(Providence, Rhode Island) – The mystery over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, and after nine days it is becoming one of the great stories of intrigue in the history of aviation. Was it terrorism, sabotage, suicide, or an explainable accident? I now doubt the latter. The answers may come, but I know one thing. This is not the first who-done-it in the annals of flight. Directly or indirectly, I have been involved in the coverage of some of these cases, which hit awfully close to home. Let’s take a look:
“An Olympic-Sized Mystery” – On July 17, 1996, I was in Atlanta covering the Olympics, when word came that TWA Flight 800 from New York to Rome had exploded off Long Island. After years of investigation and controversy, it was concluded that vapors in a fuel tank were likely ignited by an electrical short, which blew up the fuel tank and plane. It was not a firm conclusion. To this day, witnesses insist they saw an ascending object – perhaps a missile – strike the plane. Claims of possible terrorism and a government cover-up have lingered on for years and will probably last forever. Concern it might be an international terrorist act shook the Olympics to the core.
“My Hometown” – I spent 12 years living in the San Ramon Valley of California, but only recently learned of one of its darkest chapters. On May 7, 1964, a Pacific Airlines Flight from Stockton to San Francisco crashed in the San Ramon Valley, killing all 44 on board. A distraught passenger, bent on committing suicide, killed both pilots. The plane then plunged to earth.
“Gulf Power Mystery” – On a rainy, stormy April 10, 1989, a corporate plane took off from the Pensacola Regional Airport in Florida. Within seconds, the pilots radioed there was an emergency on board, and they were turning back to the airport. They never made it. The plane crashed into an apartment building, killing both pilots and Jake Horton, the Senior Vice-president of Gulf Power, the huge regional utility. The case was never solved, other than that an onboard fire led to the crash. What caused the fire? The leading theory was that Horton – who was possibly going to face federal indictment - lit the cabin on fire. But others believe the plane was bombed. I was one of the first people on scene and covered the story for years. We’ll probably never know what really happened.
“The Canadian Triangle” – Way back in 1949, a man named Albert Guay air-expressed a bomb to the luggage compartment of a DC-9, in an effort to kill his wife who would be on board. Guay enlisted the help of a woman and her brother - who was a clockmaker - to make the bomb and detonator. The three were plotting to split a $10,000 insurance policy. They never collected. All three were convicted and hanged after the plane blew up, killing all on board (photo above).
“Same Song; Different Verse” – On November 1, 1955, a man named John Graham placed a bomb in his mother’s luggage, hoping to blow up the plane so he could collect on a $37,500 life insurance policy. On the flight from Denver to Seattle, the bomb went off killing 44 people. Graham was executed for his crime.
“High-Sky Horseplay” – On November 3, 1973, a National Airlines pilot and flight engineer decided to “experiment” with the auto-throttle system and circuit breakers while in flight. Some reports indicated they did this out of sheer boredom and rank curiosity. One engine exploded, and the debris caused a gaping hole in the fuselage. An unbuckled passenger was sucked out of the plane and died. The flight was later able to land safely.
“Cold War Shoot Down” – On September 1, 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down by Russian jets over the Sea of Japan. Russia at first denied shooting down the plane, but later admitted it, claiming the flight was actually a U.S. led spy mission. A member of Congress was among the passengers. The plane had strayed into restricted Soviet airspace, but the Russian pilot clearly admitted he recognized it as a Boeing jetliner with a row of windows – an acknowledgement it was a commercial flight.
“Lessons Learned” – With all the changes in aviation security since 9-11 (which I also covered extensively in my years in San Francisco), many believe these bizarre or ill-intended incidents can’t happen anymore with sealed cockpits and better luggage screening. Yes, many of these would be prevented nowadays, but not all them. As we’ve seen from a couple of shoe-bombers, a determined and creative terrorist can get on board. Security along airport runways in many cities is woefully lax. Malaysian leaders now say whatever happened to Flight 370 was “deliberate.”
“Why All This Matters” – With all the speculation – wild and legitimate – going on over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, I thought it was important to put some of this in perspective. As we’ve seen from the above examples, everything from stupidity, to criminal intent, to terrorism, to greed, to malfeasance, and more, has led to aviation disasters.
I love to travel and fly, so none of this changes my plans, but what about you? What are your concerns about flying? Click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.
(Some of the information for this week’s column came from a fascinating website, www.PlaneCrashInfo.com. Check it out! Weird stuff, even a German Shepherd and a loose crocodile are blamed for causing commercial plane crashes. Yes, truth is often stranger than fiction).
© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.
Photo courtesy: www.PlaneCrashInfo.com.