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List of commercial airliner bombings.
November 29, 2010 2:59 PM   Subscribe

This list of commercial airliner bombings appears in the Ask a Rocket Scientist section of Aerospaceweb.org. It presents a comprehensive and descriptive catalog of 86 bombings and attempted bombings since 1933, 54 of which resulted in fatalities, and offers some information that might be relevant to the question of airline security.
posted by washburn (44 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Curious about the early ones without much evidence, or "it is believed a bomb was the cause."
posted by fixedgear at 3:05 PM on November 29, 2010


A man named Jack Graham was arrested for the act. Graham's mother, Daisie King, was on the plane and he hoped to claim $37,500 of life insurance policies he had bought from vending machines at the airport just before departure.

Many things about this seem ridiculous to me, but according to the list, taking down a whole plane just to collect insurance on one person happened several times.
posted by snofoam at 3:07 PM on November 29, 2010


27 airline bombings in the '70s, 22 in the '80s, 8 since "9/11" including the laughable 'shoe bomber' and 'underwear bomber' and only 2 with fatalities. Why weren't we so terrified by terrorism in the '70s and '80s? Were we so much smarter then or are 'we' (absolutely not including me) suffering from mass-PTSD after seeing those giant towers fall*?

*rehashing of an old recurring theme of mine: the destruction of the Twin Towers killed less than 5% of the people in them at the time (10% of the fatalities were firemen and others who entered the buildings AFTER the planes hit), IMO making it a great victory for the people whose job it is to keep us safe from the Terrorists who want to Kill Us All. It was the common response to be Terrorized that made it a great victory for Terrorism.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:27 PM on November 29, 2010 [17 favorites]


taking down a whole plane just to collect insurance on one person happened several times.

I noticed this as well - I suppose it's to eliminate any possibility that the claim would be denied, because who would commit suicide by setting off a bomb on a plane full of people, right? But apparently, it's not crazy to think that people will do this.
posted by rtha at 3:27 PM on November 29, 2010


snofoam, I thought you'd focus on the insurance policy vending machines in that particular case. But it seems you can do just that in Kentucky (PDF) to this very day, and a coin-actuated insurance-policy vending machine was patented in 1929. Before today, I did not know these facts.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:27 PM on November 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


The amazing thing is that "insurance" bombings account for 30% of the bombings with a known cause and were the main cause or airplane bombings before 1965.
posted by elgilito at 3:36 PM on November 29, 2010


Relevant, I think, is the number of irport bombings since carryon luggage and passengers began being screened with the metal detectors(?) the pornoscanner is replacing. Wikipedia tells me baggage screening in general started in 1973, but I can't find and don't know what year metal detectors were put in place. I do remember reading that this happened after a bomb or bomb attempt, though.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:45 PM on November 29, 2010


Why weren't we so terrified by terrorism in the '70s and '80s?

Well, there were actually a very large number of hijackings back then. Like 82 in 1979. Mostly to Cuba. Just not bombings. That is why we have airline passenger screening in the first place.
posted by smackfu at 3:50 PM on November 29, 2010


Also, because we were far more terrified of the country that was pointing nukes at us that would kill us all.
posted by smackfu at 3:51 PM on November 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


We were definitely afraid of terrorism in the '70s and '80s, depending on your definition of "we". The US government? Yep. The UK government? Like whoa. The Sri Lankan government? Abso-damn-lutely.

The average US person? Not so much. But there have been other times in history when "omg the terrorists are going to kill us alllllll!" sentiment has been whipped up to a frenzy in the US, particularly between 1886 and 1921.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:58 PM on November 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


taking down a whole plane just to collect insurance on one person happened several times.

A version of this plot was the basis for the Aurthur Hailey book and subsequent first mega-star "disaster" film Airport
posted by victors at 4:09 PM on November 29, 2010


We were definitely afraid of terrorism in the '70s and '80s, depending on your definition of "we". The US government? Yep. The UK government? Like whoa. The Sri Lankan government? Abso-damn-lutely.

