Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (June 2011)|
I-TIGI, the aircraft involved in the accident, as seen in 1972.
|Date||27 June 1980|
near Ustica, Italy
|Aircraft type||McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15|
|Registration||I-TIGI (previously N902H)|
|Flight origin||Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ)|
|Destination||Palermo International Airport (PMO)|
Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870 (IH 870, AJ 421[Notes 1]) was an Italian commercial flight operated by a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15 which crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea between Ponza and Ustica, killing all on board, while en route from Bologna, Italy to Palermo, Italy in 1980. Known in the Italian media as the Ustica Massacre ("Strage di Ustica") - Ustica being a small island near the crash-site - the disaster led to numerous investigations, legal actions, and accusations, and continues to be a source of speculation, including claims of conspiracy by the Italian government and others. Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga attributed the cause of the crash to a missile fired from a French Navy aircraft. On 23 January 2013 Italy’s top criminal court ruled that there was "abundantly" clear evidence that the flight was brought down by a missile. To date, this remains the deadliest aviation incident involving a DC-9-10/15 series.
Details of the flight
Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870 was a commercial McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15 delivered on 27 February 1972 with the serial number CN45724/22 and registration I-TIGI (Formerly N902H, operated by Hawaiian Airlines). A regularly scheduled transit from Guglielmo Marconi Airport in Bologna to Palermo International Airport in Palermo, Sicily, on 27 June 1980, it departed 2 hours behind its schedule at 20:08 CET (19:08 UTC). The flight was carrying 77 passengers and 4 crew members.
The aircraft (registered I-TIGI) crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea near the island of Ustica, about 130 kilometres (70 nmi; 80 mi) southwest of Naples, at 20:59 CET. All 81 people on board - 2 pilots, 2 flight attendants and 77 passengers - were killed.
Two Italian Air Force F-104s were scrambled at 21:00 CET from Grosseto Air Force Base to locate the accident area and to spot any survivors, but failed due to poor visibility. In July 2006 the re-assembled fragments of the DC-9 aircraft were returned to Bologna from Pratica di Mare Air Force Base near Rome.
After years of investigations, no official explanation or final report has been provided by the Italian government. In 1989 the Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism, headed by Senator Giovanni Pellegrino, issued an official statement concerning the disappearance of Flight 870, which thus became known as the "Ustica Massacre" (Strage di Ustica).
The definitive sentence asserted:
- "(...) The DC9 incident occurred following a military interception action, the DC9 was shot down, the lives of 81 innocent citizens were destroyed by an action properly described as an act of war, real war undeclared, a covert international police action against our country, which violated its borders and rights. (...)"
- "(...) L'incidente al DC9 è occorso a seguito di azione militare di intercettamento, il DC9 è stato abbattuto, è stata spezzata la vita a 81 cittadini innocenti con un'azione, che è stata propriamente atto di guerra, guerra di fatto e non dichiarata, operazione di polizia internazionale coperta contro il nostro Paese, di cui sono stati violati i confini e i diritti. (...)"
The perpetrators of the crime remain unidentified. The court, unable to proceed further, declared the case archived.
In June 2008, Rome prosecutors reopened the investigation into the crash after former Italian President Francesco Cossiga (who was Prime Minister when the incident occurred) said that the aircraft had been shot down by French warplanes.
On 7 July 2008 a claim for damages was served to the French President.
The "high treason" accusation against the Italian Air Force
The role of Italian Air Force personnel in the tragedy is unclear. Several of them have been investigated and brought to court for a number of offenses, including falsification of documents, perjury, abuse of office, and aiding and abetting. Four generals were charged with high treason, on the allegations that they obstructed government investigation of the accident by withholding information about air traffic at the time of Ustica disaster.
The first ruling, on 30 April 2004, pronounced two of the generals, Corrado Melillo and Zeno Tascio, not guilty of high treason. Lesser charges against a number of other military personnel were also dropped. The abuse of office charge was no longer valid, due to some changes in legislation, and the other allegations could not be pursued further due to the statute of limitations, as the events in question had occurred more than 15 years prior.
For this same reason, action could not be taken against the other two generals, Lamberto Bartolucci and Franco Ferri. However, the ruling did not acquit them, and they were still alleged to be guilty of treason. Dissatisfied, they appealed, and in 2005 the appeals court ruled that the accusations were made on insufficient grounds. On 10 January 2007, the Italian Court of Cassation upheld this ruling and conclusively closed the case, fully acquitting Bartolucci and Ferri of any wrongdoing.
