Seeing MH17 in Perspective

The outpouring of criticism of Russia almost invariably includes mention of the mention of the “dastardly” shooting down over the Ukraine of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014.

Russia was presumably ultimately responsible, whether or not it was their own people who were handling the BUK missile launcher, since they supplied the equipment. Nevertheless, it was obviously a mistake.

The late, and much missed Australian aviation journalist, Ben Sandilands, made the point that though the Ukrainians–keen to get revenue from overflights–said airliners could fly there so long as they kept above 32,000 feet, they should not have been doing so as failure of an engine would mean they would not be able to maintain that height.

To be fair, we should not forget that when the USS Vincennes, a multi-billion-dollar US warship chasing rag-tag gunboats, mistakenly shot down an Iranian Airliner in the Persian Gulf in 1992, the US government obfuscated and muddied the waters to deny responsibility (just like the Russians are doing).

They finally paid out $61.8 million in compensation to discontinue a case brought by Iran against the US in the International Court of Justice in 1989, all the while not admitting responsibility.

 

 

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USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air 655 in 1992–reviewer outraged

A reviewer of this expanded second edition of Air Crashes and Miracle Landings seized upon our account of the downing of Iran Air 655 by a US warship, saying it was a “shrill” attack on the US Navy and the police, even though we did not mention the police. In fact, it mostly consists of a “blow-by-blow” factual account, saying who did what.

Admittedly we did begin by saying:

  A fabulously expensive US warship designed to fight World War III, with a “gung ho” captain, found itself larking around with Iranian gunboats, and in the process shot down an Iranian airliner on a scheduled flight. The loss of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was just possibly a consequence of this.

Iran Air Flight 655 and USS Vincennes, July 3, 1988

And after describing the tragedy in great and interesting detail we ended by saying:

The Iranian airliner had had 274 passengers and 16 crew on board, and all perished.

The US paid $61.8 million in compensation to discontinue a case brought by Iran against the US in the International Court of Justice in 1989, all the while not admitting responsibility.

The US Navy inquiries faced a conundrum, for if they admitted the captain was at fault it might mean captains in future would hesitate to defend their ships. Actually, the fault concerned not so much the captain’s final decision but his appointment in the first place, the Vincennes entering Iranian territorial waters and putting itself in the path of the airliner, the radar operator not resetting his distance and hence picking up the transponder of a fighter on the runway at the airport, and the operator erroneously finally confirming to the captain the aircraft was descending when it was climbing (that might be construed as wish fulfilment).

One thing is for sure, it was crazy having an ultra-sophisticated warship costing a billion dollars engaging tiny speedboats, a task for which she was neither suited, nor designed.

To gloss over the affair, the US Navy gave medals to Captain Rogers (and other members of the crew) but, tellingly, not another ship.

We kept this account just as it was from the previous edition of the book, partly because it was still relevant in view of the Malaysian Airlines MH17  Boeing 777  incident over the Ukraine in 2014.

Furthermore, it was typical of so many air crashes in that that it resulted from a whole series of factors.

We were not criticising the US Navy as a whole, and the account mostly described in detail and without comment what happened.

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