Friday, December 02, 2005

What Was It?

Drudge has a link to this item, which has (apparently) received very little attention in the MSM. Last weekend, the pilot of an American airlines flight departing Los Angeles radioed air traffic controllers to report a missile had been fired at his jet. The jetliner was over the water when the pilot saw a smoke trail pass by the cockpit. The pilot told controllers that a missile had been fired at his aircraft and missed.

The incident was investigated by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. FBI sources told ABC News they believe the object may have been a flare or bottle rocket, although they may never know what was fired at the airliner.

From my perspective, there aren't enough details to provide a credible analysis. What was the aircraft altitude and heading at the time of the incident? Did the smoke trail appear to originate from the tail aspect, or did it come at the jetliner head-on? Did the object appear to follow a straight flight path, or did it corkscrew. Answering those questions would provide greater insight into what happened near LAX on 28 November, but (so far) federal officials aren't providing those types of details.

While there's nothing to link this episode to terrorist activity, Al Qaida is interested in shooting down airliners with surface to air missiles, as evidenced by their failed attack on Israeli 757 in Kenya last year. Earlier this year, there reports of Middle Eastern men with a possible shoulder-fired missile tracking an Air Force B-1 bomber near Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, but that report was later discounted. Other accounts suggested possible MANPADS-related activity in Arizona, but (again) those reports were never fully confirmed.

Meanwhile, we're years away from installing self-protection systems on our commercial airliners. The lack of a "successful" MANPADS attack (so far) doesn't mitigate the potential threat. The FAA and the airline industry need to accelerate efforts to put self-protection equipment on U.S. commercial jets.

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