Document:Lucky Escapees from Pan Am Flight 103
Pik Botha died recently and his colourful life has been mostly eulogised in the media. Botha and Wilander both missed Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988, killing 270 persons.
At the time Mats Wilander was the No. 1 tennis player in the world and that year 1988 had seen him achieve a great feat when he won three Grand Slams - the Australian, French and US Open tennis championships. Only the Wimbledon title eluded him. Wilander had made a reservation but did not take a seat on the flight.
"Those whom the gods love, die young" is an adage from Greek mythology but for the handsome, curly haired Swede the Gods were clearly making an exception when he missed Pan Am Flight 103. Since that fatal day Wilander has had a wonderful career and made a lot of money. He now spends much of his time living on an 81-acre estate in Hailey, Idaho, United States, which is part of the Sun Valley ski resort. As fate would have it he married Sonya (née Mulholland), a South African-born model who hails from Summerveld at Durban in South Africa.
On 11 January 1989 Pik Botha travelled to Stockholm in Sweden with other foreign dignitaries – including UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar – for the funeral of the UN’s Commissioner for South-West Africa, Mr Bernt Carlsson. Botha was interviewed by Sue MacGregor on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, and alleged that he and a 22-strong South African delegation, who were booked to fly from London to New York on 21 December 1988, had been targeted by the ANC. However, having been alerted to these ANC plans to kill him, Pik Botha said he managed to outsmart them by taking the earlier Pan Am Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK, New York.
Despite having the knowledge, the question remains why Botha did not tell the airline security and alert the other passengers that their deaths were going to follow in a few minutes. Anyone who has travelled on any flight will be aware that if the airline staff become aware of any unaccompanied baggage the flight is halted and all the baggage is unloaded. Sometimes hours are spent searching for the unaccompanied baggage to the chagrin of the passengers. Is there any other conclusion but that Botha was happy for them to go to their deaths?
The notion that Botha was warned is bolstered by statements made by Oswald LeWinter, who worked for the CIA from 1968 to 1985 and Tiny Rowland in the 1994 film The Maltese Double Cross. This film was made by Allan Francovich, who later died under suspicious circumstances. In the film Le Winter quotes Tiny Rowland as disclosing that Pik Botha told him that he and 22 South African delegates were going to New York for the Namibian Independence Ratification Ceremony and were all booked on the Pan Am Flight 103. They were given a warning from a source which could not be ignored and changed flights. The source revealed by Le Winter is the South African Bureau for State Security (BOSS), which he claims had close contacts with Israeli intelligence and the CIA.
The grave misgivings of the public about this tragedy persuaded a family member of a victim to write to retired South African MP Colin Eglin of the Democratic Party, asking him to make enquiries on the South African side. On 5 June 1996, Eglin asked Justice Minister Dullah Omar in parliament if Pik Botha and his entourage "had any plans to travel on this flight (Pan Am Flight 103) or had reservations for this flight; if so, why were the plans changed?"
In reply on 12 June 1996, Omar stated he had been informed by Botha that shortly before finalising their booking arrangements for travel from Heathrow to New York, they learned of an earlier flight from London to New York: namely, Pan Am Flight 101. They consequently were booked and travelled on this flight to New York. Eglin wrote back on 18 July 1996 and added "Since then I have done some more informal prodding. This has led me to the person who made the reservations on behalf of the South African foreign minister Pik Botha and his entourage. This person assures me that he and no-one else was responsible for the reservations, and the reservation made in South Africa for the South African group was originally made on PA 101, departing London at 11:00 on 21 December 1988. It was never made on PA 103 and consequently was never changed. He made the reservation on PA 101 because it was the most convenient flight connecting with South African Airways Flight SA 234 arriving at Heathrow at 07:20 on 21 December 1988." [Emphasis added.]
Eglin gave the victim’s family the assurance that he had "every reason to trust the person referred to" since he had been given a copy of "rough working notes and extracts from his personal diary of those days." In his letter Eglin wrote: "In the circumstances, I have to accept that an assertion that the reservations of the South African group were either made or changed as a result of warnings that might have been received, is not correct."
Could the ‘rough working notes’ and the ‘personal diary of those days’ have been fabricated to save Pik Botha’s skin from a most embarrassing and possibly criminal act?
Two years before Eglin asked the questions in parliament Pik Botha was contacted by the press and his replies were reported on a Reuters Textline of 12 November 1994 under the heading "South Africa Minister Denies knowing of Lockerbie Bomb." The article said:
- "Former South African foreign minister Pik Botha denied on Saturday he had been aware in advance of a bomb on board Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 killing 270 people. The minister confirmed through his spokesman that he and his party had been booked on the ill-fated airliner but switched flights after arriving early in London from Johannesburg." [Emphasis added.]
