The media didn't waste time either, grabbing the nearest experts to speculate wildly on non-bomb related causes:
Experts said the dramatic incident was most likely to have been caused by either corrosion to the inside of the plane, such as a liquid spilled in the cabin above that had lain undetected, or damage caused by freight or a maintenance vehicle that had been badly repaired.Coffee drippings causing corrosion. Nice. But that was yesterday's theory, now debunked. Today's theory has moved to oxygen tanks.
Once upon a time authorities and experts were steadfast in refraining from premature speculation until the investigation was completed. Now they offer opinions before investigations even start. Tends to strain credibility.
But OK, it's certainly possible a bomb could have been ruled out due to a lack of visible scorching, etc. If the oxygen bottle theory is correct that brings to mind the Value Jet crash in 1996, blamed on a fire started by improperly sealed oxygen bottles. That possibility would seem to open the door for some litigation since there were mandates to install fire suppression systems in cargo holds, however with no injuries the lawsuits will probably be minimized.
Whether these oxygen tanks were loose or the ones used for the drop-down oxygen masks isn't clear yet, but nobody complained of a lack of oxygen on the video. This will become known soon. Still, it seems premature to rule out foul play so early especially since if it was involved here they'd need to rule out ramp personnel in London and Hong Kong first (as this explosion was obviously not within the passenger compartment). In the Value Jet crash a ramp contractor was partially blamed. How would the NTSB or anyone else know at this early juncture whether some form of sabotage was not involved?
But this seeming paradigm shift on premature speculation, sometimes even from authorities, is worth some discussion. Although Andrew McCarthy's book "Willful Blindness" was not about aviation terrorism the first sentence was: "imagine the liability!". He attributes those words to FBI agents when discussing the first known Islamic terror cell in America (the Blind Sheikh), giving readers an insight into the thought processes at the time. Does the notion still prevail? The answer almost certainly has to be yes.
After all, even after 9/11 (an attack designed to be seen by everyone and therefore immune from governmental obfuscation) things haven't changed regarding commercial aviation. We still know a disruption of confidence in air travel with fuel at such high rates could torpedo the industry, which is vital to western civilization and commerce. Such truth could explain a few things in the recent past.
For instance, Al Gore chaired an aviation safety commission in 1996 that made several recommendations for strengthening air safety. Few were put in place due to the enormous costs. For some strange reason the subsequent allegations of political payoffs didn't get the wall-to-wall coverage from the New York Times or 60 Minutes that the Abu Ghraib story garnered. Go figure.
That said, QF-30 may well have an innocent explanation but at the same time history compels us to take notice any time a 747 suffers an unforced explosion:
In 1982 a Jordanian named Mohammed Rashid, a member of the 15 May terrorist group supported by Iraq, placed a small seat bomb on Pan Am flight 830 from Tokyo to Honolulu. The bomb blew up and killed a Japanese teenager, but the plane landed safely.
In 1988 Pan Am 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland killing 270 people.
In 1994 a small seat bomb was placed in a Philippine Airlines Boeing 747. Again the bomb exploded, killing a passenger, but the plane landed safely. This was the supposed test run for Yousef and Khalid's "Operation Bojinka".
Then, in 1996 another Boeing 747 exploded, this time with catastrophic results. We still don't have the entire suite of information on what happened that evening.
In a related vein, the FAA recently heralded their mandate for commercial carriers to retrofit nitrogen inerters in the fuel tanks of the Boeings and Airbuses to minimize chance explosions. What they didn't mention was the ignition sources, which are harder to mitigate. Nevertheless, inerted fuel vapors will make it harder for jihadists to blow up center wing tanks, something also accomplished by narco-terrorists.
As to QF-30, it may soon disappear down the same memory hole occupied by Speedbird 38. If so it won't be a great surprise. But come what may we can rest assured somebody will be learning from these mistakes, even if the public remains utterly oblivious. Let's hope those somebodies are on our side.
Tomorrow's news down under is out, and so is CEO Geoff Dixon. He announced his departure amidst the QF-30 incident and another involving a landing gear door that wouldn't retract. Dixon was in favor of a private consortium takeover bid for Qantas last year that included maverick airline rescue artist David Bonderman of Texas Pacific, which was later rejected:
Dixon had enthusiastically backed the buyout, which would have given him a $60 million payout. "If I had my time over again," he told Fortune in June in Sydney, "I don't think I'd do anything differently, except I would not want myself, or any of the senior management, to do a long-term contract deal with the bidders."Guess it was time for him to fly.
Meanwhile, engineers are now saying the hole in the fuselage might have saved the aircraft from a disastrous fire by allowing outside air through the hole to mix out the pure oxygen environment, reducing the fire hazard. Aren't those areas equipped with fire suppression? Anyway, perhaps a stroke of luck. This still doesn't explain what caused the tank to fly off it's moorings, suggestive of a number of other causes besides mechanical failure. Usually we'd have to wait for the final report, but probably not.