August 12, 2006

Today's crop of airline idiocy

Two quotes from the Globe today that really say it all about the current mass hysteria:

"In Halifax, passengers are even being told that fresh fish must be placed in their checked luggage. Doubt has been cast on that decision, though."

I'm presuming this is justified on account of the fish having been in liquid at some point in their lives... but hey look, if there wasn't a ban on carrying freshly caught fish in your purse before now, there probably should have been. Meanwhile, on the other end of the country...

"What to do with all the discarded goods is creating a new issue. While the Greater Toronto Airport Authority is throwing them away, B.C.'s Victoria Airport is taking a different approach.

"Airport manager Richard Paquette said some of the [suspected high explosive] seized from travellers at security check-ins this week will be salvaged and donated to charity."

Meanwhile in the United States, I see the terror laws are being used for a useful purpose again: to prevent people from buying discounted cellphones.

Posted by BruceR at 09:58 PM

Nothing faked about this photo

Two flaming Israeli tanks, killed at long distance, next to each other. Never thought I'd see it.

Who gave Iran the TOW missiles, Iranian-made copies of which are now being used to brew up Merkavas? Oh yeah, him. (Of course, given that it was Israeli TOWs that North sold, there's plenty of blame to go around.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:08 PM

Good point

Colby Cosh raises a good point: if you really think a liquid bottle could contain either nitroglycerine or TATP, about the last thing you want to do is *throw* it into a giant bin next to you, and then throw a whole bunch of other bottles on top of it. The fact that that hasn't occurred to anyone yet really shows the degree to which these new "screening measures" are essentially talismanic.

That said, I'm not sure of his numbers in the post immediately above. 360ml of nitroglycerine, depending on how it was prepared, would be the equivalent of a couple of sticks of dynamite, and should have done a lot more damage than just killing the one man in the seat the bomb was under: the estimates I read had it as little as a tenth of that amount in the Flight 434 bomb. The August 2004 suicide bombings by Chechen terrorists of two Russian planes seem to indicate conclusively that a moderate amount of explosives (like a bomb vest) detonated in the cabin will manage to bring down a passenger plane.

It should also be noted that Flight 434 was hardly the first time a Muslim terrorist tried to blow up a plane with a bomb under a passenger seat, either.

Another data point: the 1986 passenger compartment bombing of TWA Flight 840 by the Abu Nidal organization involved the setting off of a pound charge (.45kg) of plastic explosive. Four passengers were sucked out of the resulting hole in the fuselage, but the plane still landed. Hezbollah is suspected of at least one suicide passenger bombing, as well.

UPDATE: Found another one. This 1972 bombing is one of three I've found where a planted passenger compartment bomb successfully brought down the aircraft.

Kim Jong Il brought down a plane once using a compartment bomb, with .35kg of C4 and 700ml of PLX. So did anti-Castro Cubans.

There's also the case of China Northern Flight 6136, in 2002, involving a suicidal passenger setting the interior of the plane alight with gasoline.

So if you wanted to calculate the odds, I have found 497 fatalities due to passenger compartment bombs (or molotov cocktails, in the last case) in the history of air travel, in ten separate attacks. In the four of those that were suicide attacks, each time the plane crashed: in total 222 died. In the six hide-the-bomb-under-the-seat-and-get-off-the-next-stop attacks, 275 people died, but three of the six planes landed safely. Which could give the answer to Colby's question, why did Al Qaeda go with a suicide plan instead of the hide-and-get-off Bojinka plan.

Also, based on the historical evidence, guaranteed immediate in-flight destruction by this kind of bomb in this location on the plane would seem to require something in excess of 1 pound (.45kg) of high explosive, depending on the type used... about the same as is generally considered deadly in a luggage compartment bomb. Which means even your largest contact lens cleaner container probably wouldn't be enough even if it was high-grade nitroglycerine (about .21kg by weight), and definitely not if it was a home-cooked TATP in a liquid suspension.

(Going back to Mythbusters, in their similar first-season experiment a 0.1kg shaped charge of high explosive against the interior passenger compartment wall proved sufficient to wreck a DC-9. But a bomb under a seat or in a luggage rack not specifically designed to blow a hole would have to multiply that weight by a significant factor.)

Of course, we shouldn't forget how Stan Rogers died, either.

Posted by BruceR at 11:50 AM