilia Aquilina Then why wasn’t this and other evidence presented to the courts by officials? They would just say, we’ll bring them next time.
Censu Galea: This is the first I’m hearing of this. I’ll investigate and see if that was said and if so why it was said.
Presenter: Censu, you have a question from Cormac Boomer.
Cormac Boomer: I would like to know why your government does not respond to correspondence. I have written repeatedly to your government. I have come across an official and diplomatic silence on this incident and every area on which I raised it. And here I am talking to the Maltese government and the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation). I don’t even get an acknowledgement, and my letters are sent by registered post.
Presenter: What are you asking?
Cormac Boomer: I’m asking certain clarification on information.
Presenter: Specifically what?
Cormac Boomer: What information have they to confirm that the plane took off. When I initially sent information that had been passed to me by employees in Libya to the minister of the board of inquiry, I don’t even get an acknowledgement. So I’m asking you, what is the problem that government departments? Let me correct that, apart from your previous minister of foreign affairs, Dr. Vella, who took the trouble to ring me at home and talk to be about my problems. But in my ingoing search, my correspondence is never acknowledged and is never responded to.
Censu Galea: I have never received any correspondence from Mr. Boomer himself, because I always acknowledge the correspondence. And in such a delicate case I would have gone into the details of such a question, coming especially from one of the parents of one of the concerned. As I explained in Maltese earlier, it is very difficult to explain and to make any parent believe that something wrong happened during the flight. What I could tell Mr. Boomer is, very simply, he is available in Malta, I am prepared to meet him as soon as possible, in a way that we can discuss whatever information he would like to get. This is the best I can do for the moment, and I have never received any correspondence myself.
Cormac Boomer: Two months ago I wrote to Mr. Demarco, after the election, and I’m still waiting for a response.
Censu Galea: I personally didn’t have any such correspondence, and what I can tell you very simply is we can meet and find out whatever information you would like to get.Presenter presses families on their theories
Presenter: Ok, now what I would like to ask is this, I have to admit that before the programme, all of you talked to me about the various theories that you all have. We come on the show, but when I ask you what your theories are, everyone stands back. Why?
Cormac Boomer: Well, my theory is that first of all, given a correlation of all the evidence, including the debris is that it’s my belief that the missing are alive somewhere, and that there are people in authority who know where they are and what happened to them.
Presenter: Where do you think they are?
Cormac Boomer: They are somewhere in North Africa. As a matter of fact I have going back to the ambassador, good evening sir, going back to the 15th of Decemebr 1995. I received a phone call, which in effect stated that the plane had gone down in Libya and that was given to me by an uncle of a member of the British Armed forces. And that statement has never been raised or questioned, notwithstanding that there is a signed affa davit to the fact that the uncle of the brother of Michael Williams actually made that statement to me.
Presenter: The ambassador, do you have something to say?
Tunisian Ambassador: Yes, I begin by the last one. I think we have heard a lot of details here and insuination and I begin by the last one. Although I am not very happy to go in details. Libya is hit by embargo and there are satelites which are operating 24 hours a day and if there is any airplane flying it will be detected. So you see, we are going too far I think. I’m really sorry, on the one hand I understand that it’s a very difficult situation for all the people directly concerned. But at the same time I think it’s not fair to come with so categorical insuinuations and accusations. The people of the inquiry comission are watching now, and they will take note. They will make their inquiry further and I think it is better not to interfere too much in a matter which is in the hands of justice. Thank you.
Cormac Boomer: Mr. Ambassador I’ve been to your Embassy in Luton, I’ve been twice to your consulate in Dublin. I have supplied them with information files and a list of questions that I have answerd. I have yet to receive an acknowledgement from your government that those papers have actually been handed down.
Presenter: But Mr. Boomer, perhaphs you can put it this way. It is not the job of goverments to investigate themselves. That is the job of comissions. Both the Tunisian government as well as the Maltese government have appointed comissions. Obviously the Maltese commision has taken too long, but investigations are not carried out by ambassadors or my ministers or by politicians. They are conducted by people who are appointed by goverments to investigate.
Cormac Boomer: No but they can get information.
Cecilia Aquilina But diplomatic relations are carried out by ambassadors.
