Women suicide bombers recruited by al-Qaida are known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery. The lethal explosives – usually PETN (pentaerythritol Tetrabitrate) – are inserted during the operation inside the plastic shapes. The breast is then sewn up.
Similar surgery has been performed on male suicide bombers. In their cases, the explosives are inserted in the appendix area or in a buttock. Both are parts of the body that diabetics use to inject themselves with their prescribed drugs
"Properly inserted the implant would be virtually impossible to detect by the usual airport scanningmachines. You would need to subject a suspect to a sophisticated X-ray. Given that the explosive would be inserted in a sealed plastic sachet, and would be a small amount, would make it all the more impossible to spot it with the usual body scanner."
Explosive experts at Britain's Porton Down biological and chemical warfare research center told MI5 that a sachet containing as little as five ounces of PETN when activated would blow "a considerable hole" in an airline's skin which would guarantee it would crash.
This ... sounds ominous. And serious. No, really!
Okay, so maybe not.
I've been wondering about "The Shoe Bomber" and "The Jock-Strap Bomber", and even "The Liquid Explosive Bombers". How can a tiny amount of explosives detonated within the passenger compartment of an airplane "guarantee it would crash"?
Sure, I can see it if the explosion occurred in an area where it would disrupt avionics or control runs (cables to ailerons? Do they work by cables in the 767?) or some other method caused the pilot to lose control of the airplane. And I understand how a hole in the skin may cause a huge rip, and passengers may be sucked out of the plane at 30,000 feet altitude.
But blowing "... a considerable hole in an airline's skin ... would guarantee it to crash"?
I'm not convinced of the inevitability of the disaster, and here's why.
According to sky-brary
On 28 April 1988, a Boeing 737-200, operated by Aloha Airlines experienced an explosive depressurisation and structural failure at FL 240. Approximately 5.5 metres (or 18 feet) of cabin covering and structure was detached from the aircraft during flight. As result of the depressurisation, a member of the cabin crew was fatally injured. The flight crew performed an emergency descent, landing at Kahului Airport on the Island of Maui, Hawaii.
Here's a picture depicting the extend of aircraft skin which was found to be missing when the plane landed (safely!)
As you can see, about 1/3 of the overhead skin of the passenger compartment was ripped off.
But was the plane "guaranteed to crash"?
Apparently, the guarantee was null and void.
The full story of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 can be read here.
And yes, people were injured. One stewardess was killed.
At least one study suggests that a 'small hole' in the skin (16 inches?) caused an overpressure within the passenger compartment, sucking the stewardess against the skin. The impact of her skull against the skin caused the much greater rupture, which exaggerated the damage and caused many more injuries among the passengers.
The cause was eventually attributed to structural damage caused by corrosion.
The New York Times has a less technical, more human-event oriented story about the blowout at 24,000 feet. Officials originally suspected sabotage (yes, even 13 years before the 911 disaster which awakened the world to the threat of terrorism).
United Airlines Flight 811 experienced a cargo door failure in flight on Friday, February 24, 1989, after its last stopover at Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii. The resulting decompression blew out several rows of seats, killing 9 passengers. United Airlines Flight 811, a Boeing 747-122 (registration number N4713U), took off from Honolulu International Airport bound for Auckland, New Zealand with 3 flight crew, 15 flight attendants, and 337 passengers ...This plane, too, managed to land safely despite the dreadful damage to the plane and the tragic loss of nine passengers.
As recently as July 2009, a passenger plane lost a significant amount of 'skin', in a hole above a passenger sheet. Again, structural damage caused by corrosion.
The point is that a hole in the skin in a plane, or the sudden and dramatic loss of hull integrity even extending to the loss of a cargo door (a hole much bigger than 16") may cause injury and death to individual passengers, but need not necessarily cause the plan to crash.
We keep hearing these melodramatic stories about terrorists who plan to bring down airplanes by blowing a hole in the skin of the plane, or even blow a hole in the floor of the passenger compartment, and our shocked reaction should be (we are told) to assume that this will bring down an airplane.
Not to downplay the threat of suicidal terrorists, but it ain't necessarily so. Sudden and rapid decompression of the passenger compartment, even to the extend that 1/3 of the overhead being ripped from an airplane, does not inevitably cause the pilots to lose control or the airplane to lose its ability to fly.
We're getting hammered so often by threats to passenger airplanes that we begin to see the threat of major disasters every week. We need to step away from the rhetoric and take a critical look at the sensational news reports.
After all, last year in Texas a single man with a pistol and an ideology killed more people than all three of these "airplane disasters" put together. And the 'experts' are still trying to find the root cause of that disaster.
And now we're to be frightened about Boob Bombs? Exploding tits?
Spare me, please.