Note: for a discussion of the conspiracy theories emerging following the shooting down of Malaysian Flight MH17 shot down over Ukraine, go here.
The blogosphere and the environs of youTube and elsewhere is beginning to explode with theories as to what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In particular, this radar track is genuinely peculiar.
<—– retired US military tactical air controller
Of course, we don’t know if this poster is a retired US military tactical air controller, but speculation that the plane was shot down is certainly widespread.
Here is an article which argues the plane was shot down by a missile, perhaps from North Korea, which is testing missiles at the moment, and as this article rather scarily reveals, has actually caused China to complain to PRNK of danger to their flights within the last little while.
It would certainly not be the first time a civilian airliner has been downed in error. Even the most highly trained personnel can make terrible mistakes.
Iran Air Flight 655 was a civilian passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai that was shot down by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988.
The attack took place in Iranian airspace, over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, and on the flight’s usual flight path.
The aircraft, an Airbus A300 B2-203, was destroyed by SM-2MR surface-to-air missiles fired from the Vincennes.
All 290 on board, including 66 children and 16 crew, died. This attack ranks ninth among the deadliest disasters in aviation history, the incident retains the highest death toll of any aviation incident in the Indian Ocean and the highest death toll of any incident involving an Airbus A300 anywhere in the world. The Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters after one of its helicopters drew warning fire from Iranian speedboats operating within Iranian territorial limits.
According to the Iranian government, Vincennes negligently shot down the civilian aircraft: the airliner was making IFF squawks in Mode III (not Mode II used by Iranian military planes), a signal that identified it as a civilian craft, and operators of Vincennes mistook for Mode II.
According to the United States Government, the crew incorrectly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter (a plane made in the United States and operated at that time by only two forces worldwide, the United States Navy and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force). The Vincennes was signalling warnings on a military channel which the civilian plane could not technically receive. Hence, the airliner was unable to respond to several requests for it to change course.
The event generated a great deal of controversy and criticism of the United States. Some analysts have blamed U.S. military commanders and the captain of Vincennes for reckless and aggressive behavior in a tense and dangerous environment.
In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice. As part of the settlement, the United States agreed to pay US$61.8 million, an average of $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims. However, the United States has never admitted responsibility, nor apologized to Iran.
As of February 2014, Iran Air was still using flight number IR655 on the Tehran–Dubai route as a memorial to the victims, contrary to the informal convention amongst many other airlines that discontinue flight numbers associated with tragedies.
Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (also known as KAL007 and KE007) was a scheduledKorean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage.
On September 1, 1983, it was shot down by a Soviet Su-15 interceptor near Moneron Island, west of Sakhalin Island, in the Sea of Japan. The interceptor’s pilot was Major Gennadi Osipovich.
All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed, including Lawrence McDonald, a sitting member of the United States Congress.
The aircraft was en route from Anchorage to Seoul when it flew through prohibited Soviet airspace around the time of a separate U.S.reconnaissance mission.
The Soviet Union initially denied knowledge of the incident, but later admitted the shootdown, claiming that the aircraft was on a spy mission. The Politburo said it was a deliberate provocation by the United States to test the Soviet Union’s military preparedness, or even to provoke a war. The White House accused the Soviet Union of obstructing search and rescue operations. The Soviet military suppressed evidence sought by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation, notably the flight data recorders, which were eventually released eight years later after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The incident was one of the tensest moments of the Cold War and resulted in an escalation of anti-Soviet sentiment, particularly in the United States. The opposing points of view on the incident were never fully resolved. Consequently, several groups continue to dispute official reports and offer alternative theories of the event. The subsequent release of KAL 007 flight transcripts and flight recorders by the Russian Federation has clarified some details.
As a result of the incident, the United States altered tracking procedures for aircraft departing Alaska.
In 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed 12 minutes after taking off from John F. Kennedy airport — killing 230 people.
After a four-year investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded defective wiring caused a spark which ignited the plane’s fuel supply.
However, that explanation contradicts the hundreds of FBI witnesses who say they saw a streak of light rise up towards the plane, where a fireball emerged.
These reports have caused some to believe the aircraft was actually shot down by a missile.
Who would shoot down a civilian plane over the US? Apart from terorrists wielding a ground-to-air missile, (unlikely, in retrospect, because no claim of having perpetrated the event was made) one of the prevailing theories is that the US military mistakenly hit it during Navy training sessions, which were scheduled off the Long Island coast on the same day. Other anomalies surrounding the event include explosive residues on the plane’s remnants, claims that the FBI tampered with evidence, and discrepancies between the radar data and the official theory.
