Itavia Flight 870

Coordinates: 38°50′22″N 13°25′31″E / 38.839494°N 13.425293°E / 38.839494; 13.425293
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Itavia Flight 870
I-TIGI, the aircraft involved in the accident, in 1980.
Date27 June 1980
SummaryCrashed into the sea; cause disputed
SiteTyrrhenian Sea, near Ustica, Italy
38°50′22″N 13°25′31″E / 38.839494°N 13.425293°E / 38.839494; 13.425293
Aircraft typeMcDonnell Douglas DC-9-15
IATA flight No.IH870
ICAO flight No.IHS870
Call signITAVIA 870
Flight originGuglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ)
DestinationPalermo International Airport (PMO)

On 27 June 1980, Itavia Flight 870 (IH 870, AJ 421), a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 passenger jet en route from Bologna to Palermo, Italy, crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea between the islands of Ponza and Ustica, killing all 81 people on board.

Known in Italy as the Ustica massacre ("strage di Ustica"), the disaster led to numerous investigations, as well as legal actions and accusations; it continues to be a source of controversy, including claims of conspiracy by the Government of Italy and others. Francesco Cossiga, the Prime Minister of Italy at the time, attributed the crash to being accidentally shot down by a French missile during a dogfight between Libyan and French fighter jets. In September 2023, former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato declared that the accident was "part of a plan to shoot down the airplane of Gaddafi".[1][2]


Itavia Flight 870 is located in Italy
Bologna Guglielmo Marconi
Bologna Guglielmo Marconi
Crash site
Crash site
Palermo Punta Raisi
Palermo Punta Raisi
The location of the crash site between the departure and destination airports

The aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15 flown as Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870, was manufactured in 1966 and acquired by the airline on 27 February 1972 with the serial number CN45724/22 and registration I-TIGI (formerly N902H,[3] operated by Hawaiian Airlines).

Flight history[edit]

On 27 June 1980 at 20:08 CEST, the plane departed with a delay of one hour and 53 minutes from Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport for a scheduled service to Palermo Punta Raisi Airport, Sicily. With 77 passengers aboard, Captain Domenico Gatti (34), and First Officer Enzo Fontana (32), were at the controls, with two flight attendants.[4] The flight was designated IH 870 by air traffic control, while the military radar system used AJ 421.[5]

Contact was lost shortly after the last message from the aircraft was received at 20:37, giving its position over the Tyrrhenian Sea near the island of Ustica, about 120 kilometres (70 mi) southwest of Naples.[6] At 20:59 CEST, the aircraft broke apart in mid-air and crashed.[7] Two Italian Air Force F-104s were scrambled at 21:00 from Grosseto Air Force Base to locate the accident area and search for any survivors, but failed to do so because of poor visibility.[citation needed]

Floating wreckage parts were later found in the area.[8] There were no survivors among the 81 people on board.[9]

In July 2006, the re-assembled fragments of the DC-9 were returned to Bologna from Pratica di Mare Air Force Base near Rome.

Official statements and litigation[edit]

The perpetrators of the crime remain unidentified. After hearings held from 1989 to 1991, the Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism, headed by Senator Libero Gualtieri, issued an official statement concerning the crash of Flight 870, which became known as the "Ustica Massacre" (Strage di Ustica).[10] Then the crash was referred by a "prima facie" judicial act to as "primarily an act of war, a de facto unreported war – as has been customary ever since Pearl Harbor, until the latest Balkan conflict – an international police operation, in fact, up to the great powers, since there was no mandate in this sense; a non-military coercive action exercised lawfully or illicitly, by one State against another; or an act of terrorism, as it was later claimed, of an attack on a head of state or regime leader.".[11]

A number of Italian Air Force personnel have been investigated and tried for a number of alleged offences, including falsification of documents, high treason, perjury, abuse of office and aiding and abetting. None have been convicted. On 30 April 2004, Generals Corrado Melillo and Zeno Tascio were held to be not guilty of high treason. Lesser charges against a number of other military personnel were also dropped. Other allegations could no longer be pursued after the expiration of the statute of limitations, since the disaster had occurred more than 15 years before, which included charges against Generals Lamberto Bartolucci and Franco Ferri. In 2005, an appeals court ruled that no evidence supported the charges. 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 June 2010, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano urged all Italian authorities to cooperate in the investigation of the incident.[12]

