Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870. I would have been 15 at the time, and I don’t remember hearing about this incident. Even better, the wrangling is still going on.
In brief, Flight 870 went down on June 27, 1980. It was a DC-9 flying between Bologna and Palermo, and crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea, killing everyone.
Much of the wreckage was recovered, and there was an investigation. But the Italian government never released any kind of official accident report.
In 1989, the “Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism” issued a statement that Flight 870 was brought down in “an act of war, real war undeclared, a covert international police action against our country…”
Four generals in the Italian Air Force were charged with “high treason”; they were accused of obstructing the investigation. Two were acquitted; the other two were convicted, but their convictions were overturned on appeal.
Last year (yes, 2013), the Italian courts ruled that Flight 870 was shot down by a missile, and the government of Italy was ordered to compensate the families of the survivors.
Here’s the Wikipedia entry, and here’s the episode of “Air Crash Investigation” that set me on this path.
So what really happened? There seem to be three theories, two of which are missile related. Theory #1: Flight 870 was accidentally shot down during a joint Italian/U.S./French training exercise.
Theory #2: Flight 870 was shot down during a military mission also involving the French, U.S., and Italian forces. Specifically, the claim is that NATO forces were trying to kill Muammar al-Gaddafi (or some other “important Libyan politician”, as if there were any other “important Libyan politicians” in 1980), there was a dogfight with the Libyan Air Force, and Flight 870 was hit by a stray missile.
Theory #3, and the theory that seems to be endorsed by the air crash investigators and “Air Crash Investigation” (but notably not the Italian government): a terrorist bomb. The investigation team states that this theory is backed by the technical evidence they collected from the recovered wreckage. However:
It must be considered that the flight was delayed outbound from Bologna by almost three hours, so apparently the timer would have been set to actually cause an explosion at Palermo airport, or on a further flight of the same plane.
It also must be considered that if there was a device, it may not have been on a timer. It could have been set to be triggered at a specific altitude, or even at a certain time after a specific altitude was reached. On the other hand, I’m not sure how easy it would have been to do these things with 1980 technology. Also:
Parts of the discovered wreckage showed telltale signs of an outside explosion – some outer skin parts were shown to have blast residue on the outside with the metal curved inwards, uncharacteristic of a bomb (which would have curved the metal outwards as the force would have come from inside the plane outwards instead of out to in, like in the case of a missile). However, other pieces – especially the area around the rear lavatory, showed many signs of a bomb that exploded inside, such as the deformities of the surrounding support beams situated around the lavatory in question.
I’d really really like to see a cite for that.
And what is any good conspiracy theory without a list of “mysterious deaths”?
Pithy quote, from the “ACI” episode: “I’m sorry, but Italy is a dreadful place to have an aviation accident. If you want the truth you’re less likely to find it there than just about anywhere else in the world.”