Plane crashes are curious things. Plane crashes in the age of hyper-national politics can grow to absurd and dangerous proportions. each crash, regardless of cause, is an immensely complex puzzle, and in a great many cases, a crime investigation. Investigators know only too well that planes never crash where the subsequent investigation will prove convenient. My book, “A TRAGIC FATE,” described the complexity and frustration of the investigation over what brought down MH-17 over Ukraine in 2014. The case of EgyptAir flight MS804, lost at sea last week will have far reaching implications in the US presidential election, and it should.
As the race for president seems to be turning to a competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Americans must look to some fundamental characteristics to the person who should sit in the Oval Office come next February. Critical is how he/she would react to an international crisis. With markets and economies integrated globally, American civilians and business travelling and working in every nation on the planet, with American military personnel in dozens of nations and in a world in which international events can cost or build alliances and have generational implications, how a president reacts to a crisis is perhaps the most important issue. It encompasses or overlaps every other issue. While that is a hard thing to know before a candidate gets into office, the case of Egypt Air has given us a unique and important glimpse to answering which candidate is best suited to be president and which would be detrimental to the nation..
The time line here is important. Unlike MH-17 in Ukraine, in which there were immediate reports from the crash scene and an avalanche of accessible evidence, EA 804 crashed at night, around 2.29am local time at sea, roughly 180 miles North of Alexandria. The water depths there are in the order of 8-10 thousand feet It appears that the plane crashed in one piece, likely nose first as there is relatively little debris recovered so far. That debris, according to authorities appears localized. Missiles and bombs tend to tear aircraft apart, or at the very least leave a trail of debris. That does not seem to be the case here. What little debris has been found appears to show damage consistent with a high speed impact.
The passenger list showed no one connected to any terror watch list. the aircraft, an Airbus A321 is among the world’s newest and safest aircraft. There are reports of a fire in the lavatory before the aircraft went down. A fire there would have to be so significant that it is likely it only served as a portal or chimney to a larger below deck or intra-structural fire. While there is a toilet just behind the crew deck on the port side of the AC, it should be noted that no specific indication of which toilet smoke was detected, nor how much smoke.
Any localized fire would be easily extinguished by the flight crew station close by. The cargo bay, accessible from starboard by loading crews is below the first class cabin. The avionics bay, controlling operations of the aircraft is immediately forward from the cargo bay, and beneath both the flight deck and the forward toilets. There are galleys adjacent to both forward and aft galleys, with crew, especially in overnight flights, proximate nearly constantly. There is also a cargo bay at the rear of the aircraft. Potential hazardous packages and cargo are generally segregated according to IATA standards in the aft compartment. An active fire originating here could sever controls to the tail, which might explain the hard 90 degree turn and subsequent 360 degree spin.
To date no terror groups have claimed responsibility, which intelligence experts agree is highly unusual.
However, the suspicion of terrorism is not without reason and precedence. Egypt Air 990, which crashed in October 1999 after departing JFK in new York is believed to have been pilot suicide, with reports that the Muslim co-pilot prayed to Allah before crashing the AC, unlike German wings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz who, suffered from a mental disorder. Lubitz crashed an A320 into a remote mountain area killing all 144 aboard. In the case of EA990, no affiliation with any terror group was ever found. No claim of responsibility was ever made.
By early Thursday amid the talk radio and morning newscast news cycles, speculation was quickly rampant that terrorists were responsible. By afternoon in the US hosts like Sean Hannity had all but declared the crash an act of terrorism. They used it to pummel even harder the Clinton campaign. Early that morning, before any debris had been found, and without any evidence at all Trump framed the loss as a terror attack. Playing to the audience and eager to get political capitol before Clinton or the Obama administration reacted Trump said, “If anyone thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky, you’re 100% wrong folks”
Knee jerk reactions such as this are dangerous and irresponsible. Mrs. Clinton, likely reacting as a means of political parity with Trump, was more couched, but also acquiesced to a reactionary statement, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday afternoon “It does appear that it was an act of terrorism — exactly how, of course, the investigation will have to determine.” Bernie Sanders, battling against Clinton for the Democrat nomination did not speculate on the crash. The Obama administration made no mention of terrorism and simply offered support and assistance after being briefed on the incident.
Between Clinton and Trump there is a clear distinction between the character and tone of the two statements. Necessary to any international crisis are measured, intelligent positions and reactions. One can only wonder what a President Trump, with the ability to make or break alliances and friendships with misplaced and ill conceived statements by the tone and words, and with military resources at hand might have handled this from the White House, not to mention the ramifications of those reactions for years to come. Would they cost, imperil or threaten American lives? Would they lead to the deaths of innocents, or allow opportunities for exploitation by a self-focused administration or by corporations?
Despite all of the histrionics, the reality TV posturing and playing to national sentiments through unabashed bumper sticker populism, there are real world consequences in lives, money and national prestige which could well linger for years to come. In a world as tightly integrated as ours is now that must be a fundamental consideration in choosing a president. From a populist perspective, would you rather be in a bar with a friend who throws a punch every time someone bumps into him, or who has a measure rational response to realities we are all confronted with each day?