27 June 1980 - Itavia 870

Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870, also known in the Italian media as the Ustica Massacre ("Strage di Ustica"), was an Italian flight that suffered an in-flight explosion while in route from Bologna, Italy to Palermo, Italy. It was a regularly scheduled flight from Guglielmo Marconi Airport in Bologna, Italy to Palermo International Airport in Palermo, Italy. The flight departed 2 hours late at 8.08 pm CET on 27 June 1980. At the controls of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15 that evening were Captain Domenico Gatti and First Officer Enzo Fontana.

The aircraft (registered I-TIGI), which left Guglielmo Marconi Airport bound for Palermo International Airport, crashed at 8.59 pm CET into the Tyrrhenian Sea near the island of Ustica, Italy about 80 miles (130 km) southwest of Naples, Italy. All 81 people on board were killed (2 flight crew members, 2 flight attendants, and 77 passengers).

Two Italian Air Force F-104s were scrambled at 9.00 pm CET from Grosseto Air Force Base to locate the accident area and to spot any survivors but they failed due to lack of visibility. In July 2006 the re-assembled fragments of the DC-9 aircraft were returned to Bologna from Pratica di Mare Air Force Base near Rome. On 23 June 2008, Italy announced that they have reopened the case of Flight 870.

There is still no official final report regarding the disaster. The Italian media have labelled the crash of the now-defunct Itavia airline as one of the biggest cover-ups in italian history.

Major sources in the Italian media have reported over the years that the DC-9-15 was shot down in a dogfight involving Libyan, U.S., French and Italian Air Force fighters in an attempted assasination by NATO members on Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi who was flying in the same airspace that evening.

The media also reported that radar monitoring released in 1997 by NATO showed that at least seven fighter aircraft were in the vicinity when the jet plunged into the sea off the island of Ustica. They said the radar showed one or two Libyan MiG-23 had tried to evade detection by flying close to the airliner. Three Italian Air Force F-104s, one U.S. Navy A-7 Corsair II and a French fighter pursued the Libyan MiG-23 and a battle ensued, according to the reports.

Former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who comes from the central city of Bologna where the DC-9 took off from, told reporters in a 1997 interview that his government "had done its duty and nothing more" in seeking to clarify the June 27, 1980 disaster. The centre-left government, voted into power in 1996, made a fresh appeal in 1997 to the former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana to release data that could help throw fresh light on the case.

Daria Bonfietti, a senator who is also president of the victims families association, said the reports strengthened a hypothesis her group had always held. "It seems to me to strengthen the hypothesis of a war scenario that we have always upheld and definitely calls into question the fabrication that the Italian Air Force has knowingly sustained through all these years," she said. She accused the air force and former political establishment of a deliberate and prolonged cover-up."

In recent years the prosecution for the case has accused four Italian Air Force high rank officials (Lamberto Bartolucci, Franco Ferri, Corrado Melillo and Zeno Tascio) and other officials of several charges including abuse of office for allegedly making misleading, incomplete statements and high treason

Judge Rosario Priore, one of Italy's most respected judges and an expert on terrorism cases, wrote in his indictment that all radar evidence indicated the airliner was hit by a missile or plunged into the sea after swerving to avoid an accident.

In his indictment, Priore said the nine, eight of them serving or past members of the military or the military secret services, should stand trial on charges including high treason and giving false testimony. But Priore, according to excerpts of the 5,468 page indictment carried by Italian media, said those who actually may have caused the crash remained unknown, so he could not charge anyone with the crime of massacre.

Flight 870 "absolutely was not alone, neither was the sky during its flight path totally empty for a range of 50 miles" Priore wrote in the long indictment. The judge concluded that the other aircraft near the plane must have been military, since no other civilian plane was flying that route at the time. According to the judge, a military aircraft darted into the flight path of the DC-9 just as the jetliner was flying by. Priore theorized that the fighter might have tried to take cover from an attack by flying parallel to the commercial craft.

The indictment accused the generals of failing to inform the government and judicial authorities of the possibility that there had been military activity in the area where the plane crashed into the sea, killing all on board.

On April 30, 2004 Lamberto Bartolucci, Franco Ferri, Zeno Tascio e Corrado Melillo former Italian Air Force officials where all acquitted from charges, however the Court of Assise pointed out that miscounduct did accure during the aftermath of the disaster and that they are positive that this turning point will lead to new investigations.

