Theorists insist sabotage killed Tun Fuad and sealed the fate of Sabah’s oil rights 37 years ago.
THE day was 6.6.1976 when a Nomad N-22B aircraft, carrying the Sabah Chief Minister, state minister, assemblymen and government officials, dropped from the sky above Kota Kinabalu.
The Nomad, flying 50 minutes from Labuan island where the passengers attended the official opening of a RM100mil oil refinery, had reached Kota Kinabalu International Airport airspace. An air traffic control officer, according to conspiracy theorists, told the pilot to hover above the airport until he was given permission to land.
A biography, The Sabahan: The Life and Death of Tun Fuad Stephens, written by his niece P.J. Granville-Edge, described what had happened to the aircraft.
“Fuad probably only suspected something was wrong when his plane began to vibrate. Perhaps, he suddenly felt a sharp jolt of fear,” Granville-Edge wrote.
“The Nomad’s nose dropped. The plane began a one-and-a-half turn spiral plummet. It did not pull out of that twisting nose-dive and crashed into shallow water.”
Eyewitnesses in Kampung Sembulan Baru near Kota Kinabalu, according to the biography, heard an explosion at about 3.30pm. They rushed out of their village on stilts and saw “a plane broken into two with the cockpit in a sandbank – in about one metre of water – with the tide coming in”.
The dead were Sabah Chief Minister Tun Fuad Stephens, Datuk Peter Mojuntin (Local Government and Housing Minister), Datuk Salleh Sulong (Finance Minister), Chong Thain Vun (Communications and Works Minister), Darius Binion (assistant to the chief Minister), Datuk Wahid Peter Andu (permanent secretary to the Finance Ministry), Syed Hussein Wafa (Director of Economic Planning unit), Johari (Tun Fuad’s son), Captain Gandhi Nathan (pilot), Corporal Said Mohammad (Fuad’s bodyguard) and Ishak Atan (Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s executive assistant).
In a chilling video recorded by razaleigh.com in 2010 on a talk titled Oil For Who?, Razaleigh told the audience in a community hall in Penampang near Kota Kinabalu what happened minutes before the aircraft flew out of Labuan airport.
“When talking about oil and Sabah, I could not help but remember a sad incident which happened to Sabah and Sabahans,” he said as he related the tragic incident involving his good friend Tun Fuad.
“I, myself, had boarded the plane. We were all strapped – wearing the seat belt – on the plane. I sat behind Tun Fuad Stephens and on my right was Rahman (Sarawak Chief Minister Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’kub) and behind me was Tengku Bendahara Pahang,” recalled the then Finance Minister and Petronas chairman.
“Suddenly, (Tun) Harris Salleh who was Sabah deputy Chief Minister asked me to exit the plane as he said it is better we go to Pulau Banggi to see a cattle ranch. I told Rahman Ya’kub and Tengku Bendahara Pahang that it was better if we go to Pulau Banggi as I wanted to see the cattle ranch.”
Razaleigh continued: “The ceremony to sign the agreement to give (Sabah’s) oil rights to Petronas was that night so I told them we had plenty of time. So we flew with Harris in a similar plane.”
In the Tun Fuad biography, Granville-Edge wrote that Razaleigh later phoned Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn.
“Hussein at first didn’t believe it was me because my name was on the original manifest of that plane. He thought I had died too!” said Razaleigh as quoted in the book.
Conspiracy theorists will insist that the crash had something to do with Sabah’s oil rights. They point out that it happened when Fuad Stephen was negotiating Sabah’s oil right with the Federal government.
On the 37th anniversary of the Double Six tragedy, Sabah State Reform Party (STAR) chief Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said it was one of the key turning points in Sabah’s history.
“We need to reflect on some of the events like the signing of the Sabah Oil Agreement a mere eight days after the crash which until today altered Sabah’s wealth inheritance.” he told reporters at a memorial at the site of the crash.
The Bingkor assemblyman said the lopsided agreement led to a 95% loss in oil revenue for Sabah.
In 1976, wrote Granville-Edge, “when the crash occurred on a clear, sunny afternoon, ‘sabotage’ was on the tongues of most Sabahans – it happened only 53 days after Berjaya won the state election and bombs had been going off in the state, after all. No specific allegations were ever made, though at least one newspaper did publish the thought at the time.”
“Even today, many people still subscribe to this theory.
“But after living and reliving it, and obtaining further information on the general performance of Nomad aircraft since the crash, Fuad Stephens’ family believes that the crash which took Fuad’s life and of Johari and the other friends onboard, may have been the result of a faulty plane,” she wrote in the book published in 1999.
“Three main possibilities have been mooted: overloading, pilot error and a design flaw in the Nomad aircraft.”
Many Sabahans think there are sinister possibilities why the plane dropped from the sky.