Mystery of 'Zimbabwe Cargo' plane crash in China deepens
HARARE- Zimbabweans had a surprise "tragedy" this weekend when breaking news flashed across the world media with reports of a "Zimbabwean cargo plane" bound for Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan crashed at China's Shanghai International airport.\r\n
In the space of 48 hours last August, 53 tons of ammunition were allegedly flown from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Harare, say report authors Brian Johnson-Thomas and Peter Danssaert.
The ammunition was flown by Enterprise World Airways, aboard a Boeing 707-3B4C aircraft registered as 9Q-CRM.
The first shipment on August 21 contained 32 tons of 7.62mmx54 cartridges. Two days later a second shipment arrived, containing 20 tons of 7.62mmx39 cartridges, which are used in AK-47s. The ammunition arrived in Zimbabwe four months after a controversial arms consignment from China was turned away at Durban, only to be flown into the country later from Angola, the report claims.
Despite denials from Luanda and Beijing, an employee of the state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industry (ZDI) in Harare told IPIS that the shipment, which contained mortar bombs, rockets and ammunition, had arrived in the country.
"Zimbabwe has no national legislation on the import, export or transit of arms and ammunition that conforms to international standards," the report’s authors say, suggesting the country’s borders are dangerously permeable and proof of what happens when no arms treaty is in place.
All does not have to be lost in the absence of a treaty, Guy Lamb of the Institute of Security Studies argues.
"Illicit and corrupt arms trading, as well as arms transfers to conflict zones or countries where governments are responsible for human rights abuses, can be restricted in Africa by more comprehensive and consistent implementation of existing regional arms control agreements at national level," the head of the arms management programme at the institute said. "Examples include the SADC firearms control protocol and the Nairobi small arms and light weapons protocol."
However, what could happen and what does happen are two very different things.
The researchers also tracked the shipment of 1 349 stripped MAG58 machinegun bodies, 2 051 barrels and various other machinegun parts from Harare to Podgorica airport in Montenegro in February last year, which they claim later found their way to the US in a roundabout deal that breached sanctions imposed by the government of George W Bush.
According to the airway bill, or shipping document, the consignment was dispatched by the ZDI to its Montenegran counterpart, a deal they say was brokered by Swiss company BT International.
An investigation into the deal pointed to Ohio Ordnance Works as the recipient of the gun parts. The company supplies the US armed forces and previously supplied the allied forces in Iraq. When contacted by The Sunday Independent, Montenegro’s Department of Defence declined to comment.
Given that ZDI is a sanctioned company the report suggests the deal "may have been to evade US sanctions on Zimbabwean individuals and entities".
Avient official denied all accusations against the company. "We do not carry arms and ammunition," he said.
In the 1980’s Affretair operated two Douglas DC-8-50F aircraft on cargo flights to Europe and within Africa. It was taken over by Air Zimbabwe in 1983.
Some time this year, Zimbabwe state media reported that, "hopes for Zimbabwe’s first private cargo airline since 2000 had been dashed by the country’s aviation authority."
Former Air Zimbabwe pilot and chief executive officer, Oscar Madombwe, had leased an aircraft from South Africa pending approval of his permit to operate it. However, after deliberating for six months the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) refused permission.
Madombwe has since taken the airline to Mozambique instead.
The proposed carrier would have been the first private cargo airline to fly since Affretair ceased flying in 2000 after being taken over by state carrier, Air Zimbabwe.
The CAAZ said that the reason for refusal was that the aircraft was old and posed a threat to air safety in Zimbabwean airspace.
Air Zimbabwe Cargo – “Africa’s most safe, innovative and competitive air cargo company” – remains the country’s only cargo operator, we were all told by State newspaper, The Herald, and CAAZ chief executive officer David Chawota concurred.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the plane was bound for Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, when it crashed Saturday morning in relatively good weather. Early reports indicated the tail of the three-engine jet may have struck the ground before the crash. A team of U.S. investigators, led by an expert on engines, was preparing to head to China in the next two to three days.