Transcript of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)


F/O : IH870's First Officer radio transmissions
TWR : Bologna Tower
ACC: Control Centers

20:00 local F/O Itavia 870, ready for start-up.[Flight IH870 is running about two hours late due to small technical problems and heavy weather that has disrupted normal air traffic over Italy that day]
TWR 870, cleared to start. When ready, cleared also for taxi.
F/O Roger.
20:05 TWR 870, clearance.
F/O Go ahead.
TWR Itavia 870 is cleared to Palermo via Firenze, Amber 14; climb and maintain flight level one-niner-zero. Read back and call when ready for take-off.
F/O 870 is cleared to Palermo, via Firenze, Amber 14, level 190. We'll call you ready.
20:07 F/O 870 is ready for take off.
TWR 870, cleared for take-off.
20:08 TWR 870, airborne at 08, call Padova center, good-bye.
F/O With Padova, bye.
20:11 F/O Padova, good evening, Itavia 870.
Padova ACC Itavia 870, continue as cleared and report Firenze.
F/O We'll report Firenze.[Control was procedural. IH870 reached Firenze VOR at 20:20]
20:20 F/O Over Firenze, Itavia 870.
Padova ACC Contact Rome Radar, 124.2, good-bye.
F/O Rome, 124.2, good-bye, 870.
F/O Good evening Rome, Itavia 870.
Rome (North -East sector) ACC Good evening to you too, 870. Squawk 1136. Cleared to Palermo, via Bolsena, Puma, Latina, Ponza, Amber 13
F/O 1136 is coming and 870 is cleared to Palermo via Bolsena, Puma, Latina, Ponza, Amber 13 and we're approaching 190...
Rome ACC Climb initially to 230.
F/O Up to 230, 870.[IH870 is cleared to FL230 and not to an higher level because at FL250, a few miles ahead, another Itavia aircraft, flight IH779 from Bergamo to Rome Ciampino, is about to start descent. The radar controller asks to the DC-9 crew if they ha
F/O Rome, 870, with the traffic in sight, is turning left again, crossing 245.
Rome ACC Roger, direct to Bolsena.
F/O Direct to Bolsena, 870.
20:27 Rome ACC [due to some scallopping of the Firenze VOR, IH779 and IH870 are now about 8 miles left of the Amber 14's centerline]Itavia 779, proceed direct to Campagnano [VOR], 160 heading from present position. Also 870 take 160 heading.
F/O 160 for 870.
20:34 Rome ACC 870, call Rome 125.5. Bye.
F/O 125.5.
F/O Rome, good evening. 870 is over Bolsena.
Rome (Terminal) ACC Radar contact, as cleared.
20:39 Rome ACC 870, 124.2, good evening.(IH870 is over Puma reporting point and is turning left to Latina VOR]
F/O Thank you, bye.
F/O This is 870, good evening, Rome.
Rome ACC 870 ?
F/O Good evening, 870 maintaining 290, over Puma.
Rome ACC Roger, proceed Latina, Ponza.
20:44 F/O Rome, 870.
Rome ACC Itavia 870, for Ponza 123.35.
F/O Bye.
F/O 870, good evening, Rome.
Rome (South Sector) ACC Good evening, 870; mainatin 290, report Amber 13, Alpha.
F/O Yes...neither Ponza is working ? We've found a graveyard this evening; coming from Firenze we didn't find one beacon working properly.
Rome ACC In fact, everything is a bit out, Ponza too. What's your heading now ?
F/O We've 195.
Rome ACC Well, maintain 195. You'll go some mile south of Ponza.
Rome ACC I don't know if you want to keep this heading. Otherwise you can go left, 15-20 degrees.
F/O OK, we put 210.
20:48 F/O This is 870: is it possible to get 250 ?[IH870 requests a lower level due turbulence)
Rome ACC Affirmative: you can start descent now.
F/O Thanks: leaving 290.
20:51 Rome ACC 870, you've left Ponza three miles to the right, so approximately to Palermo it's good this heading.
F/O Very kind, thanks, we're approaching 250.
Rome ACC Perfect, anyway call me when receiving Palermo [VOR].
F/O PAL [VOR] is already on the air and coming well. And we got the Ponza DME.
Rome ACC Good, so normal navigation to Palermo. Maintain 250, call me over Alpha.
20:56 F/O It's over Alpha, 870.
Rome ACC Affirmative, slightly to the right, about four miles. Radar service terminates here. Call 128.8 for further (instructions)
F/O Thank you for everything and good-bye.
F/O Rome, Itavia 870. 115 miles to PRS [Raisi VOR, near Palermo], maintaining 250.
Rome ACC Roger, Itavia 870. An estimate for Raisi ?
F/O We estimate Raisi at 19.
Rome ACC 870, roger. Cleared to Raisi VOR, no delay expected. Call back for descent.
F/O To Raisi, no delay. We'll call you for descent, 870.
Rome ACC That is correct.
20:59:45 [Last transponder answer from the IH870 is recorded at the far southern end of the Ciampino civil radar range. IH870 is recorded at FL250, about 50 miles north of Ustica island]
21:04 Rome ACC Itavia 870, when ready, cleared to 110, report leaving 250 and passing 150.[No answer]
Rome ACC Itavia 870, Rome [No answer]
Rome ACC Itavia 870, Rome, do you read ?[No answer. Two other traffic are requested to relay the calls to IH870, but no answer is ever get from the DC-9. All 81 people on board perished in this yet to be explained crash]

Cockpit Voice Recorder Database, visit us at www.tailstrike.com