South African Airways 295... What Happened?

South African Airways Flight 295 was a scheduled passenger/cargo flight from Taiwan to South Africa, operated by a Boeing 747-200 Combi.



The aircraft suffered a fire in the cargo hold and crashed off the coast of Mauritius. Unfortunately 159 people onboard died. The cause is still unknown, and many theories have been made over what created the fire, and exactly why the aircraft crashed after suffering a fire. The 747 Combi was designed to last through fires in the cargo hold, but in this scenario it did not.

  1. Aircraft caught alight
  2. Emergency descent carried out
  3. Approach clearance set - ATC misunderstood what was said by the captain (still unrelated to crash)
  4. Onboard systems fail - An estimated 80 circuit breakers were triggered, including that of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (investigators were left with just the sounds of alarms on the recording)
  5. Tracking signal is lost
  6. Aircraft crashes off Mauritius
  7. Investigation is started - investigators were led to the wrong part of ocean because of the miscommunication between ATC and the pilot
  8. 24hrs after the crash parts of the airframe were discovered off Mauritius
  9. Sonar detectors that were not suited for the job were sent in to scan the ocean for the recorders
  10. Recorders not found after 2 months, when the recorders would have stopped sending signals
  11. Professional brought in to find the recorders - Cockpit Voice Recorder found 5km underwater
  12. Recordings only show alarms sounded in the cockpit
  13. Parts of the cargo hold fuselage were reconstructed, showing fire damage only on the walls and ceiling


Since we are almost into the 30th anniversary of the crash and it is still unsolved, I would like to hear your theories. Why did something in the cargo hold catch fire? Why was the fire able to spread from the cargo hold? Why did the aircraft become fully uncontrollable? These questions still remain with us today, and it is almost certain that the accident will not be solved - all investigations involving the incident have ceased. It is known that the fire most likely started from the front-right cargo pallet. The cargo fire did not burn lower than one metre above the cargo floor. The walls and ceiling of the cargo hold received severe fire damage. It is known the aircraft disintegrated due to pieces of the aircraft that were found scattered 10km apart in some areas of the ocean. Theories known that started the fire (please choose two options):

  • Rocket fuel/parts were secretly being carried aboard the aircraft
  • Lithium batteries in computers caught alight
  • Sparklers triggered a fire of the packaging
  • Short circuit of damaged wires in the cargo hold

0 voters

And theories as to why the aircraft crashed (please choose up to 3 options):

  • Cargo hold ceiling was penetrated by the fire
  • Cargo exploded and disintegrated the aircraft
  • Some type of terrorism act involving the cargo occurred
  • Fire spread to the cabin and the aircraft disintegrated
  • A fire started/moved to the cargo hold after the aircraft’s electrical systems malfunctioned and caught alight
  • A mechanical failure occurred and the aircraft caught alight

0 voters

My theory:
The aircraft was loaded in Taiwan with faulty sparklers/batteries/rocket parts etc. and they caught alight. All the controls and communications equipment were working until the fire burnt through the electrical wires in the cargo hold (although I don’t think those wires were already faulty). The aircraft lost control and plunged into the ocean off Mauritius.

As @SAA_A346 kindly stated below, the investigation was not allowed to continue to its full extent due to the South African Government covering up parts of the incident and not allowing access to some key information about the crash (South African Airways is government owned).

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I’ve watched the Air Crash Investigations episode about this, it’s really interesting.

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Although a short circuit and mechanical failure are probable for the incident, no evidence has been found to support the theories and they are the least probable causes. Also, those failures most likely didn’t occur since the pilots had access to their electrical/mechanical systems at the beginning of the fire.

It has also been said that rocket parts or fuel was secretly being transported on the aircraft, and the CEO of SAA ceased all files relating to the flight just after it had crashed (probably because of the rocket situation).

If a terrorist act occurred, it wouldn’t have been a bomb because the aircraft didn’t blow up before contact was lost. It would have been a fire somehow lit in the cargo hold. Since a reconstruction of the cargo hold was made using the broken aircraft fuselage, it is known that the fire only burnt the walls and ceiling (and all the parts weren’t fully disintegrated, meaning an explosion was almost impossible to have occurred using the evidence given).

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The truth is that no one knows and possibly never know…

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I want to know your theories though :-)

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That UPS 747-400 crashed because of batteries I think. So if the fire was so bad it would probably not be able to stop.
Also, Valujet 592. It became uncontrollable when the fire burnt the controlll wires. Without these and being on a emergency descent will quickly plunge you into the ocean.

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Makes total sense to me now. The fire eventually burnt through the control wires, so the pilots had no controls or communication.

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I think it’s because of hazardous cargo, like batteries.
The bottom poll, I don’t think it occurred in the cargo hold under but the one in the rear. It burnt wires below the floor and other things above.

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But the fire damage was most severe in the front right of the cargo hold? And that’s where the computers were being transported.

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They had computers? Well if it starts there it can still burn through the entire rear cargo hold.
Then all they can control are wing surfaces and engines.

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Sorry, all along I meant the cargo hold SAA used for freight. Not the baggage hold :-) It was a Combi 747


The fuselage around the front right cargo pallet was the most fire damaged area of the aircraft
The 747 Combi was designed to have higher pressure in the passenger area than the cargo hold. This was in case the door separating the two areas was opened for flight attendants to extinguish fires, and the smoky air in the cargo hold wouldn’t spread to the cabin. But in this case, the fuel of the fire was very hazardous and reached estimated temperatures of 600 degrees Celsius - the air in the cargo hold would have spread into the cabin due to the higher pressure of the hold and people would have suffocated. This is backed by the evidence of remnants of the cargo hold roof - absolutely burnt to its limits. More evidence is that people in the rear rows were found with sulphur in their lungs. This pretty much proves the theory of a cargo hold fire and disintegration/loss of control.

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Maybe something like this.
Something is in the front right pallet that hasn’t been stored properly.

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Yeah, I’ve seen that one. Pretty much the cargo owner’s fault. I don’t think ValuJet should have been fined, since they were just helping out with freight. But I still cant believe fire suppression wasn’t mandatory.

Back on topic, it makes total sense that the batteries inside the computers caught alight, burning through the control wires and disabling the aircraft.

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Nice post, @anon31652286. I left the community, but this was too tempting for me to resist.

Theorists say the past, non-democratic, South African government managed to limit international investigators on this issue to hinder accurate outcomes. A controversial judge, Cecil Margo, was believed to be used by that government to cover up on their illegal activities, including the plane crash that killed the late Mozambican president, Samora Machel in 1986. Besides the many hearings from engineers, chemical experts and the plane manufacturer, the Helderberg case was closed on the basis that it was unclear was caused the fire.

Speculation is that illegal chemicals used in the development of atomic bombs were being smuggled into South Africa using that flight and couldn’t handle the altitude. Fuelling this speculation was that the chemical was imported yet it was also manufactured in South Africa. Perhaps, the sanctions laid on that chemical drove the government to smuggle more of it, either to finish building their bomb, or to use it apart from the quantity they had in South Africa.

The democratic government opened a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, aimed at helping find closure on the wrongs of the past. The families of the victims brought the case but the commission only looked at the findings of Judge Margo and decided against reopening the investigation. Why? either the investigations would prove to be expensive based on the past experiences, or this government did not want to inherit the responsibility from the past government. Either way, families of the victims are left despondent.

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That’s very nice of you to specifically come back to post on this topic! It sounded like something was being covered up, but no one even knew about it (pretty much until now). I wish I could add another option to the poll now. Thanks for your input, and that was a very detailed insight into what went on in the investigation 😃👍

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