The rumor mill started humming Monday morning, Nov. 28, after ABC Radio aired the following report:
FBI and Homeland Security agents spent part of the weekend investigating the report of a possible missile fired at a plane leaving Los Angeles international airport. ABC’s Alex Stone has the details.
… the pilots radioed air-traffic controllers saying what appeared to be a rocket had been fired at the aircraft and missed as American Airlines Flight 621 was climbing over the water. It had just taken off from LAX. The plane was enroute to Chicago … When it landed, FBI agents spoke with the pilots. Sources say those agents now believe it was a flare or a bottle rocket that passed by and they don’t think it was any threat to the aircraft.
This report did not run for long, possibly no more than once or twice. Still, thousands of people heard it, and many of those were understandably suspicious when no other major media outlet picked up the story.
Not satisfied with rumors, retired United Airline pilot, Ray Lahr, and aviation audio expert, Glen Schulze, decided to investigate. The pair have been cooperating in Lahr’s ongoing Freedom Of Information Act suit in federal court against the CIA and the National Transportation Safety Board regarding the demise of TWA Flight 800. What they have found about the LAX flight is inconclusive, but intriguing, and deserves serious inquiry.
For starters, the flight was AA 612 and not AA 621 as reported. Lahr and Schulze checked its progress using the LAX airport monitor. Those interested in doing the same can enter Nov. 26, 12:49, 20-mile range, and then click on “start.”
You will see every airplane aloft in the Los Angeles area on the map. In about a half minute, “AAL612” appears as a green aircraft crossing the shoreline. If you click on the aircraft, it will turn red, and the flight data will appear in a box to the right. Over the next few minutes, the aircraft turns south. At approximately 6,000 feet and off the coast of Redondo Beach, a new target will appear.
“The unidentified target’s altitude does some funny things,” observes Glenn Schulze, “from a constant 1,500 feet to suddenly showing 7,500 feet where it remains, which is the same altitude as AA FL 612 at this point in AA FL 612’s
According to Lahr, AA 612 seems “to split and become TWO! It remains TWO for a while, both targets moving together, then they separate, the mirror target fades, and AA 612 (thank God) is alone again, heading slightly south east.”
The unidentified target appears for 12 to 13 sweeps of the FAA LAX TRACON radar rotating at a 4.7-second sweep rate. “This target can not be easily explained away as a radar ghost or artifact or swamp gas,” adds Schulze, “as it exists and tracks over the ground for almost 50 seconds as it travels along with AA FL 612. Dynamite evidence!”
What makes the evidence particularly compelling is that the pilots apparently saw what the radar was reporting:
ATC: Flare or a rocket?
AA 612: It looked more like a rocket.
ATC: American 612, how far away was it from your position?
AA 612: It was about half way between us and the coastline when we first called that last center guy.
Whatever the pilot saw prompted enough concern for LAX officials to contact the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. It also prompted a very serious report on ABC radio.
The most comprehensive reporting on the subject appeared Dec. 3 in an LAX area newspaper called The South Bay Daily Breeze. The headline says it all: “Smoke Trail Wasn’t Threat to Plane, Say Investigators.”
The article describes what the pilot saw as an “an unusual vapor trail,” one that was “at least a mile below the airplane.” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller assured the readers that this presumed trail “absolutely posed no threat.” This claim would be more reassuring had the FBI not also convinced the reporter that “whatever left the vapor trail did not appear on radar, and the pilot never reported seeing any kind of projectile.”
The existing evidence would seem to refute all of those claims. The pilots saw not a vapor trail, but a “flare or a rocket.” They saw it when the plane was no higher than 6,000 feet. Anything “at least a mile below them” would likely be swimming. The radar did pick something up, and the pilots considered the event sufficiently alarming to report it.
A veteran Airline Pilots Association safety investigator, Lahr was once much more likely to accept aviation authorities at their word. Having spent the last several years fighting them for information in the federal courts, he has grown increasingly skeptical.
The FBI may have its reason for quieting fears, Lahr understands, but as the distorted investigation of TWA Flight 800 has shown, a pacified population is a vulnerable one.
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