Itavia Flight 870

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Event.png Itavia Flight 870 (air disaster,  assassination,  mid-level deep event?) Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Itavia Flight 870.png
Date27 June 1980
LocationTyrrhenian Sea,  near Ustica,  Italy
DescriptionSuspicious plane crash that was the subject of complex legal action.

On 27 June 1980, Itavia Flight 870, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 passenger jet en route from Bologna to Palermo, Italy, crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea between the islands of Ponza and Ustica, killing all 81 people on board.

Known in Italy as the Ustica massacre, the disaster led to numerous investigations, legal actions and accusations, and continues to be a source of controversy, including claims of conspiracy by the Italian government and others.

“We still hope the truth will come out. We know that very probably the plane was struck down by a missile. Too many people have been keeping this secret for too long but we will not give up until we know everything that happened.” Daria Bonfietti[1]

1994 joint investigation

Fourteen years after the crash, a 1994 joint investigation was carried out by the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and Italian investigators, which included veteran British air accident investigator A. Frank Taylor and Engineer Goran Lilja of Sweden. The investigation found conclusive physical evidence (as per the wreckage recovered) that a bomb had exploded mid-flight in the rear lavatory, and reported as follows:

4.1 It was concluded that the accident was brought about by in-flight break-up resulting from extensive structural damage caused by the detonation of an explosive charge in the rear (starboard) toilet.

4.2 The charge was probably located in the outer wall of the toilet although other nearby positions cannot be ruled out.

4.3 For the preferred position the charge would most probably have been inserted via the tissue holder just forward of station 801 and pushed rearwards to lie to the rear of the frame at station 801 and at a height at or just above the lower skin of the adjacent engine pylon.

4.4 Other less likely but possible and accessible positions include either inside the toilet waste tank, via the waste hole, or on top of it, via the cupboard under the wash basin.[2]

However, the Italian courts dismissed this joint report as insignificant to their own investigation, and the report was never considered.

Alleged causes

  • In June 2008, the Prime Minister of Italy at the time (1980), Francesco Cossiga, attributed the crash to being accidentally shot down during a dogfight between Libyan and NATO fighter jets. Earlier in 2008, Cossiga told Italian television that he and former cabinet under-secretary Giuliano Amato were told by Italian secret service agents that a French aircraft had launched the missile in an apparent attempt to hit a nearby plane believed to be carrying Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Media reports based on radar monitoring data said fighter jets from several NATO nations were in the area at the time of the crash, possibly following a Libyan MiG that was trying to evade radar control by flying close to the civilian plane.[3]
  • In the book Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations, the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman describes a plan to assassinate Yasser Arafat, the PLO-leader then resident in Tunisia. Over a period of several years, described in the book as 1982-83, The Israeli air force had a squad patrolling the sea areas outside Tunisia waiting for an opportunity to shoot down Arafat's plane.

Legal action

In September 2011 the Palermo civil tribunal ordered the Italian government to pay 100 million euros ($137 million) in civil damages to the relatives of the victims for failure to protect the flight and for concealing the truth and destroying evidence.[5]

On 23 January 2013, Italy's top criminal court ruled that there was "abundantly" clear evidence that Itavia Flight 870 was brought down by a missile, and confirmed the lower court's order that the Italian government must pay compensation.[6]

In April 2015 the Appeal Court in Palermo confirmed the rulings of the Palermo civil tribunal of 2011 and rejected the appeal by the state attorney.[7]


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