On Thursday May 19 EgyptAir Flight MS 804, an Airbus A320-232, c/n 2088, with 66 souls aboard, Captain Mohamed Shoukair in command, fell from the sky, about 180 miles north of Alexandria, Egypt.
The cover-up seems to have commenced already, with the Administration carefully limiting itself to a statement that satellite imagery shows no sign of an explosion on-board, i.e. an IED. I’ll bet it doesn’t.
Airbus SU-GCC was delivered new to EgyptAir in 2003, having first flown on July 25th of that year. Although she had over 40,000 hours on the clock she was scarcely an aged jet. The A320 has a reasonable safety record, bearing in mind the numbers in service.
There have been issues in the past with the fly-by-wire software and the CFM56 engines used in a large number of 320s, but for a French airplane it’s pretty safe.
Captain Shoukair was an experienced and able airline pilot, who took an obvious pride in his profession. He had nothing to do with Islamic radicals and comes across as a stable and likeable character.
His last communications with Air Traffic Control (ATC) were friendly, calm and courteous. Suicide can safely be ruled out (as it can be, incidentally, with the Germanwings Airbus, given the contents of the Cockpit Voice Recorder). There are no indications of pilot error at all. The airliner was suddenly overwhelmed by a catastrophe just as she passed into Egyptian airspace.
As can be seen from its flight coding EgyptAir started out as Misrair, in 1932, the initiative to set up an airline in Egypt having come from that fine old firm Airwork. Although it’s been through various guises the airline has been around for a long time.
It’s flown some interesting kites in its time, including the dear old Vickers Viking and the unfairly maligned De Havilland DH-86, which was hit by an Abwehr sabotage campaign in the 30s.
EgyptAir’s safety record is not free from blemish, but a number of the hull losses it’s suffered over the years, in its various names, can probably be put down to the violent politics of the region. Its safety record in recent years has been good and the airline is soundly managed.
To determine the causes of this disaster I think we can safely look elsewhere than Egypt.
Shortly before leaving Greek airspace all contact was lost with ATC. Greek air traffic controllers were unable to raise Flight 804 for the routine handover to Cairo. The airliner was then spotted on radar executing radical maneuvers, consistent with evasive maneuvers, including a 90o turn to port, a rapid but controlled descent and a complete 360o turn. Unless you’re in the stack for Heathrow, you don’t normally do a 360 with passengers in the back! The Egyptians are now denying the initial Greek reports, but their denials, frankly, are too late to be credible.
There is no reason at all to discount the initial Greek statements, which I understand were backed by Greek military radar.
At or around Flight Level 170 (17,000’) Captain Shoukair’s brave attempt to save his plane and passengers appears to have failed, and the plane enters its final, uncontrolled descent.
There are three key points to note, it seems to me:
(1) The event occurs shortly after the Flight 804 crosses the Greek/Egyptian ATC boundary.
(2) The aircraft’s radios appear to have been jammed – the radio blackout precedes the rapid descent by several crucial minutes, during which ATC cannot raise the aircraft, and
(3) The initial descent and maneuvers, whilst radical, appear to be controlled.
The ACARS readouts
More than 48 hours after the loss of 804, an aviation website was approached from seemingly official sources with what purported to be a readout from the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), suggesting a cockpit window blowout and fire in one of the toilets. There is however no explanation as to why this important data could not have been made available within a short time of the disaster, nor why it was not made available through normal channels.
Everybody wanted to know what had happened – so why hang onto the data? One explanation of course is that it was not then in existence, at any rate not in the form in which it was leaked.
It rather looks as though someone, possibly the French, has been cooking the data. The French don’t just stick to cooking frogs’ legs and garlic.
Significantly, the leaked ACARS data does not tally with the radio data. How does a fire in the toilets, or one of them, disable the radios?
Data-rigging works best for the Bad Guys when they’re amending real data, rather than fabricating an entire set. The ACARS readouts might be genuine, but for a later time. If the hull was depressurised by shrapnel, e.g. we might get fogging in the cabin and toilets, which would trigger a smoke alarm, and problems with the cockpit windows.
The ACARS systems on MH370 and MH17 were disabled, possibly in response to my call after AF447 for pilots to use ACARS to get Mayday messages out if their radios were jammed. ACARS is not designed for emergency messaging, but, hey, it’s a communication system.
A Missile Strike?