But the governments seemed far better at not scaring the general population. Or maybe governments since have been far better at scaring the general population (for their own reasons).
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:14 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bombing a plane to collect insurance money was so familiar by 1982 that it was used as a comic trope in the movie Airplane II, where Sonny Bono's character Joe Seluchi attempts to do this very thing (um, er, with a bomb he bought at the airport gift shop).
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:21 PM on November 29, 2010


Why weren't we so terrified by terrorism in the '70s and '80s?

Because you would get the news at 10PM or 11PM on TV, or from a newspaper the next day, both created by a responsible journalism team that had taken time to fact check and analyze the news, rather than multiple 24 hour "news" stations that are pumping out each overheard "fact" as fast as possible, and at least one of them having a clearly stated political agenda to help one party over the other.

But I'm not bitter.
posted by eriko at 4:32 PM on November 29, 2010 [29 favorites]


I also remember being a kid in the 70s and plane hijackings were something that appeared on the news once a month or so, to the point where it didn't seem like a big global event, but a local crime on the level of bank robbery or something.
posted by mathowie at 4:44 PM on November 29, 2010


Why weren't we so terrified by terrorism in the '70s and '80s?

One major reason is because at that time, terrorism wasn't needed as a catch-all justification for US aggression and imperialism, as it had the Soviet Union to fill that role. Indeed, much of the discussion about terrorism at the time tried to link it to the Soviets, regardless of any evidence. Now of course the US doesn't have the Soviet Union to blame everything on so it needs something else to justify its ongoing imperialism. And now, as then, the ideological camp followers of imperialism are happy to oblige (even if some do it "responsibly").
posted by williampratt at 4:54 PM on November 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Bombing a plane to collect insurance money was so familiar by 1982 that it was used as a comic trope in the movie Airplane II

Bombing a plane to collect insurance money was so familiar by 1970 that it was the plot of the movie Airport which inspired the Airplane parodies.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2010


flt, the insurance vending machines in the airport actually did make the gears and springs pop out of my head.
posted by snofoam at 4:59 PM on November 29, 2010


Why weren't we so terrified by terrorism in the '70s and '80s?

For values of "we" that equals Americans, because it didn't happen very often on US soil. My father travelled internationally through my childhood and up to his death in 1987. He was never hijacked (although apparently he was held to ransom once when I was a very small child; I don't remember this) but I was aware, if not afraid, that it was possible.

It was a bit different when I was living in the UK, though not in London, during an active IRA bombing campaign in the early 80s. I remember the coverage of the near-miss attempt on Margaret Thatcher in Brighton vividly. I also remember the Lockerbie bombing very clearly because Pan Am 103 was the flight my father and most of his colleagues used to go back to the US from London. For those cases I felt more of a personal connection, and they were more upsetting and, in the case of Lockerbie, more frightening.

(I also remember being very frightened of coverage of plane crashes, like the one in the late 70s where a jet overshot the runway in DC and ended up in the Potomac in the middle of winter. I can only imagine what modern 24-hours news cycle coverage of that would look like now.)
posted by immlass at 5:53 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The amazing thing is that "insurance" bombings account for 30% of the bombings with a known cause and were the main cause or airplane bombings before 1965.

And 70 percent of those insurance bombings involved an airport at which a certain Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead was waiting to make a connecting flight.
posted by pracowity at 6:03 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why weren't we so terrified by terrorism in the '70s and '80s?
I lived in central London during active IRA bombing, and it wasn’t unusual to find I couldn’t get home because the streets had been cordoned off due to a bomb scare. At least two bombs did actually go off within half a mile of my house - a bus explosion,which killed a lot of people, and a car bomb, and I think there was another car bomb around the corner that was defused before it went off. We weren’t particularly terrified though, simply because it becomes banal when it happens everyday. Once something like that happens all the time you just factor the risks into your life - even at the height of the bombing campaigns there were still more people being killed in car accidents than being killed by bombs in London, and as a cyclist I was genuinely more afraid of that.

There’s a reason why the monsters always lurk out of sight in the shadows in horror films - because they’re scarier like that. Once the monsters come out into the daylight and you get a good look at them they are rarely as frightening. Everyone is paradoxically more scared of terrorism now because there’s less of it about.
posted by silence at 6:08 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


(I also remember being very frightened of coverage of plane crashes, like the one in the late 70s where a jet overshot the runway in DC and ended up in the Potomac in the middle of winter. I can only imagine what modern 24-hours news cycle coverage of that would look like now.)

