ABC-6 Reporter Mark Curtis: “The Sunday Political Brunch” March 16, 2014

by ABC6 Chief Political Reporter Mark Curtis

Rhode Island) – The mystery over
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, and after nine days it is becoming one
of the great stories of intrigue in the history of aviation. Was it terrorism,
sabotage, suicide, or an explainable accident? I now doubt the latter. The
answers may come, but I know one thing. This is not the first who-done-it in
the annals of flight. Directly, or indirectly, I have been involved in the
coverage of some of these cases, which hit awfully close to home. Let's take a


“An Olympic-Sized Mystery” – On July 17, 1996, I was in Atlanta covering the Olympics when word came that TWA Flight
800 from New York to Rome,
had exploded off Long Island. After years of
investigation and controversy, it was concluded that vapors in a fuel tank were
likely ignited by an electrical short, which blew up the fuel tank and plane.
It was not a firm conclusion. To this day, witnesses insist they saw an ascending
object – perhaps a missile – strike the plane. Claims of possible terrorism and
a government cover-up have lingered on for years, and will probably last forever.
Concern it might be an international terrorist act, shook the Olympics to the

“My Hometown” – I spent 12 years living in the San Ramon
Valley of California, but only recently learned of one of its darkest chapters.
On May 7, 1964, a Pacific Airlines Flight from Stockton
to San Francisco crashed in the San Ramon
Valley, killing all 44 on board. A
distraught passenger, bent on committing suicide, killed both pilots. The plane
then plunged to earth. 

“Gulf Power Mystery” – On a rainy, stormy April 10th
1989, a corporate plane took off from the Pensacola
Regional Airport
in Florida.
Within seconds the pilots radioed there was an emergency on board, and they
were turning back to the airport. They never made it. The plane crashed into an
apartment building, killing both pilots and Jake Horton, the Senior Vice-president
of Gulf Power, the huge regional utility. The case was never solved, other than
that an onboard fire led to the crash. What caused the fire?  The leading theory was Horton – who was
possibly going to face federal indictment – lit the cabin on fire. But others
believe the plane was bombed. I was one of the first people on scene, and
covered the story for years. We'll probably never really know what happened. 

“The Canadian Triangle” – Way back in 1949 man named Albert
Guay air expressed a bomb to the luggage compartment of a DC-9, in an effort to
kill his wife who would be on board. Guay enlisted the help of a women and her
brother – who was a clockmaker – to make the bomb and detonator. The three were
plotting to split a $10,000 insurance policy. They never collected. All three
were convicted and hanged after the plane blew up, killing all on board (photo

“Same Song; Different Verse” – On November 1, 1955 a man
named John Graham placed a bomb in his mother's luggage, hoping to blow up the
plane so he could collect on a $37,500 life insurance policy. On the flight
from Denver to Seattle, the bomb went off killing 44 people.
Graham was executed for his crime. 

“High-Sky Horse Play” – On November 3, 1973 a National
Airlines pilot and flight engineer decided to “experiment” with the auto-throttle
system and circuit breakers while in-flight. Some reports indicated they did
this out of sheer boredom and rank curiosity. One engine exploded and the
debris caused a gaping whole in the fuselage. An unbuckled passenger was sucked
out of the plane and died. The flight was later able to land safely. 

“Cold War Shoot Down” – On September 1, 1983, Korean
Airlines Flight 007, was shot down by Russia
jets over the Sea of Japan. Russia, at first denied shooting down the plane,
but later admitted it, claiming the flight was actually a U.S. led spy
mission. A Member of Congress was among the passengers. The plane had strayed
into restricted Soviet airspace, but the Russian pilot clearly admitted he
recognized it as a Boeing jetliner with a row of windows – an acknowledgement
it was a commercial flight.

“Lessons Learned” – With all the changes in aviation security
since 9-11 (which I also covered extensively in my years in San Francisco), many believe these bizarre or
ill-intended incidents can't happen anymore with sealed cockpits, and better
luggage screening. Yes, many of these would be prevented nowadays, but not all
them. As we've seen from a couple of shoe-bombers, a determined and creative
terrorist can get on board. Security along airport runways in many cities is
woefully lax. Malaysian leaders now say whatever happened to Flight 370 was

“Why All This Matters” – With all the speculation – wild and
legitimate – going on over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, I thought it was
important to put some of this in perspective. As we've seen from the above
examples, everything from stupidity, to criminal intent, to terrorism, to
greed, to malfeasance, and more, has led to aviation disasters. 

I love to travel and fly, so none of this changes my plans,
but what about you? What are your concerns about flying? Click the comment
button at

(Some of the information for this week's column came from a
fascinating website,
Check it out! Weird stuff, even a German Shepherd and a loose crocodile are
blamed for causing commercial plane crashes. Yes, truth is often stranger than

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC. 

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