On This Day — The Crash of PAK-1 (August 17 1988) [2020]

“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 

August 17 2020 — 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 — it seems — was never solved. Really? Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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UPDATE (August 17 2020) — The case of PAK-1 is a textbook example of conspiracy theories. Just pick your favorite villain.

Over the years, people have blamed the Mossad, the KGB and the CIA for the death of General Zia-ul-Haq. Not happy? Intelligence agencies from India and Afghanistan have also been named.

In his novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes, Journalist and author Mohammed Hanif — head of Urdu-language service at BBC — humorously describes four simultaneous versions of the event.

The assassins are a senior Pakistani Army officer, a union on behalf of an imprisoned official, a crow on behalf of a blind woman imprisoned for fornication after a rape and the son of an army officer killed by Zia.

Just in case you actually care about the TRUTH, the cause of this crash is of course well understood. Many C-130s have suffered similar incidents before the issue was fixed.

Today, after decades of lies and idiotic conspiracy theories, we know the TRUTH about a few of other suspicious airliner tragedies.

We now know that Avianca Flight 203 was not destroyed by a bomb — planted by Pablo Escobar! Who else? — but rather by a fuel system explosion of the type that destroyed at least five other Boeing aircraft. I know… The TRUTH is not nearly as sexy as as the Netflix explanation.

RELATED POST:30 Years Ago — Remembering Avianca Flight 203 (November 27 1989) [2019]

We also learned that terrorists are not responsible for the tragedy of USTICA [Flight 870] as Aviation Accident Investigators had claimed all along.

We also know that the end of the tape was erased to hide the truth. These people were murdered by a missile fired by a NATO jet.

RELATED POST: 40 Years Ago — Remembering Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870 (USTICA – June 27 1980) [UPDATE — A Lesson to the Lockerbie Families]

We know that the same corrupt investigators lied about Air India 182 and they almost got away with their lies regarding TWA 800.

Today the same people are still lying about Pan Am Flight 103.

Despite overwhelming evidence that this crash was caused by catastrophic mechanical failure, some still argue that the flight was downed by a bomb.

RELATED POST: Lockerbie – The TRUTH, And Now What? [Leo Tolstoy on Time and Truth]

History is indeed a set of lies that people have agreed upon.

I do not agree often with Magnus Linklater but he made several good points over the years.

“That is the way with conspiracy theories. Logic has no deterrent effect. Once seized with the virus of suspicion, nothing in the way of fact or reason will deter those who are determined to prove their case. But to dismiss hard evidence in favour of speculation is a disservice to justice.”

Certainly, we can all agree with him when he concludes:

“We need certainty on Lockerbie; we need something approaching the truth for all those relatives still tormented by not knowing, who find the accumulation of counter-evidence distressing, and who desperately seek answers.

We need, in the current jargon, closure.

I hope that if and when that happens, we will have – in the place of innuendo, myth, half-truths and rumour – straight evidence, and independent judgement.

That and that alone will lay the Lockerbie ghost.”

Unless people are willing to accept the scientific facts — there was no bomb aboard Pan Am 103 — closure will never come. The ghost of Lockerbie won’t go away.


QUICK NOTES — To make it easier for the readers to retrieve various chapters of my book, I have created a special page  “Lockerbie” where all the links to the chapters will be listed with a brief description.

You can access that page directly as it appears at the far right of the top bar of this blog.

A procedural hearing in the Megrahi appeal was due to take place on 17 April 2020, but was postponed when court business was suspended because of the Covid-19 emergency.

A rescheduled procedural hearing has now been fixed to take place before five judges of the High Court of Justiciary on Friday, 21 August 2020 at 10 am. The hearing will be held using Webex. [The Lockerbie Case — Procedural hearing in Megrahi appeal rescheduled]


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.”

Fred Burton served as a counterterrorism agent with the U.S. State Department from 1985 to 1999. In this recent post, he tells his memories of the investigation.

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.

Forensic Investigation

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) [2019]

On This Day — The Crash of PAK-1 (August 17 1988) [2020]

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