The hysteria behind that crash was somewhat justified, because it uncovered a number of unsafe aviation practices at the time. (Also, that particular incident actually did receive almost immediate coverage, because a TV news crew happened to be stuck in traffic on the 14th St Bridge at the time)

So, maybe you should find another axe to grind. Hyperbolic journalism isn't new. It's changed a lot over the past few years, although I think that most (including myself) would struggle to describe exactly how it changed.
posted by schmod at 6:11 PM on November 29, 2010


the movie Airport which inspired the Airplane parodies

My pedantry goes to 11. The first Airplane movie was a direct parody of Zero Hour, not Airport.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:15 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, maybe you should find another axe to grind. Hyperbolic journalism isn't new.

Careful where you jerk that knee, friend. I'm not sure how saying how footage of a domestic plane crash was particularly scary to me when I was a teenager (I was 14 in 1982) has anything to do with hyperbolic journalism. I was contrasting the immediacy of a plane crash in the US, like the Potomac crash or the Sioux City crash in 1989 vs reports of terrorism in other places for their fright value. Other people's mileage may vary, but at the time I found the domestic crashes more frightening than the overseas bombings, with the exception of Pan Am 103.
posted by immlass at 6:32 PM on November 29, 2010


The quasidocumentary film Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y is an interestingly idiosyncratic take on airplane hijackings in the 1970s.
posted by jonp72 at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2010


I had a couple of terrorism scares in the 1970s and 1980s. When I was 10 years old I moved from Canada to the UK and spent much of December 1978 Christmas season absolutely terrified of the mail that came through our door everyday. The IRA sent a series of parcel bombs out that month and, not aware of the nuances of their targets, I put together my Irish surname with the fact that we were foreigners living in England and concluded that somehow we were on the list. Absolute terror. I was inconsolable for a month.

Later, in 1985 I lost five schoolmates, one of whom was a friend in the Air India bombing. Seemed like for me, growing up in Canada and the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, violent terrorism was always lurking in the dim background of my experience.

Of course, my milage may vary, but there it is.
posted by salishsea at 7:09 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


As my former self said in 2004 (about an incident in 1990) "I can speak from the personal experience of being an unintended victim of an unsuccessful terrorist bombing. The bomber targeted an IRS office next door with home made howitzer-style weapons made from oil drums. I was sitting at a computer for a half-hour facing a window on the 7th floor overlooking the IRS building before they evacuated an eight-block area. The bombs never went off, but it took the bomb squad all morning to disarm them. If they had gone off, they were aimed wrong, and the payload would've gone over the roof of the IRS and right in my face."
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2010


27 airline bombings in the '70s, 22 in the '80s

It seems like this trend extends pretty solidly into the middle of the 60s as well. There were 13 from 1964 through 1969, a little more than 2 per year, which is just about the same rate.

(Self link:) I put a timeline up here. I'd label the incidents, but the they're too close together for any simple labeling scheme.
posted by -jf- at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was really surprised about how many of them there were. In Canada, we hear a lot about Pan Am 103, even now, because of the investigations and the trials and the investigations into just how badly our various police forces fucked up the original investigations, but I was surprised at how many recent bombings there had been. I don't feel like I heard much if anything about many of them.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2010


Err, but not enough to have not somehow mentally confused PanAm103 with Air India 182.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 PM on November 29, 2010


In the 60s and 70s and even 80s, air travel was more expensive and less ubiquitous than it is now—though I don't have stats to back that up at hand—so airline bombings might not have made it to as many people's lists of "what can I unreasonably fear now?" And I think that the 24-hour news cycle vortex also contributes to that fear mongering.

In the 70s & 80s in the US, it was post offices that captured our fear of random extinction. Seemed like every week, somebody was in a shoot-em-up at a post office. To the extent that "going postal" became synonymous with workplace rampages. Now, tying this to oneswellfoop's personal experience, my brother had a similar almost-terrorism experience that was mistaken for Postal Rage.

