'Merchants of Death' flying around Africa
Two days ago there was a small note in the press that an Antonov-12 aircraft crashed and burned in Egypt. The AN-12 is a Ukrainian-made plane, roughly in the same size and configuration of a C-130 (the main Western military cargo plane). It is made at the Zaprorozhye factory in the Ukraine. Like the C-130 Hercules, the AN-12 is the workhorse of the cargo fleet and has been the plane of choice of many seeking a reliable and inexpensive plane to use which can land on unprepared runways and, generally, take hard knocks. It is ideal for Africa. The AN-12 is the plane one sees being dismantled in the film "Lords of War". A frequent use is the transport of arms and ammunition.
Many of these planes have been in use for a long time. Aircraft are made with certain rules which apply to them about the finite nature of their substructures. They most go in for checks periodically. There is a hour restriction on the engines which must be checked periodically and a certificate produced. The avionics must be checked. Most importantly there is a shelf life of the airframe, after which it is no longer licensed to fly and its airworthiness certificate is removed.
The airframe termination is the effective death of an aircraft. In some conditions these airframes can be reworked and strengthened in a licensed factory which will renew the "resources" and the plane can continue to fly for a bit longer. Almost always, for AN-12s, this is done in the Ukraine at the original factory or at a licensed plant somewhere among the former Soviet republics. In any case the adaptatations and improvements must be agreed and supported by the ANTK Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine.
The AN-12 which crashed (registration number S9-SVN) was out of time. It was being ferried (without cargo) from Kisangani (Bangoka Airport) in the DRC, via a stop in Entebbe (Uganda) to Luzor in Egypt where it was supposed to refuel for the flight to Nikolyev in the Ukraine. It had been working for an Indian company (Service Air) in the DRC but had been given back to its owners, AEROLIFT COMPANY LTD on whose behalf the ferrying was to have been done. The owners of the plane are Viktor Zelenyuk and Yevgeni Zacharov, resident in South Africa.
For many in the air cargo industry the registration tells a tale of its own. The ICAO and IATA give abbreviated codes to designate in which country the aircraft is registered and whose authority is responsible for inspecting te airworthiness of the registered aircraft. For example the code for the US is "N". The S9 registration means that the AN-12 was registered with the aviation authorities of Sao Tome and Principe. This country has a limited ability to perform its regulatory tasks; indeed few of these planes on their registry ever actually make it to Sao Tome to be inspected at all.
The aircraft in question originally belonged to the Ukrainian company named "VOLARE," who sold it to Victor Zelenyuk (the owner of the South African registered company "Vulcan Air") and to Yevgeny Zakharov (the owner of the of the South African registered company "Aerolift").
One year ago the Russian crew from Syktivkar under command of the captain Alexander Iljasov, while landing in Kisangani, executed a sharp left turn while taxiing to the parking area and hit the right wing of the plane against the ground, during the taxing to the parking area damaging an engine on the right wing and buckling the right side main undercarriage. The local DRC authorities examined the damage and pronounced the plane not airworthy. In fact, the DRC Aviation Authorities suggested that they cut it up for scrap metal. The owners were undeterred. They changed the engine, patched the wing and reinforced the undercarriage. They then said it was airworthy. It continued to fly.
The principals of the Aerolift and Vulcan Air companies have a chequered past. According to South African and Ukrainian sources their track record is not brilliant. According to theim "Evgeniy Zakharov is ex- co piliot of YAK-42 air craft of "Volga" aviation company based in Volgograd city. He had very strong links with the "black caviar mafia" in Volgograd, who lent him money to purchase AN-12 aircraft. However, because they have been imprisoned for a few years Zakharov never been paid their money back. Right now they are free and looking for Zakharov in order to get their money back. That is why Zakharov keeps his profile low and is hiding. In order to avoid any contact with outside world he is living in South Africa where he feels safe."
Victor Zelenyuk is originally born and raised in the Ukraine, but now has South African citizenship. He calls himself the "Godfather" of ANTK Antonov Design Bureau and as per his declarations has very strong relationship with the secret services of Ukraine (SBU). He spent some time in a Zambian jail for illegal arms dealing with the ex-leader of UNITA in Angola Jonas Savimbi, when the UOTK's (Ukrainian National Avia Transportation Company) Ilyushin-76 aircraft was grounded by Zambian air forces while attempting to bring arms to Savimbi's forces.
The Ukrainians say that Victor Zelenyuk still owes some money to UOTK. When he says that he is the "Godfather" of the ANTK Atonov Design Bureau this means that everybody, who is operating Antonov air craft need to contact him to be able to extend the resources of the aircraft without unnecessary problems He is the intermediary with the ANTK. Recently, Zelenyuk and Zakharov both operators of the Antonov air craft wrote a letter to ANTK Bureau, where they described the condition, faults and details of all Antonov air craft of other operators in DRCongo except theirs, stating that all other air crafts were not airworthy. The DRC Government, on the basis of their letter, made the decision to send all Antonov air craft for extensive repair works or major overhauls
Victor Zelenyuk is a well-known figure in South African business. He was most recently in the news earlier this month following the death of Gottfried Rautenbach, South Africa's Madoff. Zelenyuk was a partner of Rautenbachs in a "bridging financing enterprise", which was called Danter Beleggings. Zelenyuk agreed to invest in the company which would offer bridging finance transactions to others and for which they would take 4% interest a month. When Zelenyuk didn't get paid for a while he had the company sequestered (put in receivership) at which point Rautenbach committed suicide. The question which arose was not if Victor Zelenyuk was a fool but where did he get the R10.5 million to invest in the venture.
The answer, for anyone in the air cargo business, is that Zelenyuk and his partner Yevgeni Zacharov operated cargo aircraft on behalf of ADAJET (previously ADAGOLD-Australia), a company famous for transporting arms around Southern Africa and dodgy ballot papers for African "elections". They are considered as giving African air cargo business a bad name.
These two were obliged to send their depleted AN-12 aircraft back to the Ukraine. They, however, did not choose to ferry this plane back to the Ukraine using their own crew. Either their own crew who knew the plane well refused to carry out this mission or the pair decided to take on an AN-12 crew which was sitting idle in South Africa awaiting the repair of their own aircraft which was delayed. At any rate, the hired crew (taken on without the knowledge of their employer) were promised that if they agreed to ferry the crashed aircraft for its owners, Zelenyuk and Zacharov promised to push the Antonov Design Bureau to ease up and approve the extension of resources on their own aircraft then being repaired.
The Captain of this aircraft was a highly experienced pilot and a decent and very hard-working person, a Mr Yuri Berdiev, who was considered the best captain of Antonov-12 aircraft in the whole African continent. They agreed to do this flight so that they could get back to their "own" aircraft and start working again. They had been without any flying work for the past 12 months.
Unfortunately the aircraft was is such a state of disrepair that it caught fire after refueling in Luzor, Egypt as it was taking off. All the crew died in the fire. It was a tragedy for everyone involved. The owners are alleging a bird strike but this has yet to be proved. This is a tragedy that didn't need to happen. Even if an exemption was granted to allow the plane to fly off for repairs, some inspection of its airworthiness must have been made before it is allowed to take off. To a large extent air traffic depends on the presumption of good faith and the knowledge that no pilot or crew are willing kamikazes. In this case, the crew didn't appreciate the state of the plane they were ferrying and the 'good faith' of its owners was lacking.
This will not likely be the last such tragedy in African cargo aviation as long as these rogues continue to operate in this manner.
This article was first published at Ocnus Net
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