Inspiration & context: This is more of a rant piece building on events of excessive paranoia. I have constructed it deliberately to present the public with an extreme, although plausible, story. It is also intended to give people perspective on this issue and make them realize the REAL risks and problems.
This piece builds on various cases in recent news of innocent passengers being escorted off airplanes because of paranoid fears on the part of concerned passengers, for increasingly ridiculous reasons. It is presented as a series of articles relating a fictitious air crash and the investigation that follows.
The events related in these articles are fictitious and only intended as a commentary on the current situation. Certain names are of real people and organizations, but this DOES NOT necessarily represent their actual thoughts or opinions. The names are merely placed here for the realism and to stress the point.
And now, your feature presentation…
MYSTERY FLIGHT CRASHES IN PROSPECT PARK, BROOKLYN
New York, May 3rd – by Damien C., special correspondent
An airplane crashed last night in Prospect Park after a very strange sequence of events.
The plane, a United Airlines Boeing 737, was noticed at around 10:30 pm flying loops around JFK airport, not responding to radio calls.
After failing to contact the crew for an hour, authorities dispatched two fighters to track and monitor it and, if necessary, shoot it out of the sky to avoid unnecessary harm to civilians.
The fighter crews reported the plane was also not responding to radio calls or visual cues or the presence of the fighters.
One of the pilots, who flew up close to the 737’s cockpit, also reported something strange: in the darkness it was hard to tell for sure, but the flight crew’s seats appeared empty. The pilots may have been incapacitated in some way.
This immediately raised fears of terrorist involvement. An FBI negotiator was brought in to try to contact the plane again, but there was still no response.
After another half hour, the plane’s lights went out and the plane itself slowly started diving toward the ground. At that point, the fighter tailing the plane decided to shoot it to try to blow it up and, with smaller debris, minimize damage on the civilian community below. This plan seems to have partly failed, as the plane did not actually explode.
The plane crashed in Prospect Park at 11:47 pm.
No casualties have been reported as yet.
Details about the actual flight are still scarce, and the investigation has only just begun.
The NTSB and FBI were on the scene almost immediately, and have secured a perimeter around the site.
As yet, the investigating authorities have not released a statement. Greg Feith, Senior Investigator at the NTSB, said, “It’s just too soon to say anything yet. There are so many unusual things about this crash, and we need a lot more information. We can’t let ourselves be carried away by gut feelings and fear, we need to focus on the facts.”
So it looks like it will take a while longer to get to the bottom of this very bizarre crash. We will update this column as information comes in. ❑
PROSPECT PARK MYSTERY CRASH A ‘GHOST FLIGHT’
New York, May 3rd – by Damien C., special correspondent
A joint statement this morning by the FBI and NTSB has pointed to very unusual circumstances surrounding the Prospect Park crash.
NTSB officials confirm they consider this to be an ‘unsurvivable accident’.
The Air Force has run its own internal investigation into the incident, but the statements filed by the fighter pilots are completely accurate and consistent with radar and other data. The pilots have been exonerated, having merely followed instructions.
Because of the darkness and the intense rain that suddenly started falling shortly after the crash, investigators mainly focused on recovering the black boxes, which were found almost immediately and shipped to NTSB headquarters for analysis.
The Flight Data Recorder, which keeps track of sensors, flight control surfaces, engine settings, and other environmental parameters in the plane, points to everything being perfectly functional aboard the plane. The plane, in fact, took off in perfectly normal conditions, then switched to autopilot for the remainder of the flight. The autopilot then kept it flying in a holding pattern over Brooklyn. After a while the fuel readings reached zero shortly and the plane began to dive.
The Cockpit Voice Recorder was slightly damaged in the crash but the recordings were recovered. Analysts noted some little interference, but aside from that, no sounds whatsoever. So far, they attribute it to defective microphones or problems in the recording circuits on the CVR.
So far all the evidence seems to point to an incident like Helios Airways flight 522. On August 14th 2005, because the automatic cabin pressurization switch had been deactivated by a ground technician, the passengers and crew of the Boeing 737 went into hypoxia and passed out, which left the plane flying on autopilot in an automatic holding pattern over Athens, where it was due to land. The plane eventually fell out of the sky when it ran out of fuel.
This of course has sparked worries about the 737’s design. Could it have a wider-reaching failure, one that affected both Helios 522 and this flight? Boeing deny any further issue here, and according to Boeing engineer Mark Gregoire, “ever since the spate of 737 rudder malfunctions in the 1990’s, the entire design of the aircraft has been checked and reviewed, and no such failure could occur again in a system as important as the rudder or the cabin pressurization.” ❑
PROSPECT PARK SURVIVORS TELL STRANGE TALE ABOUT UA151
New York, May 3rd – by Damien C., special correspondent
A mere few hours after the preliminary reports from the investigation into the crash of what has now been identified as United flight 151, some very strange and confusing evidence has turned up.