This blatantly contradicts the ‘rough working notes’ and ‘diary of those days’ and shows they must have been concocted to protect the erstwhile minister. There is further confirmation of the fabrication from other sources. On 12 November 1994, Pik Botha's spokesman Gerrit Pretorius told the Reuters news agency that Botha and 22 South African negotiators, including defence minister Magnus Malan and foreign affairs director Neil van Heerden, had been booked on Pan Am Flight 103. He said:
- "The flight from Johannesburg arrived early in London after a Frankfurt stopover was cut out and the embassy got us on to an earlier flight. Had we been on Pan Am Flight 103 the impact on South Africa and the region would have been massive. It happened on the eve of the signing of the tripartite agreements," said Pretorius, referring to pacts signed at UN headquarters on 22 December 1988 which ended South African and Cuban involvement in Angola, and which led to Namibian independence. [Emphasis added].
Another statement by Pretorius was in appallingly bad taste: "The minister is flattered by the allegation of near-omniscience." Pretorius went on to confirm that "the foreign minister and 22 South African negotiators, including defence minister Magnus Malan and foreign affairs director Neil van Heerden, had been booked on flight 103." He goes on to explain again how the change had come about. "But we… got to London an hour early and the embassy got us on an earlier flight. When we got to JFK (airport in New York) a contemporary of mine said 'Thank God you weren’t on 103. It crashed over Lockerbie.’” [Emphasis added.]
There is further confirmation of the change of flight from another spokesman for Pik Botha:
- "Had he known of the bomb, no force on earth would have stopped him from seeing to it that flight 103 with its deadly cargo, would not have left the airport", his spokesman Roland Darroll told Reuters after consulting the minister. Darroll was also quoted as saying that "South African diplomats in the United States were convinced at the time that Botha and his team were on flight 103. He said the flight from Johannesburg arrived early in London after a Frankfurt stopover was cut out."
So there are numerous sources showing there was a change of flight. The embassy officials who must have phoned the airline to effect the different seats and Pretorius’ contemporary who expressed his happiness that they were not on the fatal journey, are further proof that the notes and diary were falsely compiled. The diplomats in the United States also knew of the earlier plans to place Botha and the 22 South African officials on the death plane.
Botha earlier admitted he was on the later flight but this was changed because he had arrived earlier, and it was obviously more convenient to fly immediately. The big change of course was now he denied that he had been warned of the bomb on board. Clearly he had realised how criminally negligent or even complicit he was in not warning other passengers.
- "A former member of staff related that there had been a hitch in the travel arrangements. 'The SAA flight took off from Johannesburg for London on 20 December 1988 ... I was concerned with the travel arrangements to New York. Because Pik preferred Frankfurt Airport to Heathrow, the party was booked on Pan American World Airways Flight 103 from Frankfurt via London to New York.'” [Emphasis added.]
So this conflicts diametrically with the statement that there never was a booking on flight 103. Papenfus goes on to say:
- "It was the third scheduled daily transatlantic flight from London to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. But this schedule would have interfered with affairs of the heart. The official had a fiancée in London and he simply had to see her. He quietly arranged for the delegation to take an earlier flight, from Johannesburg to London and then from London to New York."
How could changing to an earlier flight allow the spokesman to have more time with his girl in London? Papenfus continues:
- "Pik was highly displeased that his wishes had been ignored. 'You people never listen to me!' he shouted at the official and chased him out of his office. The party had to follow the new itinerary and take a different Pan Am flight (Pan Am 101), which took off from Heathrow an hour before Pan Am 103. They had an uneventful flight from Johannesburg to London, allowing the official time for a blissful interlude with his fiancée at Heathrow."
The official who changed the bookings was clearly with Pik Botha as Papenfus says:
- "Once they arrived at New York the official had to attend to the usual administrative duties of ministerial staff. While the ministers were being whisked away from the airport in cars their baggage had to be collected and their passports stamped. Through the glass panels he could see people showing signs of hysteria. Some were crying, others screaming and a few were lying on the ground. 'Americans!' he muttered to himself. Then he was told by a member of the secret service that the Boeing on Pan Am Flight 103 had crashed. This was the flight on which the South African delegation had originally been booked." [Emphasis added.]
‘Originally been booked…’ is a further contradiction of the earlier version of only one booking on flight 101. Papenfus continues:
- "At the hotel the official found Pik staring at the TV screen. Thank you, the minister said quietly, for changing the arrangements. That evening at the residence of Mr Jeremy Shearer, South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, Pik expressed his condolences to the relatives of the victims of the disaster. 'Thank God that we escaped death. It was close. We could have been on the fatal flight.' He again thanked his staff for changing the booking." [Emphasis added.]
Papenfus admits a further intriguing detail:
- "In response to enquiries the Department of Foreign Affairs initially officially denied that seats had ever been booked for the ministerial party on Pan Am Flight 103. They said that the bookings had been on Flight 101 right from the beginning."
- "The tragedy claimed the life of the UN Commissioner for Namibia, Mr Bernt Carlsson of Sweden. He was supposed to have been present at the signing of the agreements."