Lazy or just stupid, Part V

This morning CNN reported the loss of a C-17 Globemaster III in northern Texas.  According to their (now-retracted) report, eyewitnesses called 911 after seeing a large commercial aircraft go down in a field near Olney, Texas.  The local police and fire department were dispatched, and they contacted the FAA to see if any aircraft had filed flight plans passing through the area.  According to CNN, the FAA indicated that only a C-17 from Altus AFB, OK had filed for the area.  Also according to CNN, Sheppard AFB had been contacted and confirmed the loss of the aircraft.

Thus by the CNN account, we have a C-17 lost in Texas.  Except it wasn’t.

The aircraft returned to Altus AFB, Oklahoma after completing its training run along a low-level MTR (military training route).  There are a few different varieities of MTR; they have varying prefixes but always end with a three or four-digit numeric sequence:

  • Those flown under visual flight rules, at airspeeds that may exceed 250kts (these start with the prefix VR-, i.e. VR-331).
  • Those flown under instrument flight rules, at airspeed that may exceed 250kts (prefix IR-, i.e. IR-324)
  • Those flown under VFR or IFR rules, but at airspeeds slower than 250kts (prefix SR-, i.e. SR-488).

Not only did a C-17 not crash near Olney, Texas, but Sheppard AFB denies giving CNN the initial confirmation.  In other words CNN took half-assed eyewitness accounts and from there turned it into a major event that didn’t actually happen.  Nice.

I am going to reprint this article in full from Cherry Young of the Graham Leader.  It aptly summarises the events and illustrates the root of the problem.

“I guess they jumped the gun,” said Tony Fulton, Texas Department of Public Safety public information officer for the Wichita Falls area in reference to CNN’s reports of a plane crash north of Olney Monday.  Officials received a 9-1-1 call Monday shortly after 11 a.m. saying a commercial airliner had crashed north of Olney just inside Archer County.  Emergency personnel and news crews swarmed the area of Cottonwood Road off of Highway 79 searching for the downed craft and were unable to gain confirmation from the FAA.

The area was searched for well over an hour including an aerial search but came up short.  CNN orignially reported that a C-17 had crashed and that the information was confirmed by a spokesman at Sheppard Air Force Base.  After the search was called off, CNN later retracted the claim.  Debbie Smith, public affairs for Sheppard Air Force Base said there was no report from the base. “We fielded a ton of calls and had no idea what they were talking about … CNN just jumped on the story. It had nothing to do with Sheppard, so there is no story,” said Smith.

“It was not real, it was just news sources jumping the gun. I guess there’s a lot of competition in the news media to be the first to break a story, but they need to check their facts,” she said.  The original reports may have resulted from low-flying aircraft from Altus Air Force Base that were training in the area. But Chief of Public Affairs for Altus AFB Rich Guinan said nothing out of the ordinary occurred.  “We heard it on CNN and we made sure our aircraft were okay and everything was fine. For us it was just a normal day of training for Altus,” said Guinan.  As far as we know nothing happened. Everything was normal today. All our planes are accounted for and none were involved in anything unusual,” he said.

— Cherry Young.  “Reports of plane crash near Olney false“, Graham Leader, March 23rd, 2009.

[emphasis mine]

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