Brother worked at a large postal sorting facility on the midnight shift. After the lunch break, around 3 AM, a minor explosion rocked the men's locker room. One locker that contained a crude bomb, what we'd call an IED now, I guess, was completely blown apart, as well as the adjoining ones. Fortunately, no one was in that part of the locker room.

Immediately, Going Postal was the suspected motive. Was the employee whose locker was most involved a target? A quick determination was made that he was the builder of the device and not the target. But he told enough of his coworkers when cuffed & on his way out that he was very happy working for the Post Office. The bomb was an avocation, part of his dedication to the cause of the FALN, though I have no way of knowing whether the FALN claimed his efforts as theirs. 83 airline bombings in what, 80-90 years? Here's the FALN scoresheet:
United States law enforcement first learned of the existence of the FALN on October 26, 1974, the date the group issued a communiqué taking credit for five bombings in New York. . Ultimately, over the next decade, FALN activities resulted in 72 actual bombings, 40 incendiary attacks, 8 attempted bombings and 10 bomb threats, resulting in 5 deaths, 83 injuries, and over $3 million in property damage.


I cast no aspersions through this retelling on Boriquenos--I mention it because at that time in Chicago and New York, there was a fear of random explosions in the service of national liberation, and the real & present danger largely faded by the end of the 80s.

I think what we see at the airports is an overreaction. Not that there ISN'T a danger of attacks on planes, but just that the measures taken out on passengers has apparently done little to either increase safety or to allay fears.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:13 PM on November 29, 2010


Since we've drifted to talking about the IRA...

My grandfather discovered he was on an IRA hit list back in the late 70s / early 80s. He wasn't at the top of the list, but he wasn't at the bottom either. Apparently they listed him because he was in the chain of custody (or whatever you call it) for high level military and government papers.

The relevant authorities offered him a policeman to stand by his front door and offered him a government driver. Which (retrospectively) sounds simultaneously cool and incredibly pointless.

He refused all their offers on the grounds that if the IRA really wanted him, they'd get him, and making it difficult would just make them take routes that were more dangerous to others. I'm pretty sure the only thing he changed about his life was that he parked his Volvo in the garage more often.

I only found out about it when (half a dozen years later) my mother managed to terrify me by implying that my father was making enemies with an Irish builder and "he's Irish... and you know what that means". I spent several years "planning" ways to protect myself from a gang of men with balaclavas and assault rifles - mostly involving Home Alone style attacks and somehow killing the power, turning everything on and then throwing the power back on again. I've no idea how I was supposed to get to the fuse box now, but I remember being really upset when we got a new TV that didn't automatically come back on when you restored the power.

Those nightmares only went away when my grandmother told me about my grandfather's stoic (or stupid, depending on your point of view) way of dealing with the same threat.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 3:23 AM on November 30, 2010


There do seem to be an awful lot of "plane falls apart and crashes. Accident believed to be caused by bomb" entries. One has to wonder if there wasn't a bit of pressure put upon the investigating authorities by the aircraft manufacturers to make sure the official report didn't ascribe blame to poor construction or maintenance.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:39 AM on November 30, 2010


Ironically, if the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber had succeeded in bringing down their respective planes, we'd probably be none the wiser as to how the explosives actually got on the plane. As a consequence, TSA would loose most of their justification for the ridiculous measures they've implemented over the past decade.

It's only because in these most-recent cases where the security failed AND the bomber failed, that we all get to live with the wonderful travel nightmare, the benefits of which remain to be seen.
posted by DavidandConquer at 5:08 AM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Self link:) I put a timeline up here. I'd label the incidents, but the they're too close together for any simple labeling scheme.

Good stuff. Two things I'd also plot -- the number of flights per year, and the ratio of bombings/flight.

I suspect that you'll see the attack rate dropping dramatically over time.
posted by eriko at 5:43 AM on November 30, 2010


In the 60s and 70s and even 80s, air travel was more expensive and less ubiquitous than it is now

I'd have to agree with this. I followed air travel news when I was a child because 1. I was a little nerd who liked news and 2. My father was a sales executive with the international division of an oilfield services company who flew a lot. My father had been flying internationally on a regular basis since the 50s for them. There's a "cute" story about me telling an adult how boring the airport was when I was a toddler that relies on the disjoint between my experience and the adult's.

