Can a criminal get his pilot's license?

Globe Air - A pilot breaks his silence: "I was Helmut Hubacher's informant"

A pilot breaks his silence: "I was Helmut Hubacher's informant"

The recently deceased thoroughbred politician was also a journalist. A pretty good one. Helmut Hubacher foresaw an accident at Globe Air. A pilot helped him to his research success - he is now breaking his silence.

He would have liked it. On September 25, comrades from all over Switzerland bid farewell to their former president and father, but also to mentor and friend, in the Basler Volkshaus. Helmut Hubacher died on August 19th in Pruntrut, after a short illness, at the age of 94. Several journalists also mourned the thoroughbred politician in obituaries. They liked him - and he liked her. Hubacher knew what made the media tick. No wonder: he was one of them.

As a young man, between 1963 and 1973, Hubacher headed the small but inconvenient editorial office of the Basler Arbeiter-Zeitung. As one of his first official acts, he had it renamed “Die AZ Abend-Zeitung”. The new editor-in-chief, he signed with the abbreviation "H.", was able to celebrate a great success quickly - unfortunately, as he was to add later.

In 1967 what Hubacher's team had warned of during the months before came about. Globe Air, the second major Basel airline alongside Balair, is saving on security. An accident is only a matter of time. In April 1967 the time had come. A fully occupied Globe Air plane crashed. 128 people were killed.

A motto as if from SP hand: Flying for everyone instead of a few

The first rumors that something was wrong at Globe Air were buzzing around in the summer of 1966, Hubacher recalls in his autobiography "I was happy to do that". It was said that the airline “not only flies cheaply - maintenance and servicing are too”. Globe Air, founded in 1957, was considered the first low-cost airline in the world. And was popular. She calculated extremely hard. Suddenly the Büezer and his family could fly to Gran Canaria, Kenya or Sri Lanka on vacation.

Influential Baselers were behind the charter airline. Hubacher knew: If he goes out with the Globe Air research, it has to be watertight. What he needed was internals. Best of all by employees. Even better: from pilots.

They met quietly and discreetly in the «Maxim» on Claraplatz

Felix Winterstein, born in 1934, remembers his first meeting with the then AZ editor-in-chief: “It was during the Advent season in 1966. I was crossing the middle bridge from Grossbasel. At Claraplatz I turned right and passed the Clarakirche. Vis-à-vis the Volkshaus was the “Maxim”. Hubacher's wife, Gret, hosted there. We sat at a table next to us, spoke softly. Hubacher tried to be discreet - nobody should see us together. "

Winterstein speaks for the first time publicly about these meetings. He receives “Switzerland on the weekend” in his house in Meyriez near Murten. After retiring, he moved to Zealand with his second wife. The man from Basel, who has had an imposing head of hair for his 86 years, points to a showcase with miniature sports cars. "I owned all of these 13 Ferraris," says Winterstein. "Now I'm looking forward to the models."

In Africa, Winterstein was greeted with machine guns

Winterstein had been hired by Globe Air in 1964. He didn't have to wait long for the first strange occurrences. In his autobiography "Here today and tomorrow yesterday" from 2017, he describes how his plane in Kinshasa was received on the tarmac by two rifle cars and soldiers with machine guns. The headquarters had failed to obtain the overflight rights. In Colombo, the start had to be canceled twice in a row. Instruments had failed. Because the pilots were out of service, they had no choice but to return to the hotel. "The tour guide let us know," writes Winterstein, "that the passengers would not be ready today or tomorrow to fly home on this plane."

In February 1966, Winterstein and a pilot friend decided to do something. They sent the management a catalog of demands. Among other things, the legal regulations on loading and fuel reserves are to be "strictly adhered to". The management promised improvement. It did not appear. In July 1966, Winterstein's colleague had had enough. The black boy sent his pilot's license back to the Federal Aviation Office - with the request that an investigation should be initiated against him. He violated the law.

A few months later, in September 1966, Winterstein also resigned. "I see myself unable to continue to carry the responsibility as a pilot in your company," he informed the personnel service. Before that, a flight report book had fallen into his hands, with fake entries for the air traffic control office: Working hours had been coiffed - suddenly all rest times could be adhered to again.

"It wasn't easy for me to take the step," says Winterstein. “I was in the chalk at Globe Air with 90,000 francs because of my pilot training, and I had recently bought a house in Witterswil. To give notice under these circumstances - first of all you have to have the stomach. "
Winterstein recalls that the contact to Hubacher was established by his wife at the time. She was a hostess at Balair. The «AZ» had also researched the Balair.

"All of us in the editorial office felt very sorry as a dog"

When on Thursday, April 20, 1967, at 1:13 a.m. local time, one of the two Globe Air Bristol Britannia 313s crashed on the approach near Nicosia, bad weather prevailed in Cyprus. 117 passengers and nine crew members died instantly. There are only four survivors, including the flight attendant Veronika Gysin from the Basel area.