Presenter: yes but I don’t think we aught to expect
Daniel Aquilina: Mt. Bondi (Presenter) if I could intervene here, what he was insuinuating, that the plane crashed in Libya or North Africa as a result of this if I may show it. This is the disrtess signal which was picked up by the COSPAS satelite.
Presenter: Can we show it?
Daniel Aquilina: It is the distress signal picked up by the cospas satelite on VHF 121.5, which is the usual frequency for distress signals. And the coordinated indicated in this distress signal gave coordinates which are traced on Libyan territory. Not on the sea but Libyan territory.
Presenter: And this was during the time the aircraft was flying?
Daniel Aquilina: this was about 24 hours after the plane went missing.
Philip Bartolo: And infact that signal was picked up by a search aircraft on the search while flying near Tripoli.
Daniel Aquilina: It’s important to say that this signal dosen’t give you the source. It could be from a ship. This is a signal that is sent and picked up by a satelite which then informs Tolouse, where there is a service station.
Presenter: But does this mean that the plane was airborne?
Daniel Aquilina: Not nessecairly. The source of this could be anything, a ship or a plane, whatever. However the fact still remains that the coordinates indicate a spot over Libya (and this is why Mr. Boomber made those accusations) We still don’t have an answer to this yet.
Cecilia Aquilina Also in the inquiry it was stated that the pilot, once before had flew over Libya. Maybe that night he encountered some weather ahead and tried to dodge it by rerouting over Libya. Incidentaly something may have happened over Libya. He did it once before!
Presenter: But you can’t just say things off the top of your head. We have the wreckage. Are you saying that it’s not authentic?
Cecilia Aquilina No I’m just saying I have my doubts because they didn’t find anything. So how did they find the pilot’s wallet, yet lose everything else?
Presenter: Let me adress this to Philip. In the wreckage they found the personal effects of your brother. They found 3 credit cards, 2 licences, keys with a key chain with a Holy Mary of Haz Zebbug.
Philip Bartolo: I find it strange that they found the wallet and not much else. And according to my brother’s wife, he never kept his keys in his wallet. And another thing is the security pass he used to get in and out of the airport was never carried in his wallet. And I find it strange that they only found it 10 months afterwards.
Presenter: But Philip what are you saying? These credit cards, belonged to him. The keychain belonged to him. The visiting cards belonged to him. His Maltese ID Card, two licences. What are you trying to say?
Philip Bartolo: That he wouldn’t put his keys and MIA pass in his wallet.
Presenter: Wo what are you saying? Somone took the wallet from your brother and put it in the wreckage?
Philip Bartolo: I don’t know it’s very strange.
Daniel Aquilina: The problem is that we have lots of questions. On one of the days after the crash, there was a phantom ship that wasn’t registered anywhere in the world which sent out a message saying that there where 6 people on a life raft waving for help. This report was then cancelled a few hours later. The government had already called us to tell us that they would save them. Then there was another vessel that saw the aircraft ditch into the sea and gave us the coordinates. When they sent a helicopter and ship to that area they found nothing. And very close to these coordinated there was a British gas oil platform and they said that if anything happened they would have of seen/heard it. That’s the issue, there is so many conflicting information.
Presenter: But to my eyes it appears you are just introducing more evidence to support that the plane took off. Because if there was a distress signal, or it ditched it had to have been flying. Alright I have to insist on this, what other theories are there?
Philip Bartolo: There was another theory that in the SAR operation certain sophisticated aircraft (like the USN P-3 Orion) had special equipment to search in the sea, yet they found nothing. And I also headed out on one of the search parties, we flew at around 450ft. There were so many vessels in the area, I can’t comprehend them ditching and not being found.
Presenter: We have the minister here, I’m not asking you as a minister now, but rather as a symphatetic person, talking to these family members. When you hear them say these things, what passes through your mind?
