A Haunting Memorial of an Unsolved Plane Crash

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
April 24 2014 11:42 AM

The Memory of Ustica: A Haunting Memorial of an Unsolved Plane Crash

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

It has now been almost seven weeks since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished. Searchers are yet to find a trace of the plane, making this one of the most baffling aviation mysteries ever and prolonging the agony of the passengers' families.

The lack of evidence, the conspiracy theories, and the criticisms being exchanged between the countries involved recall another unsolved aviation case: Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870.

Advertisement

On June 27, 1980, an Aerolinee Itavia DC-9 took off from Bologna in Italy, carrying 77 passengers and four crew members. Bound for Palermo in Sicily, the plane flew for 51 minutes before disappearing from radar screens. A few hours later, wreckage from the DC-9 was spotted in the Tyrrhenian Sea near the island of Ustica. All 81 people onboard had died.

Almost 34 years later, there is still no conclusive cause for the crash. Early assumptions of mechanical failure gave way to talk of a terrorist bomb or missile strike. A 1989 report issued by the Italian Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism went so far as to say that IH 870 was shot down by the military, claiming "the lives of 81 innocent citizens were destroyed by an action properly described as an act of war, real war undeclared, a covert international police action against our country." The incident became known as the "Ustica massacre."

The question of which country was responsible went unanswered, though then-president of Italy Francesco Cossiga later blamed the French. More recent investigations have suggested that a missile launched by Italy's own military hit the plane. Multiple Italian Air Force officials were accused of cover-ups and high treason but eventually cleared.

In June 2007, as the inquiries and commissioned continued, the families of IH 870's passengers received a form of closure. The wrecked plane fuselage, painstakingly pieced back together, went on display at the newly opened Museum for the Memory of Ustica in Bologna. In addition to the plane, the memorial, assembled by French sculptor Christian Boltanski, features black boxes filled with passengers' personal effects found at the crash scene. Eighty-one hidden speakers, one for each soul onboard, whisper passengers' thoughts and travel plans.

itavia
The Itavia DC-9 that crashed.

Photo: Werner Fischdick/Creative Commons

Other plane crash memorials:


View Museo per la Memoria di Ustica in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.