It is too early to reach a firm conclusion – as readers know, I never jump to conclusions! Having correctly called the surface to air missile strikes on TWA 800, AF 447, the Yemenia Airbus, MH370 and 17 (combined in the case of the latter with 30 mil cannon fire from a lightened and upgraded Ukrainian Sukhoi-25), obviously I am looking at another missile.
A missile, possibly fired from a sub to starboard of 804’s track, would explain a number of things:
(1) The radio jamming (there was radio jamming in the case of 447, 370 and 17).
(2) The sudden turn to port, followed by radical evasive maneuvers.
(3) The delay between loss of ATC contact and the commencement of evasive maneuvering.
(4) The failure of the aircraft to break up at altitude (as with PanAm 103).
(5) The lack of any claim to have brought down the aircraft – there is invariably a claim of responsibility if a terrorist group brings down an aircraft and
(6) Assuming just the timings on the ACARS data have been faked and not the data itself, the damage to the starboard cockpit windows and nose section, which houses the avionics including the radar – a missile using semi-active homing would explode near the cockpit if the target was descending and the incoming was not stern-chasing.
The missile involved in all the overwater shoot-downs (800, 447, Yemenia and 370) was the Iranian copy of the Hughes Aircraft AIM-54 Phoenix, the Fakour-2, although the TWA 747 may have been brought down by a Fakour-1.
You can forget MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) – MS 804 was at FL370 (37,000’) when disaster struck. Generally speaking, you can rule out a shoulder-launched SAM at anything above 15,000’ and frankly 12,000’ is marginal. MANPADS are not only small, their aiming systems are pretty basic.
The Phoenix and the Fakour are equipped with proximity fuses. The warhead will normally explode near the target, as opposed to a contact fuse. With a missile strike on an airliner with a proximity fuse we will typically see a slow depressurisation due to shrapnel, and multiple systems failures, unless you get hot shrapnel going into a fuel tank, as with TWA 800.
Since the target does not normally explode, pilots will usually have time to get out a Mayday message. The attacking country will try to keep the strike covert and radio and now ACARS jamming is another typical feature of a missile strike.
What would be the motive?
As with AF447 and MH370 this may have been a person of interest on the plane. However, with TWA 800 and MH17 there seems to have been a broader geopolitical motive, i.e. the application of pressure.
At this time the motive is unclear, but I have no doubt intelligence agencies are going through the passenger list with a fine tooth-comb. The one person who will definitely not have been targeted is poor little Joumana Bettiche, a four month old baby girl. Intelligence chiefs who think this one should be covered up as well should look at her photo and weep.
Possible launch vehicles
Unlike TWA 800, AF447, Yemenia and MH 370 there is no solid evidence of a diesel-electric submarine (SSK) beneath or near the flight-path at the critical time. However, if it was a missile then an SSK is the obvious launch vehicle.
The MSM will never get there of course – they are obsessed with ships. If there isn’t a ship nearby then the MSM rules out a missile strike, as if anybody would be silly enough to shoot down a civilian airliner in international airspace proceeding upon her lawful occasions from a ship. Stopping and boarding ships is easy. Boarding submarines is a little more difficult.
You can forget the Israelis – the incident was clearly caught by an NRO bird. If it had been an Israeli Dolphin class SSK the Israel-hating Obama Administration would be all over Jerusalem like a rash. They would never hear the end of it. It would be King David Hotel times ten.
The nearest ChiCom sub base is a bit far away for this one. I’m thinking maybe Iran or Germany. An Iranian SSK could get there via the Straits of Gibraltar with refuelling at their secret base in the Comoros Islands – the Kilo is a fairly long-legged boat. Figure 6,000 miles range at 7 knots on diesels, using a snorkel to stay submerged.
Transiting the Suez Canal on the outbound trip would be a lot easier of course, although you wouldn’t count on the Egyptians being kind enough to let you use the Canal on the way home. An Iranian boat would however be able to refuel from the DVD Marine Section’s secret Valentin sub-base near Bremerhaven.
Bandar Abbas – Valentin via the Suez Canal would be well within the range of an Iranian Kilo. Germany worked with Iran on the Fakour-1 and Fakour-2 programs. It would be a simple enough matter to supply the Marine Section with a Type 212 SSK, fitted with a surface-launch SAM capability.
Since the Marine Section lost at least one of their refitted Type XXI boats after the Madeleine McCann affair (thanks to the Russian Navy) and another after the failed attack on the London Olympics (thanks to the US Navy) the DVD may have re-equipped, or they may have had a couple of 212s all along we didn’t know about.
Refitting a Type XXI for surface SAM launch would not be too difficult either, although I am guessing it would be easier with a more modern sub.