In September 2011 the Palermo civil tribunal ordered the Italian government to pay 100 million euros ($137 million) in civil damages to the relatives of the victims for failure to protect the flight and for concealing the truth and destroying evidence.
Finally, on 23 January 2013, Italy’s top criminal court ruled that there was "abundantly" clear evidence that the flight was brought down by a stray missile and confirming the lower court's order that the Italian government must pay compensation.
Speculation at the time and in the years since has been fueled in part by media reports, military officials statements, and ATC recordings, including radar images and trails of debris; particularly, trails of objects moving at high speeds.
A terrorist bomb
After the series of bombings which hit Italy in the 1970s, a terrorist act was quite naturally the first to be proposed. 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. The technical commission supporting a 1990 judicial enquiry reported that an explosion in the rear toilet and not a missile strike was the only conclusion supported by the wreckage analysis.
Missile strike during training exercise
This involves NATO forces accidentally downing the DC-9 during an international exercise involving Italian, United States and French jet fighters. Aviation Week and Space Technology reported that damage had been found consistent with a continuous-rod warhead, which would have had to have come from an anti-aircraft missile.
Missile strike during military operation
Major sources in the Italian media have alleged over the years that the aircraft was shot down during a dog fight involving Libyan, United States, French and Italian Air Force fighters in an assassination attempt by NATO members on an important Libyan politician, maybe even the leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was flying in the same airspace that evening. Gaddafi denied being in the area of the accident that evening. This version was supported in particular by investigative magistrate Rosario Priore in 1999. Judge Priore said in his concluding report that his investigation had been deliberately obstructed by the Italian military and members of the secret service, in compliance with NATO requests. In April 1993, the General Yuri Salimov, the Russian intelligence services, revealed that he had followed the events of Ustica through a Russian radar based in Libya, through the use satellite was able to monitor the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, "I saw that U.S. missile strike in error the DC-9 ».
On that day Gaddafi was crossing the zone in his official plane (a sophisticated DC-9 with anti missile devices) traveling from Tripoli to Varsaw and escorted by two MIG-23 Libyan military fighters. Apparently one -not two- unidentified fighter coming from Tolouse fired two missiles at Gaddafi's plane which were schieved, but following his trajectory hit the Itavia plane. All this was recorded by Majorca's radar.
The media also reported that radar monitoring records released in 1997 by NATO showed that at least seven fighter aircraft were in the vicinity when the jet plunged into the sea off the island of Ustica. According to these sources, the radar shows that one or two Libyan MiG-23 had tried to evade detection by flying close to the airliner. Three Italian Air Force F-104S, one U.S. Navy A-7 Corsair II and a French fighter pursued the Libyan MiG-23 and a battle ensued.
On 18 July 1980, 21 days after the crash, a Libyan MiG-23 crashed on the Sila Mountains in Castelsilano, Calabria, southern Italy, according to eye witnesses and official reports. Media rumors reported that the plane may actually only have been discovered at that time, and that the pilot's body was decomposed; this gave rise to allegations that the MiG-23 may have been shot down at the time of the Flight 870 incident.
According to the Italian media, documents from the archives of the Libyan secret service passed on to Human Rights Watch after the fall of Tripoli, show that Flight 870 and the Libyan MiG were attacked by two French jets.
Ex-Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky claimed on page 284 of his book The Other Side of Deception that "...every time Israel or the Mossad has been responsible for the downing of a plane, it's been an accident, and related directly to the so-called security of the state, like the shooting down of the Libyan plane over the Sinai and the Italian plane (thought to carry uranium) in 1980, killing eighty-one people". The term "Italian plane" clearly refers to Itavia Flight 870.
There are conspiracy theories surrounding this event, based on the series of events that followed the air crash. For example, the vessel that carried out the search for debris on the ocean floor was French, but only US officials had access to the aircraft parts they found. Several radar reports were erased and several Italian generals were indicted 20 years later for obstruction of justice. The difficulty the investigators and the victims' relatives had in receiving complete, reliable information on the Ustica disaster has been popularly described as un muro di gomma (literally, a rubber wall), because investigations just seemed to "bounce back".
Some of the Italian Air Force officials who might have known about the disaster's background died suddenly.
