Simulated Explosion Shows That Successful Bomb Blast Would Not Have Brought Down Flight 253

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In a controlled simulation, UN terrorism and explosives adviser Dr. John Wyatt recreated the Christmas Day terror attack on Detroit-bound Flight 253 in order to determine how much damage the Boeing 747 would have sustained, had bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab been successful.  The results were surprising, even to Dr. Wyatt:

Captain J Joseph, an air accident investigator, and Dr Wyatt both concluded that the quantity of explosive used was nowhere near enough needed to rupture the skin of a passenger plane.

Dr Wyatt said: “If it was a more rigid material then we might have seen a crack or breakthrough but this is actually quite a flexible material.

“I was extremely impressed by the aircraft structure. It can sustain quite a hefty thump.”

The simulation showed that even if Abdulmutallab had successfully detonated the bomb, the ensuing explosion would not have prevented Flight 253 from landing safely, nor would the blast have been able to rupture the airplane’s exterior skin, thanks to the flexing capabilities of newer airplane building materials.

While the experiment’s results should help ease general fears about mid-air terrorism, there’s still a disturbing downside:

Those passengers in the immediate vicinity of the blast would have been “disintegrated as part of the explosion,” and the sight of those body parts, Dr. Wyatt says, “would have been quite traumatic.”

As the U.S. continues to debate what failures in the intelligence community could have led to the attempted bombing, experiments like Wyatt’s should help the public better understand how governments approach aviation security from a scientific angle.

Dr. Wyatt’s experiment will be broadcast on BBC Two as part of the program “How Safe Are Our Skies? Detroit Flight 253.”

Watch what could have happened on the Christmas Day terror attack.

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