Mystery Missile Was Actually A U.S. Airways Flight From Hawaii To Phoenix

Remember that mysterious missile-trail that had everyone scratching their heads yesterday? Turns out to have a very, very boring explanation.

It was a U.S. Airways flight from Honolulu to Phoenix.

Liem Bahneman, a software engineer and amateur photographer from Seattle, puzzled this out over at his blog, Time to Think.

Others had noted that the contrail was from a plane, but Bahneman gets credit for identifying the exact flight.


The mystery started when a KCBS helicopter captured the image of the contrail at sunset. A CBS affiliate in San Diego found a rather excitable former NATO ambassador to speculate that it was an ICBM fired from a U.S. submarine to send a signal to "Asia."

For some reason, reporters felt compelled to pester the Pentagon, NORAD, and the Navy about this. NORAD reassured anyone who might have been jittery that the trail did not represent a threat to U.S. security.

But nobody wanted to offer an explanation. For that, we had to turn to the private sector.

"This thing is so obviously an airplane contrail, and yet apparently all the king's horses and all the king's men can't find someone to stand up and say it," John Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org, told the Washington Post. "I guess the president's out of town."

The trail appeared in photos to be coming out of the water. That was an optical illusion, a result of the little-known fact that the earth is round. In fact, the trail was coming from beyond the horizon. Further explanation, using actual geometry, can be found here.

Kahneman made his discovery after realizing that if it was a commercial flight, it should reappear at about the same time every day. Twenty-four hours after the original sighting, he pulled up a webcam of the surf at Newport Beach, and what do you know, there it was again.

So, either the Chinese are shooting off missiles off the California coast at exactly the same time every day -- or, stay with this -- it was a Boeing 757.

Case closed.


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