In September 2011, a Palermo civil tribunal ordered the Italian government to pay 100 million euros ($137 million) in civil damages to the relatives of the victims for failing to protect the flight, concealing the truth and destroying evidence.[13]

On 23 January 2013, the Civil Cassation Court ruled that there was "abundantly" clear evidence that the flight was brought down by a stray missile, confirming the lower court's order that the Italian government must pay compensation.[14]

In April 2015, an appeals court in Palermo confirmed the rulings of the 2011 Palermo civil tribunal and dismissed an appeal by the state attorney.[15]

Hypotheses on the causes[edit]

Terrorist bomb[edit]

After the series of bombings that hit Italy in the 1970s, a terrorist act was the first explanation to be proposed. As the flight was delayed in Bologna by almost three hours, a bomb's timer may have been set to actually cause an explosion at the Palermo airport, or on a further flight of the same plane.

The 1990 judicial inquiry was supported by a technical commission, led by independent investigator Frank Taylor. The technical commission's report concluded that an explosion in the rear toilet, and not a missile strike, was the only conclusion supported by the wreckage analysis.[16] A test explosion in a DC-9 lavatory had shown the resulting deformation in the surrounding structure to be almost identical to that of the incident aircraft.[17][18]

The technical commission's report was criticised in the Italian media by Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.[19] In particular it was stated that there was no evidence of explosive residue, per tests performed in 1994 by the Defence Research Agency in the United Kingdom.[20][21]

Missile strike during military operation[edit]

Parts of the Italian media alleged that the aircraft was shot down during a dogfight involving Libyan, United States, French and Italian Air Force fighters in an assassination attempt by NATO members on an important Libyan politician, perhaps even Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was flying in the same airspace that evening.[22] This version was supported in 1999 by Judge Rosario Priore,[23] who 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.[23]

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 a Libyan MiG were attacked by two French jets.[24]

On 18 July 1980, 21 days after the Itavia Flight 870 incident, a Libyan MiG-23MS was found crashed in the Sila Mountains in Castelsilano, Calabria, southern Italy.[25] According to Libyan Air Force sources, the pilot was a victim of hypoxia. As his aircraft's autopilot was activated, it just kept flying straight and level until running out of fuel, and eventually crashed in the Sila Mountains.[9]

In 2008, Francesco Cossiga (Prime Minister when the incident occurred) said that Itavia Flight 870 had been shot down by French warplanes.[26] On 7 July 2008, a claim for damages was served on the French President.[citation needed]

In 2023, former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato said that France downed the plane while targeting a Libyan military jet in an attempt to kill Muammar Gaddafi. Amato said that Italy tipped off Libya about the planned assassination and consequently Gaddafi did not board the Libyan military jet.[27][28][29]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

Several conspiracy theories explaining the disaster persist.[30] 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. [citation needed] 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),[31] because investigations just seemed to "bounce back".


Remains of the plane at the Museum for the Memory of Ustica, Bologna, Italy

On 27 June 2007, the Museum for the Memory of Ustica was opened in Bologna. The museum is in possession of parts of the plane, which are assembled and on display, including almost all of the external fuselage. The museum also has 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 beach") 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 visitors upon request.


The crash of Itavia Flight 870 was featured in the 13th season of the Canadian documentary series Mayday in an episode entitled "Massacre over the Mediterranean". The episode discussed the separate investigations into the event, and appeared to favour the investigation led by Frank Taylor, which concluded that the wreckage ruled out a missile and pointed to an explosion in or near the rear lavatory was the most likely.[16]

