Patterico's Pontifications

9/18/2005

Rumor: Possible Surface-to-Air Missile Attack on a U.S. Airliner? (UPDATED)

Filed under: Terrorism — Patterico @ 1:34 am



This is pure rumor, so don’t take it as anything more. This is what we bloggers do — dish the rumors without verifying them. It’s the new journalism, baby! [Make sure to read UPDATE x3: Your government says all is well.]

Still . . . something happened, whether it’s what the rumor says, or something else. So . . .

Captains Quarters, Michelle Malkin, and Little Green Footballs all have posted rumors of a possible surface-to-air missile attack on a U.S. airliner. LGF was the first with any information, writing:

I’ve just received a credible tip from an LGF reader that an America West flight out of New York was fired upon by a surface to air missile yesterday, and that the pilot and passengers witnessed it and are now being questioned by the FAA and FBI.

That’s the extent of the information I currently have, and please note: right now this is completely unverified.

Malkin followed up with the information that there was indeed some sort of incident:

I just got off the phone with Phil Gee, associate manager of media relations at America West, who promptly returned my late evening call. Here’s what he told me:

On Sept. 15 (Thursday), America West Flight 17 took off from JFK Airport at 6:05pm EDT. The captain “took the initiative,” says Gee, and reported an “irregularity” to air traffic control as the plane was ascending. The plane continued to Phoenix and landed safely at 8:55pm MST. FBI and other authorities met and interviewed all of the crew and passengers on the plane. The investigation is continuing.

Gee would not say whether the pilot or other crew or passengers reported witnessing a missile firing.

“Nothing is confirmed,” Gee said.

***

Although one tipster says America West has informed its pilots of the incident, Gee denied that any company bulletin has been issued. Gee mentioned that he had heard that other airline pilots had posted about the incident on an online forum. E-mail or trackback if you have seen other pilot accounts.

(Emphasis and additional links in Michelle’s post.)

Keep an eye on this tomorrow. If there’s anything to it, it will be the biggest terrorism story in years.

UPDATE: Obviously, if anyone who was on the flight happens to be reading this (quite a longshot, but stranger things have happened), I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or write me at patterico AT patterico DOT com.

UPDATE x2: Odd thing — the America West spokesman is apparently wrong about at least one thing: the time the plane took off. Go to this site. (Link courtesy of a Free Republic poster.) Enter September 15 at 18:49. Watch for a green plane taking off southbound from JFK at 18:49:42. That’s America West flight 17.

You can watch the beginning flight path of the flight. As another Free Republic poster describes it:

According to Passur, the flight took off about 15 seconds before 6:50PM on Runway 22R, and flew straight out over Jamaica Bay, over the Rockaways, and across the Atlantic Ocean to just south of Sandy Hook, NJ. Typical flight path for a plane going southwest out of JFK.

According to PASSUR, the aircraft that took off directly before AWE 17 was Delta flight 2029, a 757 bound for Orlando. Emirates flight 9900, a 747, followed AWE 17, bound for Gothenberg, Sweden.

According to PASSUR, AWE 17 flew within a few miles of but far below a Lear Jet 60 at (37,000 feet) and a Sun Country 737 getting ready to land at JFK (at 13,000 feet) while climbing over the Atlantic Ocean at 4000 feet.

According to Google Earth, there’s marshland at the end of 22L before a departing flight would reach the Rockaway Peninsula. The Rockaways are about 4-5 blocks wide at the point the flight overflew it at around 2000 feet and climbing.

LiveATC.net’s archives don’t have the JFK tower or Approach/Departure tapes from the 15th. I think the JFK scanner link has been down for a while.

The sun is setting around 7:00 in New York these days. The LiveATC.net radar shows that there were some heavy showers over parts of South Jersey, upstate New York, and east of Long Island at 7PM, but nothing near JFK.

For what it’s worth.

UPDATE x3: Malkin has a new update:

Update: A government aviation official who asked me not to reveal her name says the “missile siting was [a] false alarm:”

The sighting was reported near Colt’s Neck, NJ, which is a major route south out of NY. FAA set up a small temporary flight restriction around the area while checking radar files. Turned out to be nothing more than birds, and [a] big game of “telephone.”

Nothing to see here, folks. I assume you all feel reassured, now that an anonymous spelling-challenged government official has weighed in.

Still no word on what the “irregularity” was. Perhaps the “siting” was a false alarm, but the “sighting” wasn’t? Or is See-Dubya right? Did the captain need Metamucil?

4 Responses to “Rumor: Possible Surface-to-Air Missile Attack on a U.S. Airliner? (UPDATED)”

  1. SAM’s are usually either radar guided or heat seekers. If the latter, and fired at a departing airliner, if it’s within range, and the seek head batteries are servicable, you’d be reporting the downing of an airliner. Trust me when I say that a large radar guided missile is not easy to hide, principally due to it’s emission being easily identifiable.
    I’m calling bullshit on this one.

    CB (7ed127)

  2. See Malkin. It’s just birds. That or the Syrian Wayne Newton.

    See Dubya (c1046f)

  3. I second CB’s comments. If you can’t hit an airliner with a shoulder-fired stinger, then you need to get out of the terrorism. Big, hot, and slow. Easy pickinz.

    If it didn’t go down in flames, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t fired on.

    Partisan Pundit (263854)

  4. A single stinger would lock on to a single engine. Commercial airlines land with an engine out fairly regularly.

    Not saying it wouldn’t be front page news and quite frightening – but a single stinger on a commercial airliner should have a far less than 100% success rate.

    Al (00c56b)


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