This week, Matt and I explored a curious trend in assassination theories: murder by plane. Here’s the gist: [Insert person here] threatens to expose and/or foil the nefarious plans of some secretive cabal. Shadowy figures arrange for the person to die while on an aircraft, sabotaging the plane so that it looks like an unfortunate accident, rather than a hit. For most of these theories, the person in question is usually a political figure.
Sounds crazy, right? I agree. As methods of execution go, it seems like something you’d find in an action movie.
While we were aware of some of the more popular theories in this vein — John F. Kennedy, Jr., for example, or Senator Paul Wellstone — we were surprised to find that there are dozens of similar allegations. Our listeners also pointed out loads of similar cases. So many, in fact, that we couldn’t get to all of them, and may have to revisit some in the future.
We did, however, take a closer look at three: The deaths of Senator Wellstone, former Ecuadoran President Jaime Roldós and Panamanian President Omar Torrijos.
In our second episode, we focused on Wellstone, who died in a plane crash during the close of his campaign for a third term. As we’ve pointed out before, plane crashes are both unfortunate and plausible. In their book American Assassination, authors Donald Jacobs and James Fetzer present what they see as compelling evidence that Wellstone was murdered. Their claims contradict the official findings of crash investigators, and their conclusions remain controversial. Perhaps the strangest claim they make is that Wellstone’s plane was felled by some sort of secret electromagnetic, or EM, weapon. Predictably, this assertion garnered the lion’s share of criticism. But you can also find attempts at systematically debunking this book’s claims, and official sources still don’t agree on whether the pilot of the flight was competent.
In the unfortunate case of the South American presidents, both plane crashes occurred in the same year (1981), about two months apart. We found no hard evidence linking the crashes. While Torrijo’s case had some fascinating circumstantial claims — most famously, Manuel Noriega’s lawyer offered to provide proof that the U.S. government was somehow involved in Torrijo’s death — there is, to this day, no widespread, accepted proof that these crashes were anything other than accidents.
And, to this day, numerous people in Minnesota believe there was something fishy about Wellstone’s crash. People in Ecuador believe similar things about the death of Roldós, and it’s the same with Torrijos in Panama.
What do you think? Is there something more to these crashes, or are people simply trying to build stories around tragic events and flimsy evidence? Let us know:
A Shortlist of Sources
- “Aguilera, Jaime Roldós.” Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Retrieved 24 March, 2013.
- “Aircraft Accident Report NTSB/AAR-03/03: Loss of Control and Impact With Terrain.” National Transportation Safety Board 25 October 2002.
- Baran, Madeleine. “From protestor to senator, FBI tracked Paul Wellstone.” Minnesota Public Radio, 25 October 2010.
- “Ecuadoran Leader Dies in Plane Crash.” Associated Press/The New York Times, 25 May 1981.
- Herrera, Roberto Diaz. Estrellas Clandestinas. R. Diaz Herrera, 2009.
- Jacobs, Donald Trent and James H. Fetzer. American Assassination: The Strange Death of Senator Paul Wellstone. The University of Michigan/Vox Pop, 2004.
- Lasewski, Charles. “Pilot wanted to cancel Wellstone’s fatal flight.” Pioneer Press (via TwinCities.com), 22 Saturday 2003.
- Perkins, John. Confessions of an Economic Hitman. Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2004.
- “Torrijos, Omar.” Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Retrieved 25 March, 2013.
- “Update on NTSB Investigation into Crash of King Air A100 Airplane in Minnesota.” National Transportation Safety Board, 17 December 2002.
- “U.S. planned to kill Noriega, lawyer says.” The News, 1 May 1991.