Censu Galea: The first thing that comes to my mind is, that natural, someone who has lost a loved one in such circumstances clings desperately to hope. This is perfectly natural, and if a member of my family went through this, my thought process would in likelyness be similar. However we need to ask ourselves, how probable are such theories? What’s left for me to say is that, should the family members have evidence to support alternate theories, they should pass on such evidence immediately to the board of inquiry and they will invistigate in a proper manner. Aslo I wan’t to comment on something Mr. Boomer said earlier. He said that Mr. Demarco didn’t reply back to his letter. However Mr. Demarco as Minister of Foreign affairs was doing a lot behind the scenes to acquire a copy of the ATC tapes.Closing comments
Presenter: We are almost at the end of our programme, I’d like to ask this question one more time. What are your theories? What happened? I asked this 3 or 4 times earlier.
Philip Bartolo: Now that is the million dollar question.
Presenter: Is this case connected to anything else?
Daniel Aquilina: I know you are refering to certain reports in local newspapers. These insuiniated that this case was connected to the Shqaqi event. He was killed by Mossad agents in October 1995. Some newspapers said that the pilot, Carmel Bartolo might be one of the people involved in getting the Mossad agents out of the country. In my personal opinion, special agents such as those working for Mossad are not going to depend entirely on a Maltese pilot for their escape.
Presenter: But what are the exact allegations that these newspapers are making?
Daniel Aquilina: Well here are the newspapers. This is the Times of Malta on 8th November 1995, before the disaperance of 9H-ABU, where it was reported that Shqaqi’s killers left Malta on a private aircraft registered in Malta and piloted by a Maltese national. Also, 4 days before, the newspaper Kulhadd used file photos of Excelair on a similar story. In my opinion this is too farfetched. But it is also a reaction…
Presenter: Reaction to what?
Philip Bartolo: Reaction to the fact that someone helped with their escape…I want to emphasize that my brother was in the United States at that time, he wasn’t even in Malta. But the usual gossip,
Presenter: So there wasn’t any proof of this?
Philip Bartolo: It was in the newspapers…
Presenter: Don’t be too concerned with what the newspapers say. They say many things. But do you have any evidence that what they are saying is true?
Philip Bartolo: the only thing I can say that bothers me about this is that exactly 39 days elapsed from the killing of the Shqaqi to the accident. Maybe it was some mourning period (the number 40 is implied to have some significance)
Presenter: Mr. Ambassador, you wanted to comment?
Tunisian Ambassador: Well I hope you don’t forget me before the end.
Presenter: No, No I won’t. I’ve taken enough of your time.
Tunisian Ambassador: May I?
Presenter: Yes yes go ahead.
Tunisian Ambassador: Well, I don’t want to go in any details now. But I think when speaking about factual things, this programme has forgotten the alternator belt and all that side of the technical problems of the plane. Because a crash or an accident comes first of all because of technical problems, and we didn’t say a word about this side. Well, I don’t want to get in details myself.
Presenter: We talked about that in the last programme.
Tunisian Ambassador: But all these facts we have been discussing today have also been discussed in the last programme, but it has been this time, even more selected. Because these sides which are more objective for the happening, haven’t even been mentioned.
Presenter: Who do you have in mind?
Tunisian Ambassador: The alternator belt for example.
Presenter: What do you mean?
Tunisian Ambassador: 1/3rd of the last programme was devoted to the alternator belt, which was broken. And even some witnesses saw it in the hand of the pilot in Djerba we were told. And all these things could collaborate the basic theory that the plane had been in contact with Djerba air control, just after taking off and afterwards. I think there is a lot of fabrication now and that is not good because this matter is in the hands of the justice (department) and I will assure you that the comission will come with it’s conclusions, and we will offer further assistance if needed.
Cecilia Aquilina Can we say just one thing please?
Presenter: Yes very quickly.
Cormac Boomer: There are a number of questions that the Tunisian authorities need to answer, and one is related to the plane itself. Did the timescale of the aircraft on the ground allow for the replacement of the alternator belt? If it did, and it was done, who carried it out and how long did it take them? Because if not, you need to ask the question is an experienced pilot foolish enough to take off without an alternator belt.
Presenter: As the Ambassador said, quite rightly, these are things which the comission needs to decide on, it’s not something we can now, it’s something quite technical. And it could be interpreted one way or another and that is certainly not the job of a programme like this.
Presenter: We’ve come to the absolute end of the programme, I’d like to thank the sponsors who are… I’d like to thank the Ambassador, Minister Galea and the family members of the victims and I hope that we don’t have to make a third programme on this.