Airline crashes and electromagnetic interference

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Aug 31 18:17:10 MDT 2000

>Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky

TWA 800 and Swissair 111, then, share at least five features: (1) a grave
electrical accident, (2) a so far indecipherable cause, (3) a takeoff from
the same airport and a route across the same geography, (4) a takeoff on
the same minute of the day and day of the week, and (5) the malfunctioning
of its radios beginning at almost the same time (somewhere in the
three-minute interval between 8:31 and 8:34).

Should these five features be seen as extraneous, a set of interesting but
ultimately insignificant coincidences? Or are they instead features that
together expose the cause of the accidents? Either answer could be correct.
The only way to learn which is accurate is to investigate the second
possibility with the greatest possible rigor and speed. Has the United
States investigative team (the American researchers who are assisting the
primarily Canadian investigation) under-taken to reconstruct the external
environment through which Swissair 111 flew? There is, to date, no public
sign of any such reconstruction. If United States investigators wait until
every possible internal cause has been explored before they begin to look
at the external possibilities, will it be possible to construct an accurate
and complete record of that external environment? The memories of air
controllers, pilots in the area, and seamen are clearer today than they
will be in two years: their assistance in reconstructing the external
environment should therefore be sought today, not two years from today.
External explanations need to be pursued for exactly the same reasons that
internal explanations are already being urgently pursued: because there is
an absolute need to know the cause of these two isolated catastrophes and
because there is an absolute need to prevent other planes from crashing.

>From what we know about the external environment, a sixth feature shared by
TWA 800 and Swissair 111 begins to come into view. The two planes attempted
to make their flights on an evening when military craft were in the air or
sea below. The route from JFK International Airport east along the southern
coast of Long Island and north past the New England shoreline requires any
plane on its way to northern Europe to thread its way through a ribbon of
air that is skirted on one side or the other by military warning zones. The
boundaries of each zone are marked on aviation maps and labeled with the
letter "W" followed by a number. Where the map has room, a printed sentence
appears inside the zone: "Warning: National Defense Operations Area,
Operations hazardous to the flight of aircraft conducted within this area."

Such military warning zones are, of course, often unused by the military,
and during such unused periods can be entered by civilian flights. But the
record of scheduled military exercises shows plans for air and sea
activities in the week during which Swissair 111 attempted its flight, just
as the equivalent record from two years earlier shows planned exercises
during the week of TWA 800's flight. This may be why Swissair 111, like TWA
800 earlier, had been directed onto the Bette route in traveling east out
of New York, for this route is assigned when the military exercise zones
south and southeast of Long Island, called W-105 and W-106, are in use by
the military.

Louis Proyect
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