Having my father spend 3-4 months of the year abroad in 2-3 week chunks was normal for me, and obviously it was also normal for adults I knew in my father's circle, but I realized at some point in my early adolescence that most people didn't travel the way my father did.
posted by immlass at 6:21 AM on November 30, 2010


Two things I'd also plot -- the number of flights per year, and the ratio of bombings/flight.

Yeah, that makes sense. But, if I understand what you mean, plotting the number of bombings/flight raises an issue of binning. There's an implicit time measure, bombings/flight per year, say, which means breaking the timeline into chunks. (Could use something like a histogram rule to make bins, too.) I'm not necessarily opposed to that, I'm just saying I'd have to think about how I'd want to do it, or try to think of some other way that doesn't involve binning.
posted by -jf- at 6:34 AM on November 30, 2010


My pedantry goes to 11. The first Airplane movie was a direct parody of Zero Hour, not Airport.

I bow before your superior pedantic skillz! I never even heard of Zero Hour!
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:25 AM on November 30, 2010


There were 13 from 1964 through 1969

This is wrong; I think I was actually counting 1974 to 1979.
I'm seeing 9 from 1964 through 1969.
posted by -jf- at 7:48 AM on November 30, 2010


Well, there were actually a very large number of hijackings back then. Like 82 in 1979. Mostly to Cuba.

Will you fly the plane to Luton, please?
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 9:05 AM on November 30, 2010


It's worth pointing out, I suppose, that we've spent roughly $60 billion on the TSA in 9 years.

An Airbus A380 costs about $330 million. A 747-8 tops out at about $308 million, while a 777-300ER goes for $286 million.

So for the cost of about 180 Airbus A380s, 194 747s, or 209 777s we've managed to come up with a security system that's actually... well, not done all that much.

The two attempted bombings both had folks who got into the air transport system from outside the US.

Personally, I think the TSA is actually designed to aggravate people right to the point where they're just about to go postal. That way, if anyone DOES try anything, they'll already be springloaded to a a pissed-off position.

It could have unfortunate consequences, though.

"Wait- what the... What are... is THAT a bomb? Goddamn it! I (wham) WILL (WHAM) NOT (WHAM) BE (WHAM) LATE for my granddaughter's WEDDING you (WHAM) INCONSDERATE PRICK!"

"Mom, put the cane down! That's an Air Marshal!"

"Oh? Oh... Sorry, dearie. My, that nose of yours is sure bleeding... want a tissue?"
posted by JB71 at 10:27 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


oneswellfoop: "Why weren't we so terrified by terrorism in the '70s and '80s?"

We were. Planes were getting bombed and/or hijacked every few months. It was terrifying. I remember flying out of Frankfurt in the 80's and seeing soldiers with assault rifles everywhere. The security check was pretty thorough, too.

The biggest difference between now and the 70's and 80's, in my memory, is that airport security got effectively better during the 70's and 80's (and the police caught a lot more terrorists before they got to the airport) and now, we only have security theatre with no effective increase in security. Also, there was a lot of "keep calm and carry on" rhetoric from the governments then, as opposed to the "Fear, fear! Fear the brown Muslims!" rhetoric now.
posted by QIbHom at 11:25 AM on November 30, 2010


sodium lights the horizon: "I've no idea how I was supposed to get to the fuse box now, but I remember being really upset when we got a new TV that didn't automatically come back on when you restored the power."

Okay, I have to ask.

I get the 'killing the power' thing. (You know your own home better than they will and can probably navigate it better in the dark.) I don't understand why you'd restore power to the TV. How was a sudden blast of Auf Wiedersehn Pet going to help you foil the terrorists?
posted by the latin mouse at 12:14 AM on December 1, 2010


How was a sudden blast of Auf Wiedersehn Pet going to help you foil the terrorists?

I honestly don't know. I think the idea was to turn on everything and make everything loud (you know, back when volume dials were physical not electronic). I think the idea was to make everything very loud and very bright.

I'm guessing I once saw a film where invaders with night vision goggles were disoriented by lots of light and noise suddenly coming from everywhere.

Surprisingly, I'm not sure the SAS use this technique very often...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 9:26 AM on December 1, 2010


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