13 years after Swissair flight 111 went down into the Atlantic near Halifax a CBC documentary to be aired Friday suggests that it might have been the victim of foul play. An RCMP detective’s investigation after the crash is in the spotlight.
Swissair’s scheduled flight 111 from New York Kennedy to Geneva went down over the Atlantic southwest of Halifax on September 2, 1998. All 229 people on board were killed. The pilot apparently did not realise the seriousness of the emergency when smoke started to seep into the cockpit. He wasted precious minutes that he could have used to make an emergency landing at Halifax Airport. Instead he decided to go through the company's checklist manual and go back out to sea to dump fuel before landing. It was a fatal decision. Sections 2 and 3 of featured video dramatises the flight's last minutes.
After investigating the crash for four years at a cost of $57 million the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) concluded that flammable materials used in the MD-11 (McDonnell Douglas) aircraft’s structure allowed an accidental fire to spread to the cockpit. TSB said:
“Aircraft certification standards for material flammability were inadequate in that they allowed the use of materials that could be ignited and sustain or propagate fire. Consequently, flammable material propagated a fire that started above the ceiling on the right side of the cockpit near the cockpit rear wall. The fire spread and intensified rapidly to the extent that it degraded aircraft systems and the cockpit environment, and ultimately led to the loss of control of the aircraft.”
That theory is challenged by a former RCMP special investigator that went to work immediately after the wreckage was recovered. He says he found considerable traces of magnesium, iron oxide and zinc, which are footprints of an incendiary device. He says the investigation should have been carried out as a homicide investigation and not an accident. That would have entailed extending the investigation into the United States where the flight originated, and possibly Switzerland, where the RCMP would have required the cooperation of U.S. and Swiss authorities.
Retired RCMP sergeant Tom Juby’s findings are at the heart of a CBC Fifth Estate documentary that will be aired tomorrow at 9PM, but is already stirring a controversy. According to Global News Barbara Fetherolf of Pennsylvania , mother of one of the crash victims, is angry that anybody would suggest a criminal act and a cover-up conspiracy.
What caused the fire aboard one of the best airlines in the world?
MD-11 has a reputation for requiring intensive maintenance after every flight. Was it sloppy maintenance? If it wasn't an accident, who would want to down a Swiss airliner?
Flight 111 was called the United Nations Shuttle, since it regularly carried U.N. officials between New York and Geneva. A Saudi prince and a relative of the Shah of Iran were among passengers. It was also reported that $500 million worth of diamonds and gemstones were aboard this particular flight, but the cargo has never been recovered. At that time Switzerland drew the ire of the world for sitting on billions of dollars of deposits by Holocaust victims that were eventually the subject of class action lawsuits in the United States and Europe. There was no shortage of possible plots for an Ian Fleming novel.
Swissair went into bankruptcy shortly after the crash, just as TWA went into a fatal tailspin after the 1996 crash of its flight 800 in the New York-Halifax corridor shortly before the Atlanta Olympics. Although the FBI conducted a criminal investigation into TWA 800's mid-air explosion, many questions remain unanswered despite its conclusion that it was an accident.