If it was a SAM, then Germany or Iran are the obvious suspects. After the tragic murder of Madeleine McCann we needn’t bother asking whether the DVD are able to wage war on small children.
The latest reported development is that a robot min-sub has been ordered to the area with a view to recovering the black boxes. Huh? Recovering small data recorders from 9,000’ down isn’t as easy as all that. You won’t find their orange paint much use in the stygian gloom at 1,500 fathoms.
My prediction is that once new black boxes have been fabricated to match the obviously dodgy delayed ACARS data this robot sub will effect a magical ‘recovery’, a la AF 447. Air crash investigators, the MSM and the mis-named Discovery Channel all worship black boxes, rather like the ancient Aztecs worshipped the sun. Give them a black box and they’ll wag their little tails like a cadaver dog given a body trail to sniff. Nobody ever checks to see of the black box is the same black box the airliner took off with, and there would be no point anyway. If you have leverage over the manufacturer, all you do is ask for a black box with a serial number which has already been used.
Fooling aviation and intelligence illiterate politicians and mainstream journalists is child’s play for the Bad Guys.
Watch this space. As I say it’s too early to be definite, but MS 804 is looking like another missile strike.
The EU Referendum
This is heating up. Cameron and Osborne have lost the plot. Last week Cameron was threatening another European war if the UK pulled out of the EU, although he didn’t say whether he thought France or Germany would start it. Perhaps he was thinking of Luxembourg? They can be a pretty belligerent lot, especially on a Saturday night.
This week Cameron and Osborne are threatening a recession and inflation, all at the same time (like we had when we joined the EEC, lost a big chunk of our manufacturing capacity to the Germans and had to jack up food prices and impose VAT). All except for house prices – they’re gonna fall. Any day now I am expecting DEFRA to warn of a plague of locusts threatening the UK if we vote to leave on June 23rd.
My old friend Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Tory Party, has very properly compared Osborne to Pinnochio. The Remain campaigners are being made to look fools, ditto the pro-EU Treasury. The Bad Guys are still losing, thank goodness. Cameron and Osborne won’t last 48 hours if we vote for independence, and the hated Cabinet Secretary, Heywood, won’t be far behind.
One clue to the way Cameron thinks it’s going can be found in the fact that he’s just bought his wife a ‘new’ car – a second-hand Nissan Micra (trust me, you don’t want one), costing about $2,500. Presumably he’s thinking in terms of fewer official cars after next month. The Micra is essentially a shopping trolley with an engine. I’m not sure what its 0-60 time is, indeed I am not even sure it can reach 60 mph. I suspect braking is a bit like the Flintstones’ car – you put your feet through the floor.
The Flying Scotsman
Well done to all connected with the overhaul of this famous LNER engine. I saw her over the weekend, and she looked absolutely magnificent. Well worth the journey to see her!
I had selected a remote country station, miles away, in deepest, darkest Hampshire, thinking there wouldn’t be a crowd, not least as it was raining. Alarmed at her popularity, officialdom discouraged people from going to see her by giving out fake routes and times (I kid you not). This nonsense was justified by an alarmist story of photographers standing in the middle of the down track taking photos of her going north on her first trip, and nearly getting hit by a ‘high-speed train’.
Intrigued by this story of stupidity, I looked it up. Sure enough there was a video online, with a caption which seemed to back up the official version of events (OVE). Getting rather cynical about OVEs in my old age I played the clip. The train coming the other way wasn’t a high speed train at all. It was a phut-phut (a diesel multiple unit, or DMU). It can’t have been doing more than about 70 and probably weighed about as much as Flying Scotsman’s tender. The guy wasn’t standing in the ‘four-foot’ – he was beside the line. The train missed him by at least a foot. You couldn’t even see a single arm or a leg flying through the air. Health and Safety fascism again!
Of course people drove from miles around just to catch a glimpse of this great engine. There was a huge crowd and the platforms of the little station were jam-packed. The look on the face of a DMU driver coming the other way was a picture – he couldn’t have fitted all those people onto his tiny train if he tried. Of course we weren’t there to see his train. We were waiting for a proper train, with an engine, with smoke coming out of her funnel and a proper whistle, not some glorified Nissan Micra horn.
Michael Shrimpton was a barrister from his call to the Bar in London in 1983 until being disbarred in 2019 over a fraudulently obtained conviction. He is a specialist in National Security and Constitutional Law, Strategic Intelligence and Counter-terrorism. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Intelligence Studies at the American Military University.