A 1991 Italian film by Marco Risi, The Rubber Wall, tells the story of a journalist in search of answers to the many questions left open by the accident. The film theorises on a few possible scenarios, including the possibility that the DC-9 was mistakenly shot down during an aerial engagement between NATO and Libyan jet fighters.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Agenzia ANSA, 2 September 2023
  2. ^ "Amato: 'Su Ustica confermo tutto. Macron parli della base in Corsica'", la Repubblica, 5 Sep 2023.
  3. ^ "I-TIGI Itavia McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15 – cn 45724 / ln 22". Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  4. ^ "Massacre over the Mediterranean" Mayday [documentary TV series].
  5. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Douglas DC-9-15 I-TIGI Ustica, Italy [Tyrrhenian Sea]". Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  6. ^ "Italian DC-9 lost off Sicily." Flight International. 5 July 1990. p. 2. (Direct PDF link, Archive)
  7. ^ "DAGLI USA E' ARRIVATO IL NASTRO DEL DC9 – la" [THE TAPE OF DC 9 HAS COME FROM THE USA]. Archivio – la (in Italian). 16 June 1987. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  8. ^ "A case involving wreckage analysis" (PDF). 2006.
  9. ^ a b Cooper 2018, p. 26
  10. ^ Commissione Parlamentare d'inchiesta sul terrorismo in Italia e sulle cause della mancata individuazione dei responsabili delle stragi. Relazione sull'inchiesta condotta sulle vicende connesse al disastro aereo di Ustica. Presidente Libero Gualtieri (approvata dalla Commissione nella seduta del 14-15 aprile 1992)
  11. ^ Ordinanza-sentenza by judge R. Priore, 1999, p. 4965
  12. ^ Troendle, Stefan (27 June 2010). "Napolitano fordert Aufklärung des Absturzes von Ustica". Tagesschau. Retrieved 27 June 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.
  13. ^ "Italy court fines government $137 million over mysterious crash of plane over Ustica". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 13 September 2011. Archived from the original on 8 April 2019.
  14. ^ "Italian court: Missile caused 1980 Mediterranean plane crash; Italy must pay compensation". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 23 January 2013. Archived from the original on 30 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Ustica, Corte d'Appello conferma: "Il Dc-9 venne abbattuto da un missile"". Il Fatto Quotidiano. 8 April 2015.
  16. ^ a b A. Frank Taylor, "A Case History Involving Wreckage Analysis: Lessons from the Ustica investigations" (Archive)
  17. ^ A. Frank Taylor (March 1995) "Accident to Itavia DC-9 near Ustica, 27 June 1980: wreckage and impact information & analysis," International Society of Air Safety Investigators Forum (Paris, October 1994), 28 (1) : 6 ff. Available on-line at: Strage di Ustica
  18. ^ * A. F. Taylor (1998) "The study of aircraft wreckage: the key to accident investigation," Technology, Law and Insurance, 3 (2) : 129–147.
  19. ^ "Ustica, 41 anni dopo. Mig, morti sospette, depistaggi: ecco cosa sappiamo". (in Italian). 27 June 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  20. ^ "LE MISTERIOSE ASSENZE DEI PERITI DI USTICA - la". Archivio - la (in Italian). 28 June 1994. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  21. ^ "Ustica, perito inglese: depistaggio il missile Contesta le tesi degli altri esperti: c' e' molta puzza di disinformazione " Un nesso con la strage di Bologna "". 25 November 2015. Archived from the original on 25 November 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  22. ^ Thomas Van Hare (27 June 2012). "Italy's Darkest Night". Historic Wings.
  23. ^ a b The Mystery of Flight 870, The Guardian, 21 July 2006
  24. ^ Noel Grima (18 September 2011). "Libyan secret documents said to uncover Ustica tragedy... and how Gaddafi escaped to Malta unscathed". The Malta Independent.
  25. ^ Cooper, Grandolini & Delalande 2015, p. 41
  26. ^ Italy Reopens Probe Into 1980 Plane Crash: Media, Reuters, 22 June 2008
  27. ^ D'Emilio, Francis (2 September 2023). "Italian ex-premier says French missile downed an airliner in 1980 by accident in bid to kill Gadhafi". Associated Press. Retrieved 2 September 2023 – via MSN.
  28. ^ D'Emilio, Frances (2 September 2023). "Italian ex-premier says French missile downed an airliner in 1980 by accident in bid to kill Gadhafi". AP News. Retrieved 4 September 2023.
  29. ^ "Italy ex-PM alleges France downed passenger jet in bid to kill Gaddafi". POLITICO. 2 September 2023. Retrieved 9 December 2023.
  30. ^ Elisabetta Povoledo (10 February 2013). "Conspiracy Buffs Gain in Court Ruling on Crash". The New York Times.
  31. ^ ALAN COWELL (10 February 1992). "Italian Obsession: Was Airliner Shot Down?". The New York Times.


  • Cooper, Tom (2018). MiG-23 Flogger in the Middle East, Mikoyan i Gurevich MiG-23 in Service in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria, 1973-2018. Warwick: Helion & Company Publishing. ISBN 978-1-912-390328.
  • Cooper, Tom; Grandolini, Albert; Delalande, Arnaud (2015). Libyan Air Wars, Part 1: 1973-1985. Helion & Company Publishing. ISBN 978-1-909982-39-0.

External links[edit]