Michelle Malkin has the low down on a reported SAM engagement with America West Flight 17, via Little Green Footballs.

Shades of TWA 800?

Charles at lgf writes:

"I’ve just received a credible tip from an LGF reader that an America West flight out of New York was fired upon by a surface to air missile yesterday, and that the pilot and passengers witnessed it and are now being questioned by the FAA and FBI.

That’s the extent of the information I currently have, and please note: right now this is completely unverified."


Michelle got a MR guy from America West on the horn:

"I just got off the phone with Phil Gee, associate manager of media relations at America West, who promptly returned my late evening call. Here’s what he told me:

On Sept. 15 (Thursday), America West Flight 17 took off from JFK Airport at 6:05pm EDT. The captain “took the initiative,” says Gee, and reported an “irregularity” to air traffic control as the plane was ascending. The plane continued to Phoenix and landed safely at 8:55pm MST. FBI and other authorities met and interviewed all of the crew and passengers on the plane. The investigation is continuing.


Ok, not much at this time. Stay tuned.

The scary thing is that one doesn't have to be a terrorist to get one of these. They are readily available on the Black Market and through other sources. So if true was it terrorists? Or just some punk kids playing around? We'll see.

A little background on Surface to Air Missile or SAM:

However dangerous it is to have a SAM fired at an aircraft, most likely in this case if true, this weapon was a 'manpad' - normally a Stinger (my old toy), or SA 7 (Russian), shoulder fired weapon.

If so, it's going to be hard to trace.

With these all you do is load 'em up, point (aquire) and pull the trigger. They are heat seeking, but need a clear shot to the "exhaust". So unless they are fired when an aircraft is taking off or coming in for a landing, or at when it's below 10,000 feet they aren't very effective. Especially Stingers. SA-7 are a little bit more effective, but not much more. The warheads are small containing about 4 pounds of explosives. Enough to tear up the engine. Therefore a kill on a civilian aircraft is more likely if the engines are close to the fuselage such as on MD 80's, but less so if the engines are on the wings.

Therefore, thankfully in the latter (for comfort sake), they can inflict damage to the craft, howbeit not necessarily bring the plane down.

A lot depends on the condition of the batteries used in the missle (generally lasting about 5 years), and whether they are in reasonabily good condition and fired by someone who knows what in the hell they are doing.

With black market weapos you are dealing mostly with used or at least serviced weapons - but hardly brand new.

More very interesting information on SAM missle defenses for civilian aircraft can be found here.

If this is true it's time for the Government to get on the "stick" and equip our aircraft with a least some of the defenses mentioned.

More at Captain's Quarters, AJ Strata.

UPDATE: Michelle states:

"A government aviation official who asked me not to reveal her name says the "missile siting was [a] false alarm:"

"The sighting was reported near Colt's Neck, NJ, which is a major route south out of NY. FAA set up a small temporary flight restriction around the area while checking radar files. Turned out to be nothing more than birds, and [a] big game of "telephone."

Yeah......birds......they leave trails....

(Snif!)

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