Former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato claimed in an interview with La Repubblica that a French missile was responsible for the June 27, 1980 crash of an Itavia McDonnell Douglas DC9, reports ANSA.
“A plan had been set in motion to target the plane on which Gaddafi was flying,” he recounted, “but the Libyan leader escaped the trap because he was warned by (Bettino, ed.) Craxi. Now the Élysée Palace can clear the shame that weighs on Paris.”
The Case of DC9 of Itavia Crash
On June 27, 1980, an Italian airline DC-9 carrying passengers from Bologna to Palermo crashed over the Tyrrhenian Sea. The aircraft crashed 51 minutes after departure and broke into two pieces. All 81 passengers and personnel perished, including four crew members and 77 passengers. Thirteen of them were children. On the day of the crash, it had completed 45,032 “takeoff-landing” cycles and had flown for 29,544 hours.
The flight departed Bologna at 8:08 p.m. and was en route to Palermo. At 8:59 p.m., the aircraft crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea 25 kilometres from Ustica. At 9:00 p.m., two Lockheed F-104 Starfighter aircraft from the Italian Air Force surveyed the accident site but found nothing due to poor visibility. A disaster investigation commission was constituted shortly after the event. The commission put forward four theories: technical malfunction, collision with another aircraft, being hit by an “air-to-air” missile, or the explosion of a bomb.
After some time, technical malfunctions and collisions were ruled out. However, investigators could not determine whether a missile struck the aircraft or a bomb exploded on board. As both hypotheses were supported by evidence, the first commission concluded that an explosion of unknown origin caused the plane accident. However, the victims’ families demanded a second investigation.
In May 1987, just as the second investigation was getting started, the cockpit voice recorder was discovered. Investigators heard the captain exclaim, “Guar…”, like the beginning of “Guarda” (“look at”) near the end of the recording. Investigators determined that the commander saw a missile and attempted to alert the co-pilot. Some argued, however, that he meant to say, “Look at the horizon!” and that the phrase had nothing to do with a missile if one existed.
A fragment was also discovered with its edges bowed inward, as is typical when a missile strikes an aircraft. In 1989, a commission issued a report asserting that the explosion was likely caused by an unidentified aircraft launching a missile. Due to lacking evidence, two Italian investigators withdrew their claims that the aircraft had been shot down in 1991.
The third investigation commenced. Frank Taylor, one of the investigators, was concerned about the small amount of debris recovered from the airliner. Taylor investigated the accident of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988-1989. He devised a computer program that could display the location of each fragment, and he chose to employ it in this investigation.
Consequently, 92% of the aircraft’s wreckage was located. An investigator discovered a hole in the plane’s tail section that appeared to have been caused by a bomb detonation. They concluded that the bomb had exploded in the aircraft’s rear lavatory, separating engine No. 2 and the entire tail section. The uncontrollable aircraft entered a descent, resulting in explosive cabin decompression. A minute later, the severely damaged aircraft plummeted into the Tyrrhenian Sea while spinning. The Italian government chose not to make the study public. A court determined in 2004 that the plane had crashed “in a quasi-war scenario.”
Theories circulated for years that the flight was an unintended victim of aerial combat between NATO and Libyan Air Force aircraft. According to media reports, radar tracking data indicated that fighter aircraft from multiple NATO nations were in the area during the crash, likely pursuing a Libyan MiG fighter that attempted to evade radar control and passed close to the civilian airliner. The tragedy, very present in Italian collective memory, gave rise to books and films.
In April 2014, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi signed a decree removing the secrecy classification from investigation documents about an assortment of terrorist attacks that happened in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s. Also declassified was information about the infamous plane accident over the island of Ustica. The possibility of the aircraft being struck by a missile has been reported in the media in two different ways. One possibility was that the missile was launched by former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s military. According to other sources, the missile may have been launched by French military forces who believed a nearby aircraft was transporting Gaddafi.
Several Italian experts theorised that the tragedy occurred while one or two Libyan aircraft were being pursued by American and French fighters and followed the course of the civilian aircraft to avoid radar detection. The DC-9 may have been inadvertently shot down or collided with another aircraft while caught in this “war scenario.” The July 18, 1980 discovery of the remnants of a Libyan MiG-23 in the mountains of Calabria (southern Italy) further supported this theory. In 2003, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi accused the United States of attempting to assassinate him.
In 2008, former Italian President and Prime Minister Francesco Maurizio Cossiga stated that a French fighter jet launched a missile that brought down the airliner.
As per Italian historian Cora Ranci, who has written a book on the subject, technicians at RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) deciphered in 2020 that the phrase uttered at the time was “Guarda, cos’è?” (“Look, what is this?”) after cleaning the recordings with new technologies. (“Take a look at this!”). This indicates that the pilot would have noticed something occurring outside the aircraft.
Regular military exercises in this region endangered civilian flights. Multiple times, pilots have protested the possibility of mid-air collisions.
That evening, Americans, as well as French and Belgians, were present.
According to reports, Belgian aircraft were stationed at the French base in Solenzara, Corsica. However, Belgium has never transmitted information on this subject, citing national security concerns.
Many queries were posed to France, but few answers were provided. Very little collaboration was present. France has queried whether the Solenzara base was operational during the crash. She responded that base operations terminated at 5 p.m. However, Ranci discovered that she had remained active until late evening.