Thursday, July 17, 2014

CNN's show on Flight 800

CNN's "Witnessed", timed to the upcoming 18th anniversary of the downing of TWA flight 800, was fairly well-done, particularly in the witness interviews (lived up to its title).  Too often arguments over these things are cold without regard to the victims' families, but this show brought that home. 

Still, the presentation didn't close any holes in the age-old narrative.  For instance, there was no scrutiny of the oft-repeated theory that the aircraft over-heated while sitting on the tarmac on a hot summer afternoon running the APU to cool the aircraft.  This was cited as raising the temperature of the airframe to over 100 degrees, which heated the fuel vapors, which were turned to mist by either the APU or in taking off.  That's basically the only way the spark theory works.

So there's a kind of conventional wisdom that it was a particularly hot day.  Yet here are the weather observations from JFK on July 17, 1996:
5:51 PM 84.9 °F
6:51 PM 82.9 °F
7:51 PM 82.0 °F
8:51 PM 80.1 °F
Not exactly a heat wave.  And good grief, if temperatures in the mid 80s are hot enough to cause a fuel tank explosion then airplanes at Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix should have been exploding with some regularity.  Even St. Louis, where TWA had a hub, gets a lot hotter.  Yet flight 800 was the first jet aircraft to blow up in flight in the history of the modern jet age.  Not to say it couldn't be the first based on a series of bad circumstances, just odd.   Calling attention to an 86 degree day in New York in July is also odd. 

Another irritant was the interview with Mr. Goglia.  His dismissal of all the witnesses, especially the testimony of the Eastwind Airlines pilot who saw the whole sequence right out his front windshield, was curious, since the pilot says he did NOT see a missile.  But apparently since the pilot didn't see the aircraft rise thousands of feet like the unofficial CIA video (commissioned by the FBI without blessing by the NTSB) showed--and Mr. Goglia seemed to be supporting--his testimony was deemed unreliable.  Too bad there's not a video out there to put this all to rest.  

Finally, Mr. Panetta.  It was a little strange to see him, a political person, interviewed.  Major Clinton political figures have been reluctant to discuss this crash, even in their memoirs.  So it was good to see him.   Perhaps CNN could have asked why, if president Clinton was as he says ready to retaliate strongly should evidence have pointed to states or terrorists why he had not (and never did) responded to the Khobar Towers attack just a month earlier?  Or the terror attack on our Riyadh barracks in late 1995?   Had the attack been tied to Saddam Hussein would he have invaded that country?  How about Iran?  Follow-up questions never asked. 

CNN could have also asked him why Bill Clinton placed Al Gore on an aviation safety committee only a month after flight 800 with the goal of studying how to prevent attacks on commercial aircraft.  A coincidence?   A question never asked.  
But the stranger thing about the Panetta interview is that he didn't exactly come off as a cheerleader for the NTSB/FBI storyline, preferring to say something like 'we may never know' (what caused the tank to explode) as if leaving the door slightly ajar. 

MORE  7/17/14

What can you say?   Condolences to all involved, even Malaysia Airlines.   On the anniversary of an event that everyone thought was a commercial aircraft shot to pieces by a missile we have this Malaysia event, which looks to be a missile strike.  This has been the sum of many fears for civilized governments for awhile, but it's happened.   Except this time it happened to an airline that is already missing another 777-200. 

Technically it's hard to point out much at this juncture based on the few snapshots of debris--it will be harder for the pros if the FSB-led separatists keep them out of the crime scene.   There's very little chance that NTSB will get the black boxes, but even if they did the data would likely show a catastrophic failure and not much else.  What needs to happen is a reconstruction just like they did with flight 800.   But the aircraft is lying in pieces in a war zone.    

As to any symbolism with flight 800, terrorists do like anniversaries.  But it's hard to see any links here, unless the Russians actually shot down 800.  No, if there's a conspiracy to boot it's not about what happened, which is pretty obvious, but why.  The president and EU just announced tougher sanctions on Russia on Wednesday the 16th, including Russian companies who make missiles and weapons.   Then on Thursday the 17th a commercial aircraft is shot down by a missile.   One could certainly take it as a message from Moscow.

But Occam's Razor might suggest it was an accidental shoot-down by a trigger happy separatist in an area where several military planes had just been shot down.  That analysis will become more likely when the passenger manifest is released and is unremarkable.   If there was somebody famous on that plane, ie, famous in a government or security kind of way,  it may get more complicated very fast.   

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