“Of all the violent political deaths in the twentieth century, none with such great interest to the U.S. has been more clouded than the mysterious air crash that killed president (and Army Chief General) Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan in (August) 1988, a tragedy that also claimed the life of the serving American ambassador and most of Zia’s top commanders”.
Barbara Crossette — New York Times South Asia bureau chief from 1988 to 1991
“As a general rule, complex international cases are hard to solve, and nothing about the process of investigating them ever seemed to be straightforward. This was especially true in this crash investigation, where a confluence of suspects and a dearth of information made an already challenging job that much more difficult.”
Fred Burton — Former deputy chief of counterterrorism at the Diplomatic Security Service
“It was the steering mechanism, is the way he described it to me. (…) I had always thought C130s were the workhorses of the air. I was quite surprised when the Air Force described to me what they had discovered.”
Mrs Ely-Raphel — Wife of US States Ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Lewis Raphel
On 17 August 1988, General Zia-ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff (COAS), died in a mysterious C-130 Hercules plane crash. The case was never solved. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
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The Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Akhtar Abdur Rehman and the United States Ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Lewis Raphel also died in the crash.
No evidence has come to light to prove a conspiracy, but there have been several theories variously implicating the United States, Israel and India as well as Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Zia also had high-level enemies within the Pakistani government.
Journalist and author Mohammed Hanif, who became head of Urdu-language service at BBC, told American journalist Dexter Finkins that, while working in London after 1996, he “became consumed” with determining how Zia was killed.
Hanif “made phone calls and researched the lives of those around Zia”, attempting to assess possible perpetrators—”the C.I.A., the Israelis, the Indians, the Soviets, rivals inside the Army”. He stated he was “met with silence”.
“No one would talk—not Zia’s wife, not the Ambassador’s wife, no one in the Army…. I realized, there’s no way in hell I’ll ever find out.”
A few weeks before the PAK-1 crash, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had publicly stated that Pakistan would pay dearly for its support of the Afghan mujahideen. The Russians, as is their wont, had a rather ruthless way of settling scores, a practice they continue to follow today.
Given the somewhat lackadaisical security around PAK-1 as it sat on the tarmac in Bahawalpur, an agent working for Moscow would have had the opportunity to board the aircraft and set it up to crash.
A few weeks after we returned from the crash site, I’d learned that we had been dispatched to buy time for diplomats to defuse the foreign policy mess that Shevardnadze’s comments had created, plus give them a chance to ease the enflamed tensions between Pakistan and India.
When deciding who would participate on the U.S. investigative team, the powers that be in Washington purposefully left the FBI out of the loop. They thought that an FBI presence would signal to the world that Washington suspected the plane had been brought down by sabotage or terrorism. But, C-130s just don’t fall from the sky.
No matter what caused PAK-1 to go down that day, I can only imagine how horrible the last two minutes aboard that aircraft were for its passengers. That thought continues to haunt me, even 30 years later.
Actually, C-130s often fall from the sky
Mrs. Ely-Raphel and Brigadier-General Wassom’s widow were both told by U.S. investigators that the crash had been caused by a mechanical problem common with the C-130, and that a similar incident had occurred to a C-130 in Colorado which had narrowly avoided crashing.
Robert Oakley, who replaced Arnold Raphel as U.S. ambassador following the crash and helped to handle the investigation, has also expressed this view. He has pointed out that 20 or 30 C-130s have suffered similar incidents.
He has identified the mechanical fault as a problem with the hydraulics in the tail assembly. Although USAF pilots had handled similar emergencies, the Pakistani pilots were less well equipped to do so, lacking C-130 experience and also flying low.
Pakistani investigators found evidence of possible problems with the aircraft’s elevator booster package, as well as frayed or snapped control cables.
Extensive contamination by brass and aluminium particles was detected in the elevator booster package.
But aircraft-maker Lockheed stated that even with the level of contamination found in the system, they had not experienced serious problems.
Who Killed Zia Ul Haq?
Death and state funeral of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq — Wikipedia
The Haunting Memories of the PAK-1 Crash by Fred Burton
As Pakistan comes full circle, a light is shone on Zia ul-Haq’s death by James Bone and Zahid Hussain
On This Day — The Crash of PAK-1 (August 17 1988)
On This Day — The Crash of PAK-1 (August 17 1988)