Sarawak Report has uncovered astonishing information that the Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, unknowingly risked his own death for months by flying in an unsafe plane! Tellingly, the reason he did not realise his peril was that he thought he knew better than the qualified experts and had put crony politicians in charge of the aircraft.
We have discovered that over several months in 2004 Taib, along with several family members, ministers and favoured associates were flown about in a jet that pilots and engineers had warned was unsafe. Memos have been uncovered which show that qualified staff were warning of the problems, but were ignored because of the rivalry and chaos that existed in the company Hornbill Skyways, which supplied the jet.
It is common knowledge that shortly after no less than 4 Hornbill aircraft crashed in the course of just one year, killing over ten people, including one Minister. Hornbill had its operating licence removed.
The corruption surrounding Taib’s acquistition of his own personal jet service has been widely documented, however the extent to which this put his own safety at risk and that of others has not. One of the numerous key jobs that the Chief Minister has awarded himself is Chairman of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC). In 2004 this state-controlled organisation owned a 70% share of Hornbill Skyways with the remainder owned by another state organisation, the Sarawak Foundation.
Insiders say there is no argument that Taib was the ‘effective CEO’ of Hornbill (several of the airline’s Board Members were also found to be his junior Board Members at STIDC) and he has used his authority to provide himself with highly costly jet transport at the expense of the Sarawak taxpayer. The timber corporation needs helicopters, however the jets belonging to the company are for the sole purpose of providing exclusive travel for the Chief Minister and his family and guests. Senior executives have confirmed that Taib currently keeps a Cessna Citation Jet and a helicopter expensively on standby for his own exclusive use 24/7 every day of the year. A monthly cheque is paid by the State to Hornbill cover the cost!
Risk from ignorance
However, it would seem that the Chief Minister, who is used to getting his way on so many things, likewise assumed he could call the shots when it came to key management and safety issues in an airline where lives were at risk, including his own! Airline industry professionals tell us they were horrified to discover that the key top managers at Hornbill are all ignorant politicians and not industry experts.
“The top management of Hornbill knew nothing about aviation at all” one has confided.
Another has confirmed “The culture was one of putting deference towards politicians before safety”
Industry standards demand that the accountable managers in an airline ought to be professionally familiar with aviation. However Taib and his subservient board have chosen instead to appoint politicially reliable ‘yes men’. The Chairman of Hornbill Airways is the former banker and Assemblyman Aidan Wing, who knows nothing about the airline business or safety issues. Taib may like to run his country using cronies, many of them unqualified, however such practices when applied to aeroplanes will soon spell disaster. The professionals who spoke to Sarawak Report have told us they were not in the least surprised that there were 4 serious crashes in 2004 before Hornbill finally lost its public operating licence!
Taib’s jet was a disaster waiting to happen at any moment
We have exclusive information that this incompetence resulted in the Chief Minister flying for several months in a jet that was seriously unsafe. there is clear evidence that a top engineer had approached Hornbill Management with a written dossier expressing their concerns over the maintenance of the HS125 jet being used by the Chief Minister. However, the engineer was sidelined and removed from active service, leaving less qualified ground staff taking care of the jet as it started to develop a serious problem.
Later, It was only a chance service of the aircraft in Singapore, according to our inside information, that picked up the the HS125 was flying with bent blades in one of its jet engines! The jet had been sent over to check on a separate earlier repair. Experts have told Sarawak Report that this damage could have caused the engine to stop at any moment and this could well have resulted in the Chief Minister or his guests falling out of the air.
Bent Blades also ignored by pilots
Further worrying evidence of the dangerous culture of subservience before safety that had developed at Hornbill has been pointed out in the attitude of the pilots. Our sources tell us that the pilots were aware there was a problem with the plane in the months leading up to the discovery of the bent blades, but had got used to doing what they were told.
“They said they had learnt to compensate while flying the aircraft” explains one of our sources.
All properly trained pilots should know that safety is paramount in flying, however at Hornbill it is alleged that deference to political masters led by the most important person in the company, who was effectively Abdul Taib Mahmud, came first. However, ATM knows nothing about flying or the aviation business. “Ministers would come into the helicopters and sit there smoking and the pilots would be too scared to say anything about it, even though these idiots were inches away from the fuel tanks” remarked one qualified observer. An insider explained that t he culture at Hornbill needed a complete overhaul it was not being run properly. We were told people were putting careers and rivalries before proper practice and safety. “Paperwork was not being properly done, there were no proper procedures, no proper governance or safety”. One engineer we have spoken to insists that
“This culture really impacted on flight safety and resulted in malpractices that should have been corrected. If such things happen too often it becomes disastrous”
Taib was in charge
It is a damming indictment of Taib and his airline that engineers and managers who were known to be trying to improve the management of Hornbill were removed and sacked instead of being listened to. As a result, not only his life was put directly at risk but so were the lives of others. The Chief Minister cannot therefore escape personal implication in the tragic deaths of those who did die in the series of crashes that occurred in Hornbill helicopters in 2004. Altogether there were four, of which 3 were fatal. Even one of his own government ministers were killed. The culpability of Hornbill was made plain by the removal of its operating licence by the civil aviation authorities.
Hornbill has been taken to court by one former top executive, for unfair dismissal. He claims it was because he had tried to reform the company.
The Chief Minister has cost Sarawak millions by choosing this form of transport. His latest acquisition for his own use, his Cessna Citation jet, cost US $20 million and is the fastest private jet in the world and is put aside for his personal use. The passenger list shows that it has been frequently used on non-government business, including flying friends, family and even Taib’s Bomoh (witchdoctor) both around Sarawak and abroad.
Taib is believed to be looking to buy a new fancier jet at this point of time, also to be funded through Hornbill and the STIDC at the taxpayer’s expense. However, it would seem his wealth and power have gone to an old man’s head. In 2004 the ‘Chief Executive of Sarawak’ nearly ended up crashing in flames in his own aircraft.