- 3 August 1980: Col. Pierangelo Teoldi, was nominated to become Commander of Grosseto AFB, but had not yet assumed command at the time of his death - car accident.
- 9 May 1981: Maurizio Gari, Poggio Ballone air defense radar controller - heart attack at age 37.
- 31 March 1987: Mario Alberto Dettori, Poggio Ballone air defence radar controller - suicide by hanging.
- 28 August 1988: Mario Naldini and Ivo Nutarelli, Italian Air Force - the pilots who crossed Flight 870's path on 27 June over Tuscany - mid air collision during the 1988 Ramstein Air Show.
- 1 February 1991: Antonio Muzio, Lamezia Terme control tower officer - murdered.
- 2 February 1992: Antonio Pagliara, Otranto air defence radar controller - car accident.
- 21 December 1995: Franco Parisi, Otranto air defense radar controller - suicide by hanging.
In Bologna on 27 June 2007 the Museum for the Memory of Ustica was opened. The museum is in possession of parts of the plane, which are assembled and on display. Almost all of the external fuselage of the plane was reconstructed. In the museum there are also objects belonging to those on board that were found in the sea near the plane. Christian Boltanski was commissioned to produce a site specific installation. The installation consists of:
- 81 pulsing lamps hanging over the plane
- 81 black mirrors
- 81 loudspeakers (behind the mirrors)
Each loudspeaker describes a simple thought/worry (e.g. "when I arrive I will go to the sea") All the objects found are contained in a wooden box covered with a black plastic skin. A small book with the photos of all objects and various information is available to the visitor upon request.
- List of airliner shootdown incidents
- Cold War (1979–1985)
- Notable decompression accidents and incidents
- El Al Flight 402
- Iran Air Flight 655
- Korean Air Lines Flight 902
- Korean Air Lines Flight 007
- Air France Flight 1611
- Strategy of tension
- Anni di piombo
- Operation Gladio
- IH 870 was used by air traffic control, while the military radar system used AJ 421
- "Italian court: Missile caused 1980 Mediterranean plane crash; Italy must pay compensation". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 23 January 2013.
- "I-TIGI Itavia McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15 - cn 45724 / ln 22". planespotters.net. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
- Italy Reopens Probe Into 1980 Plane Crash: Media, Reuters, 22 June 2008
- Troendle, Stefan (June 27, 2010). "Napolitano fordert Aufklärung des Absturzes von Ustica". Tagesschau. Retrieved June 27, 2010. "Zum Jahrestag der Flugzeugkatastrophe von Ustica hat Italiens Staatspräsident Giorgio Napolitano alle staatlichen Stellen aufgefordert, daran mitzuarbeiten, das Unglück endlich aufzuklären. Es müsse eine befriedigende und ehrliche Rekonstruktion der Ereignisse stattfinden, damit alle Unklarheiten beseitigt würden."
- "Italy court fines government $137 million over mysterious crash of plane over Ustica". The Washington Post. Associated Press. September 13, 2011.
- Accident to Itavia DC-9 near Ustica, 27 June 1980 Wreckage and Impact Information & Analysis
- Thomas Van Hare (June 27, 2012). "Italy's Darkest Night". Historic Wings.
- The Mystery of Flight 870, The Guardian, 21 July 2006 (English)
- Clarridge, Duane R., Diehl, Digby (1997). A spy for all seasons: my life in the CIA. Scribner, pp. 399-400. ISBN 0-684-80068-3
- Noel Grima (18 September 2011). "Libyan secret documents said to uncover Ustica tragedy… and how Gaddafi escaped to Malta unscathed". The Malta Independent.
- Victor Ostrovsky. The Other Side of Deception ISBN 978-0-06-109352-4, ISBN 0-06-109352-1.
- Elisabetta Povoledo (February 10, 2013). "Conspiracy Buffs Gain in Court Ruling on Crash". New York Times.
- ALAN COWELL (February 10, 1992). "Italian Obsession: Was Airliner Shot Down?". New York Times.
- Le dieci morti misteriose del dopo Ustica (Italian)
- Official Site of the Association of the Relatives of the Victims of the Accident
- AirDisaster.Com Accident Synopsis of Flight 870
- Accident details at planecrashinfo.com
- Il Muro di gomma at the Internet Movie Database, film about the accident
- The mystery of flight 870 - Guardian Newspaper.
- (Video) The truth about Ustica's disaster (6/27/1980)