First of all, after analyzing the remains at the FBI’s Quantico, VA crime lab, investigators have found no trace of explosives except those from the Air Force missile. There was also no evidence whatsoever of any illegal or disruptive activity inside the cabin or cockpit.
It really seems as though the only evidence is that at some point the plane began to dive and was then shot out of the sky.
To make matters more confusing, NTSB findings indeed confirm that no bodies at all were found in the wreckage, no passengers and no crew. There was also no carry-on or checked luggage aboard, and none of the doors had been tampered with, as was further attested by the fighter pilots who escorted the flight during its final moments.
This is confirmed by damning evidence provided by none other than the flight’s passengers.
Earlier this morning, NTSB officials labeled this accident as ‘unsurvivable’. Yet it is live passengers who have come forward with their stories. They spoke from Charleston, WV, the origin of the flight, where they report they were stranded as the plane left without them.
Several of the passengers report that the entire plane was cleared of passengers shortly before departure time, but none of those who came forward know why.
We have so far been unable to reach the intended cockpit crew of the plane for explanation. We have been told the airline is keeping them from talking to the press.
We have reached out to some of their colleagues, who are utterly confused by the incident as well. “There is absolutely no reason to send a flight off with no passengers or crew”, one of them said, adding, “It’s very bad for the airline as it entails huge costs that cannot be recovered.”
We have talked to air traffic controllers in the area, but to them, the flight was just running normally, and seemed to respond to instructions until it went silent over Long Island. “Communication with United 151 was going just fine until about 10:20 pm, when it disappeared off our radar screens and its radio went silent.” says one controller who followed the flight’s progress into the NYC area.
Investigators are now left with a baffling dilemma: how can the flight have been empty, and how was it responding to air traffic instructions? And finally, how did it end up crashing in the middle of an urban area?
We will continue to report on this story as it continues to unfold ❑
BOMBSHELL IN PROSPECT PARK CRASH CASE: FLIGHT DID LEAVE EMPTY, ADMITS AIRLINE
New York, May 3rd – by Damien C., special correspondent
Further investigation into the Prospect Park airplane crash has revealed some very startling truths about the flight. It has already been established that flight UA151 left empty, with no passengers, crew or luggage, from Charleston, West Virginia on its way to JFK airport. But until now, it has been difficult to reach anyone with more precise information about how or why this happened.
One passenger we spoke to remembers the flight was evacuated at the gate for ‘security reasons’. They were not told, however, anything more about said reasons.
Ground staff at Charleston airport were able to tell us more. One ground attendant who was on duty at the departure gate (she will remain anonymous in our coverage) mentioned that “there was this passenger (whose name we will not publish here) who’d expressed concerns about the security of the flight, prompting a total evacuation of the plane”. She said that the airline had stressed to her that she was to reveal this to nobody, but that she “thought it was her duty”.
Since the beginning of this affair we have tried to reach out to the airline, but until now nobody has even accepted to give a statement about the flight. This morning, we finally managed to talk to someone at United Airlines, who also wished to remain anonymous.
“According to official reports, the flight was evacuated because that passenger was concerned that all passengers and crew and luggage presented a security risk, and none of that should be allowed on the flight” he said. “She pointed out that any passenger or crew member could put the flight in danger, and any luggage item could contain dangerous substances, and that she didn’t feel safe flying at all under those circumstances.”
When flight attendants tried to reason with that passenger, pointing out the obvious fallacies in her reasoning, she asked to speak to local airline officials. “At one point”, our contact added, “the passenger was even told that if she didn’t feel comfortable flying under those conditions, she probably shouldn’t be on the flight in the first place”. In response to this, the offended passenger threatened to sue the airline for reckless endangerment of hundreds of lives. So the flight was evacuated.
This is a clear reminder of recent incidents where innocent passengers were forced off flights for arbitrary reasons. A few months ago, a man was escorted off a flight simply because he was speaking Arabic on the phone and this worried his neighbor. A few days before the Prospect Park crash, another was removed from a flight because he was tanned with a beard and was writing “suspicious mathematical formulae” on a notebook, and his neighbor was concerned this was related to a bomb possibly placed aboard the plane.
This time, however, the same issue seems to have been pushed much further.
We have tried to reach the offended passenger for more details on her position, but it appears she died last night in a hit-and-run accident, while crossing the street near her Charleston home.
