Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Air France Flight 447 Investigators Find Terror List Names: Suggestive, But Far From Proof

About a dozen airliners took off at around the same time as Air France flight 447. They all were headed in about the same direction, at about the same speed, and were traveling in about the same area. (CNN)

AF 447 didn't get to its destination.

Telemetry from AF 447 indicated problems with instruments and other issues. And, Air France had been replacing Pitot tubes in its airliners, following up on a manufacturer's recommendation and a pilot's union pressure.

The Airbus A330-200 that disappeared had the old Pitot tubes, air speed sensors that, in this particular case, had a habit of icing up.

Cherry-Picking Evidence

'Obviously,' AF 447 went down because of the Pitot tubes.

Or, not so obviously. The Airbus A330-200 is a relatively complex vehicle, with a great many parts that are more or less vital to its operation. Pitot tubes are not the only piece of equipment which might malfunction.

'Obviously,' there couldn't have been a fire or explosion.

A fuel slick, seen in the general area where AF 447 disappeared, was cited as an indication that the Airbus went down without a fire or explosion. Then, it turned out the fuel slick wasn't jet fuel. (CSM)

'Obviously,' though, terrorism can't be involved:
"...Representatives from France, Brazil, and the United States have all reportedly declared that terrorism does not appear to be involved in the crash." (
Again, not so obviously. I'm sure that someone representing French and Brazilian interests said that there was not evidence that terrorism was involved, and said so more than once.

And, it's possible that AF 447 went down because of a combination of improperly-operating equipment and natural causes.
"...Investigators believe that automatic technical messages sent from the Air France Airbus 330 minutes before it disappeared while flying over the Atlantic Ocean indicate that its airspeed gauges weren't functioning properly. A theory the analysts are probing is that the jetliner's speed sensors may have been damaged by ice, setting off a catastrophic series of events amid potentially severe turbulence...."

"...French officials have refrained from directly criticizing their Brazilian counterparts, but on Friday suggested more caution in making statements about the investigation, reiterating that no cause could yet be ruled out. 'French authorities have been saying for several days that we should be extremely prudent,' France's Secretary of state for Transport, Dominique Bussereau, told France's RTL radio...." (WSJ) [emphasis mine]
There's quite a difference between "...Representatives from France, Brazil, and the United States have all reportedly declared that terrorism does not appear to be involved in the crash...." and the June 6, 2009, Wall Street Journal article's " cause could yet be ruled out...."

Terrorists on AF 447? Maybe

One bit of evidence that might have indicated that a bomb destroyed Air France flight 447 comes from pilots: "...Other pilots in the area saw an "intense flash" around the time that AF 447 disappeared...." (SeattlePI)

If the weather had been clear, that would be more suggestive of foul play. As is is, with thunderstorms around, not so much. The color of the flash might indicate whether it was from an electrical or a chemical source, but I'm no expert.

Today's headlines included "Terror Names Linked To Doomed Flight AF 447 " (Sky News) - and the gist of the article is:
"Two passengers with names linked to Islamic terrorism were on the Air France flight which crashed with the loss of 228 lives, it has emerged...."

"...Agents are now trying to establish dates of birth for the two dead passengers, and family connections.

"There is a possibility the name similarities are simply a 'macabre coincidence', the source added, but the revelation is still being 'taken very seriously'...." (Sky News)
I might think that finding the names of terrorists on the passenger list was a strong indication of foul play, except for two things.
  1. In my ten years as a list manager for a small publishing company, I developed an appreciation for how common some names are
  2. About two years ago, an eight-year-old boy was fingered as a terrorist because his name was on a no-fly list (July 20, 2007)
Which is why French investigators are looking into birth dates and family connections. I know: terrorists have used children before - but in the 2007 case, the listed terrorist was a whole lot older than eight.

Birth dates are fairly useful in helping to establish someone's identity. There are quite a few people in America, for example, who have the same name that I do. But none of them is going to have the same birth date and relatives.

Air France 447 - My Opinion

I don't think that terrorists brought down AF 447.

I don't think that terrorists didn't bring down AF 447.

I do think that officials investigating the incident don't seem to know what happened, yet.

I do think that there will be more assertions about what 'obviously' happened: and that the statements will reflect what the writers believe should have happened.

Related posts: News and views:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.