Sunday, September 18, 2005

Was a commercial jet targeted Thursday night by MANPADS at JFK?

Update 10:30 AM ET 18 September 2005 A review of air traffic coming in and out of JFK on Thursday night using PASSUR data shown by Airport Monitor 2.0 shows the following:

  1. America West flight 17 took off at 18:49.45 from runway 22R
  2. Flight path shows AW 17 crossing into New Jersey around Rumston, and continuing across Route 35, and then across Route 8.
  3. Although playbacks show earlier flights crossing through that area around Colts Neck, starting at approximately 18:57, the playback shows flights turning to the north or south to avoid the area, which is consistent with the flight restriction that the FAA confirms issuing.
  4. Based on the data at AirportMonitor 2.0, it appears that the flight restrictions for the area were in place for less than an hour. We have been unable to confirm the length of the flight restrictions with the FAA yet.

Update 9:13 AM ET 18 September 2005 I've spoken with officials at the FAA, America West, and JFK. According to an official with America West, the pilot saw something, and reported it. An investigation was launched (and appears to be ongoing).

So far nothing has been found to confirm the report. According to a source within the FAA, the incident reportedly occured near Route 18, in Colts Neck, NJ, which would certainly be within the flight path of an airliner taking off from JFK and headed west. The FAA source confirmed the report given to Michelle Malkin that a temporary radar restriction was set up while they checked radar, which showed only a small flock of birds.

As of this morning, it appears that air traffic is moving normally in and out of New York City Airports.

18 September 2005 Late Saturday, a report was published both on the Little Green Footballs weblog and on Michelle Malkin's website regarding a possible sighting of a MANPADS attack on an America West flight out of New York's JFK Airport.

The LGF report reads as follows:

I’ve just received a credible tip from an LGF reader that an America West flight out of New York was fired upon by a surface to air missile yesterday, and that the pilot and passengers witnessed it and are now being questioned by the FAA and FBI.

That’s the extent of the information I currently have, and please note: right now this is completely unverified.

Michelle Malkin did a little more digging and has reported the following:

***scroll down for an important update***

A number of us in the blogosphere have been catching wind of rumors that a surface-to-air missile was fired at an America West flight originating out of New York. Here's a post at Little Green Footballs, where many commenters are wisely skeptical but wanting more info.

I just got off the phone with Phil Gee, associate manager of media relations at America West, who promptly returned my late evening call. Here's what he told me:

On Sept. 15 (Thursday), America West Flight 17 took off from JFK Airport at 6:05pm EDT [Update: The actual time of departure was 6:49 pm. -MM]. The captain "took the initiative," says Gee, and reported an "irregularity" to air traffic control as the plane was ascending. The plane continued to Phoenix and landed safely at 8:55pm MST. FBI and other authorities met and interviewed all of the crew and passengers on the plane. The investigation is continuing.

Gee would not say whether the pilot or other crew or passengers reported witnessing a missile firing.

"Nothing is confirmed," Gee said.


Although one tipster says America West has informed its pilots of the incident, Gee denied that any company bulletin has been issued. Gee mentioned that he had heard that other airline pilots had posted about the incident on an online forum. E-mail or trackback if you have seen other pilot accounts.


Update: A government aviation official who asked me not to reveal her name says the "missile siting was [a] false alarm:"

The sighting was reported near Colt's Neck, NJ, which is a major route south out of NY. FAA set up a small temporary flight restriction around the area while checking radar files. Turned out to be nothing more than birds, and [a] big game of "telephone."

I'm making a few phone calls and will update this story as I get more information.



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