Mr. Clarke said the plane had entered Avient’s fleet only about a week before it crashed. But "the crew had all flown extensively on the type" of plane. "It remains very sketchy," he said. "We are obviously working with the Zimbabwe and Chinese civil aviation authorities to ascertain what went wrong."
Mr. Clarke said the seven-person crew included Americans and people of other nationalities. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said three Americans were killed and one was injured. Xinhua identified the injured crew members as nationals of the U.S., Indonesia, Belgium and Zimbabwe.
Xinhua quoted Shanghai aviation authorities on Sunday as saying they had found the plane’s flight data recorder.
Shanghai television showed billows of black smoke rising high in the sky after the crash. Footage also showed the wrecked MD-11 fuselage lying in a wet field adjacent to the airport. Firefighters sprayed foam on the mangled wreckage. TV footage showed a survivor, said to be an American co-pilot, on a hospital bed and breathing through a mask but alert enough to say "thank you."
Avient said on its Web site that it operated the MD-11 and that "preliminary information indicates that the accident occurred on takeoff."
Mr. Clarke said the plane was a chartered freight flight carrying "general consumer goods such as electronics and clothes." He said that, as with most cargo flights, the freight was arranged through brokers. He declined to name the company’s clients.
The aircraft’s tail struck the ground on takeoff, graphics shown on Shanghai television suggested. One illustration of the incident on local TV showed the plane striking a building shortly after takeoff. Xinhua said the plane hit lighting structures on the ground.
Local television and other local media said the accident closed runways at Shanghai Pudong International Airport and led to widespread flight delays.
The accident is the second fatal crash of a cargo plane on takeoff within six weeks. On Oct. 21, an aging Boeing 707 operated by Sudan Airways crashed on departure from Sharjah Airport in the United Arab Emirates. All six people on board were killed. The cause of the accident remains unclear.
As is typical in any major accident involving a widely used jetliner, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board on Saturday said it was sending a team of government and industry crash investigators. Including experts on engines, structures and operations, the team will be led by veteran safety board investigator Bill English. United Technology Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney engine-making unit also will have a team representative.
Mr. English has in the past two years participated in three high-profile airliner accidents on three continents, including the still-unresolved crash of an Air France Airbus A330 earlier this year en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro. Mr. English has a reputation as an engine expert; he participated in the probe of a British Airways jetliner than lost power in both engines and crashed short of London’s Heathrow International Airport in early 2008.
At the start of the Shanghai investigation, investigators are bound to look at issues such as whether all three of the plane’s engines were operating properly and if a possible shift of its cargo during the takeoff roll could have created a dangerous situation. Heavily loaded, wide-body jetliners such as the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 can smack their tail on the ground for a variety of reasons, including engine failure or inadequate thrust, or an unusually steep climb away from a runway.
At the same time, the team also is expected to delve into more-complex factors dealing with the interplay of flight-control surfaces and pilot commands. A separate set of experts will look at weather and air-traffic control issues.
Though the early reports of the crash didn’t provide many details, the MD-11’s history of crashes is one of the factors investigators are bound to consider. The plane is known among many pilots for having particularly sensitive flight-control systems, especially close to the ground, making it extra sensitive to sudden changes in speed or the angle of the nose and wings.
Over the years, the U.S. safety board has repeatedly criticized the plane’s design for being prone to upsets and vertical oscillations of flight-control systems as a result of relatively minor pilot mistakes. Most of those previous accidents, however, took place during landings. Whatever investigators ultimately determine, the results aren’t likely to have a significant industrywide impact on passenger carriers. That’s because MD-11 aircraft have largely been retired from passenger routes flown by U.S. and European airlines.
In April 1999, an MD-11 cargo plane flown by Korean Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff from Shanghai, killing three crew members as well as five people on the ground.
Chinese carriers’ own safety record has improved notably since the 1990’s, when the industry suffered a series of fatal accidents. Now, global aviation experts say, China’s airlines are among the world’s safest, despite sharp growth in the number of flights.