Missile may have downed airliner over Italy in 1980

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The Independent Online

A plane crash off the island of Ustica in 1980, which killed all 81 people on board and triggered numerous conspiracy theories was probably caused by military aircraft, a court ruled yesterday.

Itavia flight 870 was flying from Bologna to the Sicilian capital, Palermo, when the DC-9 plunged into the sea 80 miles south-west of Naples. At first, mechanical failure was suspected. Then it was claimed that a terrorist attack was to blame. Even more people died in a bomb attack at Bologna's station the same year.

But many blamed military aircraft for the accident, and judges in Palermo concluded yesterday that the crash was caused by a missile or "a near-collision with unidentified military aircraft flying around the airliner at the time of the disaster".

Previous inquiries claimed that US, French and Libyan military aircraft were flying nearby at the time of the crash. Magistrates and victims' relatives have long suspected that the DC-9 was caught in a dogfight between Nato planes and a Libyan jet, the wreckage of which was found months after the Ustica crash.

In 1999, one magistrate even claimed there had been a plot to shoot down a plane carrying Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and that the commercial airliner had been caught up in the "war-like scenario".

Some observers say that the disaster will not be fully explained until Nato records are declassified in years to come.

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