Three weeks ago, I wrote on these pages that we may never know the true fate of MH370, the doomed Malaysian Airliner.
“The one safe thing we can say at this point about the ‘unprecedented mystery’ that is Malaysia Airlines flight MH370,” I wrote, “is that the authorities are not sharing what they know and probably never will.”
As an example of how government authorities can corrupt an investigation, I cited the case of TWA Flight 800, a plane that was destroyed just 10 miles off the coast of Long Island in July 1996.
Anyone who would like to know more about this incident, especially those sunshine patriots whose skepticism goes dormant during Democratic presidencies, might want to watch the documentary “TWA Flight 800″ on Netflix.
In that same turbulent election year of 1996, and for the same proximate reason, authorities corrupted still another investigation of another plane crash, that of CT-43A, the military version of a Boeing 737, call sign IFO-21, that left Tuzla in Bosnia for Dubrovnik in Croatia 18 years ago today.
Prominent among the 35 passengers and crew aboard this aircraft was Ron Brown, Bill Clinton’s embattled commerce secretary. Neither he nor the 34 others survived the day. There was no reason for them to die.
In Dubrovnik, chief Croatian pilot Amir Sehic called the incoming USAF plane and told the pilots the weather was, in his words, “on the minima,” meaning above the minimum standards needed to land.
If they needed to execute a missed approach, however, he recommended a route over the Adriatic to the right. “It is easy approach [sic],” he would tell USAF investigators. “I was not concerned.”
Five minutes later, the crew called the tower – “We’re inside the locator, inbound” – and were then cleared to land. They then, “inexplicably,” made a perfectly controlled landing into a mountainside on the left side of the airport.
Hours later, after what appears to have been a misdirected search over the Adriatic, Bill and Hillary Clinton headed over to the Commerce Department to deliver a “eulogy” for Ron Brown and the other victims, at least one of whom, the USAF’s Shelly Kelly, was still very much alive.
On April 4, the spin accelerated. “The weather yesterday, as the plane flew in, was terrible,” said Peter Galbraith, ambassador to Croatia. “In fact, people in Dubrovnik say that this is the worst storm in a decade.”
It was nothing like that. In truth, it had ceased to rain, and the sun was peaking through the clouds as Brown’s plane approached the airport.
Two days later, at the U.S. Army base at Dover, Del., Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) photographer U.S. Navy CPO Kathleen Janoski noted a nearly perfectly circular hole in the top of Brown’s head. It would measure just about .45 of an inch in diameter.
“Wow. That looks like a bullet hole,” said Janoski.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Hause, an experienced deputy medical examiner, took a look. “Sure enough,” he remembers saying. “It looks like a gunshot wound to me, too.”
Their concerns were ignored. Under pressure from the White House, authorities would not call in the FBI, nor ask the Brown family to permit an autopsy, nor take the opportunity to look for an exit wound or test for gunshot residue.
On that same day, Croatian authorities reported that Niko Jerkuic, the man responsible for the airport’s aviation systems, had fatally shot himself in the chest. The USAF was to interview him the next day.
A day later, Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell, a doctor and deputy medical examiner, arrived at St. John’s Peak in Croatia. He was tasked to look for an object that might have punched a “.45 [inch] inwardly beveling, perfectly circular hole in the top of [Brown's] head.”
For Cogswell, the search for a part was a second step. The first one was obvious. “Open him up,” he told his boss back at Dover. “This man needs an autopsy. This whole thing stinks.”
As they both knew, what had been described sounded like a wound from a .45 caliber weapon. Even more suspicious, Brown was the only person on the plane with a hole in his head.
There was much about this crash that seemed suspicious to Cogswell. For starters, the Air Force chose to skip the “Safety Board” phase of the investigation and moved right to the “Accident Board” phase.
In other words, authorities ruled out terrorism, sabotage or even ground fire before knowing anything about the crash. This was the first time in Cogswell’s experience that there was no Safety Board.
One more interesting anomaly: When questioned by the Air Force, Ambassador Galbraith observed that a Croatian-American woman named Zdenka Gast had been scheduled to fly with Brown but thought better of it.
Said Galbraith, “There were problems in – in – in this – in concluding this deal where they wanted to sign a letter of intent, and so, rather than – than go on the Brown trip, she stayed with the Inron [sic] people to do the final negotiations.”
Oh, yes, Brown was sent to broker a sweetheart deal between the Enron Corporation and the neo-fascists who ran Croatia. The Enron execs took their own plane.
Inquiring into Gast’s background, I came across a photo in a Croatian language magazine. In the center of three smiling women, all linked arm in arm, was Gast. On her left was Alexis Herman who had sent Brown on his fateful trip. On her right was none other than Hillary Clinton. The occasion was Herman’s White House wedding. Only 40 people were in attendance.
The media wanted to know none of this. As far as I know, I was the only one in the media to request the USAF’s 22-volume report on the crash.
There would be no safety board investigation, no speculation about a missile attack, no ruminations about a rogue beacon, no questions about Niko Jerkuic, no interview with Gast, no autopsy, no valid X-rays, no alerting the Brown family, no talk of the Enron connection and no exploration of any possibility at all other than “accident.”
And this was an American plane. CNN can talk about MH-370 until the next major disaster, but the viewer can be confident he will learn no more of substance than he knows now.
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