When the accident happened, Winterstein was in what was then the Schönegg spa hotel above Mumpf. His mother celebrated her 60th birthday. A radio was playing in one corner, says Winterstein. Suddenly a message was repeated over and over again: a Globe Air turbo-prop plane crashed in Cyprus. "I felt a rage rise in me," writes Winterstein in his biography. He would have loved to shout: "Do you finally believe it now?"

Up until then, Nicosia was the worst disaster in Swiss civil aviation. And it would have been avoidable. It later turned out that the pilot had been behind the wheel for a total of 17.5 hours in the crash after several stopovers. The co-pilot was unable to take the helm. He did not have the necessary license to fly.

Globe Air investor is demanding ten million in damages

After the accident, Helmut Hubacher was no longer comfortable in his skin. “The terrible proof” is the title of the chapter in his biography that he dedicated to the misfortune. «All of us in the editorial office felt miserable. As if we were complicit. (...) Criticizing a lack of security was one thing. To be confirmed by a catastrophe was unbearable. "

April 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the accident. The bz called Hubacher. He remembered the series of articles as if he had just written them. “Our attitude was: cheap is okay - but not at the expense of maintenance. Globe Air was a poorly run operation. I always said: 'They transport people, not sacks of potatoes!'

Hubacher had been sued by Globe Air even before the accident. He was told that he had written things that were detrimental to business. Therefore he has to pay damages. Ten million Swiss francs. That scared him, Hubacher told bz in 2017 - but he knew he was right: "We spoke to over 50 Globe Air employees, from chief pilots to cleaning ladies."

The claim was rejected. Hubacher, he was already a member of the National Council, kept the order for payment. He joked in front of guests: "Look, I weigh ten million!"

How sure Hubacher was can be seen in his commentary on the front in the "AZ", which he wrote on April 22, 1967, only two days after the accident. It reads: “Not we, but employees of the company concerned declared yesterday: 'We knew it had to happen someday.'”

On October 17, 1967, the Air Agency suspended Globe Air's operating license. Just two days later, it filed for bankruptcy.

Have new planes with old engines take off?

What the investigations revealed is hair-raising. The company ran out of money as early as 1966. The balance sheets were tricked and cheated so that the wings bent. In the indictment of the public prosecutor's office in Basel-Landschaft - Globe Air had its legal seat in Allschwil - a board meeting from January 1966 is minuted. Chairman of the Board of Directors Theodor Moll would like to know "how much can be gotten out if you take the new engines to the spare parts store." Which means: old engines would have been installed in newly purchased aircraft. Director Karl Rüdin replied that replacing the six new engines with the old ones would result in "a maximum improvement of CHF 250,000 to 300,000." In the files of the prosecution it is noted: "No moral concerns, but simply: It is not worth it."

The processes dragged on for an extremely long time. In 1978 the Basel cantonal court sentenced the director Karl Rüdin to a conditional imprisonment of 18 months for repeated falsification of documents and multiple fraud. Benedikt Meyer concludes in his book “Swiss Airlines and their Passengers 1919–2002”: “The debacle was extremely embarrassing for everyone involved.”

The affair surrounding the Basel Picassos ended happily. Peter G. Staechelin, Globe Air's majority shareholder, was confronted with claims from creditors. To make money, he sold several pictures from the family collection, including two Picassos that were on loan from the Basel Art Museum. The Grand Council decided to buy the pictures, but a referendum was called against them. On December 17, 1967, the people said yes to the million dollar loan. When Picasso heard about it, he gave Basel four more pictures - the city returned the favor with Picassoplatz. The "New York Times" also reported on the Picasso fairy tale.

Peter G. Staechelin did not live to see the end of the Globe Air process. He had previously died - in an aircraft accident.

A lifelong friend of Hubacher - but never through you

Felix Winterstein found a job with Swissair the same year he was fired. With her he flew on until retirement. He remained friends with Hubacher. “The last time I went up to him in the Jura was three years ago. Politically, we didn't have the hay on the same stage. But he respected other attitudes. " Hubacher also never revealed his sources. “Back then, nobody spoke of whistleblowers. I took a big risk. " The meetings with Hubacher do not appear in his book either. There is just one thing that he never did, says Winterstein. «We weren't by you. You didn't do that. We are just a different generation. "

What happened then in Cyprus is still a matter of concern. Sam Knight, a journalist with the "New Yorker", has announced a book that deals with forecasting disasters. How could Hubacher be so sure? Had he dreamed of the crash? Sam Knight would have liked to have asked Hubacher these questions personally.

But by then he had already said goodbye to the public.

It was too late.