And in 2009, Air France Flight 447 inexplicably dropped out of the sky and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean — sending 228 people to their watery graves. There was no mayday call, and no one was aware the plane went down until hours later, when the pilots failed to make their planned contact with air traffic control. The “self-flying” jet was supposed to be among the safest aircraft in history, and it seemed unfathomable for it to just disappear.
It was incredibly difficult to piece together the cause of the disaster — wreckage was strewn about the ocean floor.
Philippine Airlines Flight 434 (PAL434, PR434) was the route designator of a flight from Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Pasay City, in the Philippines, to New Tokyo International Airport (now Narita International Airport), near Tokyo, Japan, with one stop at Mactan-Cebu International Airport, Cebu, in the Philippines.
On December 11, 1994 the Boeing 747-283B, tail number EI-BWF, was flying on the second leg of the route, from Cebu to Tokyo, when a bomb planted by terrorist Ramzi Yousef exploded, killing one passenger and damaging vital control systems. It was a part of the much larger plan, the ultimately unsuccessful Bojinka terrorist attacks, which were intended to destroy 11 airliners.
57-year-old Captain Eduardo “Ed” Reyes, an experienced veteran pilot, was able to land the aircraft, saving the plane and all the remaining passengers and crew. The flight crew also consisted of First Officer Jaime Herrera and Systems Engineer Dexter Comendador.
Authorities later discovered that a passenger on the aircraft’s preceding leg was Ramzi Yousef. He was later convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yousef boarded the flight under the fake Italian name “Armaldo Forlani”, an incorrect spelling of the name of the Italian legislator Arnaldo Forlani.
Yousef boarded the aircraft for the Manila to Cebu leg of the flight. After the plane was airborne, he went into the lavatory with his dopp kit in hand and took off his shoes to get out the batteries, wiring, and spark source hidden in the heel (below a level where metal detectors in use at the time could detect anything). Yousef removed an altered Casio digital watch from his wrist to be used as a timer, unpacked the remaining materials from his dopp kit, and assembled his bomb. He set the timer for four hours later, which was approximately the time at which the plane would be far out over the ocean en route to Tokyo, put the entire bomb back into his dopp kit, and returned to his current seat.
After asking a flight attendant for permission to move to seat 26K, saying he could get a better view from that seat, Yousef moved to that seat and tucked the assembled bomb into the life vest pocket under that seat. He exited the aircraft in Cebu. Philippine domestic flight attendant Maria dela Cruz noticed that Yousef had switched seats during the course of the Manila to Cebu flight and got off the plane in Cebu with the rest of the domestic flight crew, but did not pass the information along to the international flight crew that boarded at Cebu for the trip to Tokyo. 25 other passengers also got off the plane at Cebu, where 256 more passengers and a new cabin crew boarded the plane for the final leg of the flight to Tokyo.
After a 38-minute delay the flight took off with a total of 273 passengers on board and 24-year old Haruki Ikegami (池上春樹 Ikegami Haruki), a Japanese industrial sewing machine maker returning from a business trip to Cebu, occupying 26K. Four hours after Yousef planted his bomb, the device exploded underneath Ikegami, killing him and injuring an additional 10 passengers in adjacent seats in front of and behind seat 26K. The blast blew a hole in the floor, and the cabin’s rapid expansion from the explosion severed several control cables in the ceiling, which controlled the plane’s right aileron, as well as cables that connected to both the pilot and first officer’s steering controls. Fortunately, this particular 747, formerly operated by Scandinavian Airlines, had a different seating configuration and seat 26K was two rows forward of the centre fuel tank so that the hole in the floor punched through to the cargo hold instead and spared the plane from a fiery explosion that would surely have destroyed it.
The bomb’s orientation, positioned front-to-back and upward angled from horizontal, caused the blast to expand vertically and lengthwise. This configuration meant that Ikegami’s body absorbed most of the blast force and the plane’s outer structure was spared. The lower half of his body fell into the cargo hold and ten passengers sitting in the seats in front of and behind Ikegami were also injured; one needed urgent medical care. The bomb tore out a two square foot (0.2 m2) portion of the cabin floor, revealing the cargo hold underneath, but the fuselage of the plane stayed intact. Additionally, the 38-minute delay in takeoff from Cebu meant the plane was not as far out to sea as anticipated, which contributed to the captain’s options available for an emergency landing.
So. Shot down? By a plane? Or a missile? or destroyed by a carefully placed bomb.
One thing is for certain, it may be some time yet before we know. We may never know.
Despite the curiosity of the radar track video, our bet is on a bomb. After all, bombs on planes in flight can be utterly destructive, as we know from Pan Am flight 103.
Flight 103, you will recall, was a flight from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York City that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb on Wednesday, 21 December 1988, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew on board. Large sections of the aircraft crashed into Lockerbie, in Scotland, killing 11 more people on the ground.
One thing is for sure, we need transparency, and we’re not currently getting it.