Air crashes blamed on military
Robin McKie, Science Editor
Electromagnetic pulses from military craft may have been responsible for several civilian airline disasters in the past four years. If the theory is proved correct, it suggests navy ships and air force planes pose a lethal threat to passenger flights.
Crash investigators have been startled by similarities between several tragedies. In particular, they have uncovered common features in two crashes: Swissair 111, on 2 September 1998, and TWA 800, on 17 July 1996. Both planes took off from the same airport, New York's JFK, on the same day, a Wednesday, at the same minute, 8.19pm. Both followed the same route over Long Island. Both reported trouble in the same region of airspace, and both suffered catastrophic electrical malfunctions. And on both occasions the planes were flying at a time when extensive military exercises - involving submarines and US Navy P3 fighter planes - were being conducted.
These factors - outlined by Elaine Scarry in the forthcoming issue of the New York Review of Books - suggest to many investigators that a routine weekly event, probably involving the generation of strong electromagnetic pulses by military personnel, may have triggered short-circuits in the two planes.
In the case of the TWA 800 flight, this could have caused a spark to set off a fire in its fuel tanks. Alternatively, a pulse could have knocked out instruments, causing the Boeing 747 to spin out of control, making metal parts tear and produce sparks.
In the case of the Swissair 111, a fire was reported in the cabin and the plane plunged into the sea off the coast of Nova Scotia.