Pants on Fire, Revisited

March 5, 2010

Back at the time of the Christmas “Underpants Bomber”, I expressed some skepticism that, even if Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s plan had succeeded, the bomb, consisting of 2.8 ounces (80 grams) of the explosive PETN, could have caused the aircraft sufficient damage to cause a crash.   The BBC is now reporting on a test that it performed, for a documentary called How Safe are our Skies?, which used the same quantity of PETN placed in an old Boeing 747 at an aircraft graveyard in the UK.  The explosive was placed in the same position as Mr. Abdulmutallab’s seat on the Detroit-bound flight 253.

Dr John Wyatt, an international terrorism and explosives adviser to the UN, replicated the conditions on board the Detroit flight on a decommissioned Boeing 747 at an aircraft graveyard in Gloucestershire, England.

The explosion was not sufficient to rupture the skin of the aircraft fuselage, although the bomber and people next to him undoubtedly would have been killed.  The result would have been a rather horrific murder/suicide, but there was no evidence from the test that the ability of the crew to control and land the aircraft would have been significantly compromised.   Dr. Wyatt, and other experts who participated in the test, said the quantity of explosive was “not nearly enough” to damage the fuselage.

This whole episode illustrates one of the paradoxes of terrorism: here we have an attack that did not succeed; and, even if it had, it would not have caused a plane crash.  Yet we made much more fuss about it than we ever do about the fact that ~30,000 people die in car crashes in the US every year.

Refuse to be terrorized.

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