There still remained the question of how the plane was able to take off and fly without passengers or crew. When we asked him about this, our contact at United said, “the flight was remotely controlled during take-off, then set to strict autopilot mode with only occasional radio interaction between the remote pilots and the air traffic controllers to ensure the flight didn’t have any trouble and could adjust course according to controllers’ instructions. This was intended to limit the risks of even a remote pilot endangering the plane.”
Then how did the plane end up stuck in autopilot mode circling JFK and eventually crashing because of a lack of fuel? “There are indications that communications failed between the pilots and the jet shortly before the plane arrived in the vicinity of JFK airport.”
The NTSB will doubtless want to investigate this communication breakdown further, and uncover why exactly this occurred. So far, they have refused to comment on this startling development ❑
PROSPECT PARK CRASH CASE BECOMES A MAJOR SCANDAL
New York, May 5th – by Damien C., special correspondent
Since yesterday’s revelations into flight UA151’s unusual circumstances, United Airlines has been under immense pressure to explain how and why this was allowed to happen. Social media has exploded into feverish discussions and comments using increasingly strong and virulent language. The hashtags #UA151NTBS (this letter switch is not a typo) and #AirParanoia have been trending ever since.
But there was more to come. In a public statement this morning, the airline defended its decision, stating that “for financial reasons, it was best to keep the flight running normally, even empty. […] The multiple communications failures are ultimately what brought the plane down, and without those, we would have landed the plane just fine.”
This statement sent shock waves through the general public, with the general perception being that the airline clearly cared more about its bottom line than about its business. In the few hours since, Twitter and Facebook have exploded again, using even harsher terms (which we will not publish here) giving the airline downright offensive nicknames.
Also, a class action lawsuit has already been filed against United Airlines by the passengers of the flight, because the airline refused to refund more than 20% of their tickets, on the basis that they had already checked in and were legally bound to fly, and that the clearing of the flight was not entirely the fault of the airline.
Still unanswered in this scandal is the question of why multiple communications systems failed simultaneously. The NTSB and FAA insist it was an unfortunate combination of failures, but as is usual with these questions, it is difficult to obtain clear evidence on these issues. The NTSB have analyzed the communications system on the flight from FDR data, and it seems the radio frequency the plane was tuned to was somehow changed, and the ground systems were unable to pick it up on any other frequency. This was confusing: first, because the frequency the radio systems were tuned to should not have been able to change automatically, and second, because even on another frequency, the plane should have been picked up by ground-based systems.
Of course, this has sparked many conspiracy theories, the leading one being cyberterrorism, with some people even hinting that this may be a ‘rehearsal’ for a bigger attack. It is worth reminding our readers that this was one of the many suspicions expressed about the still unknown fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. This flight took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8th, 2014, headed for Beijing. But after less than an hour, MH370 lost radio contact and started making unplanned turns to the left, eventually heading southward over the Indian Ocean for several hours (according to satellite data). Nothing is known about why the flight stopped communicating or turned off its intended course, and some suspect its systems were hacked into, setting it off course in an attempt to make it vanish completely.
Building on this fear, some have even called for a precautionary grounding of all commercial flights until an investigation reveals that these fears are unfounded. For obvious reasons, this would be very impractical and a heavy blow to the economy, as was seen following the 9/11 attacks or the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010.
In an attempt to reason with the general public, FAA officials issued a statement reminding everyone that “There’s no such thing as a zero risk situation. If we really wanted to take absolutely no risks, neither the airline industry nor any other would even exist. And still that wouldn’t be enough.”
Still others, in this direction, have pointed out that the passenger who caused all of this, the one who reported that passengers, crew and luggage were all dangerous to have aboard a flight, was in fact killed in a car accident, which is 90 times more likely than dying in a plane crash, let alone one caused by terrorist actions.
The controversy has only just begun, and only time will tell how it will evolve and eventually end.
This paper doesn’t usually take public positions on such issues, but in this case we will make an exception. Though we do applaud the conscientious efforts of individual citizens to work for the greater good and increased safety and security, we nevertheless strongly urge people to make sure this doesn’t go to their heads, and to be more reasonable in their actions and reactions on such issues, especially where stereotypes are concerned.
As the FAA pointed out, there is no such thing as a zero risk situation, and even without worrying about criminal intent, there are plenty enough risks built into air travel as it is. The only thing we can do is what we have been doing all along: build the system with as many safeguards as possible, and mitigate it further when unexpected incidents occur. We cannot plan ahead for every possible situation, and nor can we address every possible risk beforehand ❑