Flight 240, was a Tupolev Tu-154 tri-motor jetliner of Malév Hungarian Airlines, which was flying on the Budapest to Beirut regular route when it was shot down near the Lebanese shoreline on 30 September 1975. There was a crew of ten Hungarians and fifty passengers on board, some of them from Scandinavia with only a single Hungarian traveler, there were also Palestinians, Lebanese, French, an Egyptian, a Saudi and a Dutchman traveling. There were no survivors as the wrecks fell into open waters on a dark night.
Malev Flight 240

During this period most airlines refused to fly the Beirut route due the chaotic Middle East situation. The airport in Beirut had received artillery fire a week before the event. Although Malév had also suspended the route temporarily in early 1975, it was soon reopened to help the Arab countries and especially the Palestinians to maintain contact, in line with the Soviet Bloc’s pro-Arab policies. Independent businessmen were also keen to take advantage of this sole link, even though Malév had a poor reputation at the time. The plane was filled to less than half of its seating capacity.

The Hungarian communist government did not pursue an investigation of the events, choosing instead to collect an unusually large sum of insurance money paid for the plane and the victims (some victims never saw that money though), based on an air accident claim.

The submerged wreck and black box data recorders were never searched, because of unstable political situation in Lebanon and the unsolvable technical difficulties posed by recovery from 600-meter depths, at least according to the official explanation. (In early 80s an Italian plane was salvaged and black boxes retrieved although the depth was some three thousand meters.)

It has been known from day one that the plane was destroyed by an explosion, since it disappeared without a distress signal mere seconds after negotiating a landing permit with the Beirut Airport and several independent witnesses saw the fireball. The cause of explosion has been determined as an external event (a missile hit as opposed to a bomb on board) based on analysis of floating pieces of wreckage. After that, the case laid dormant until the early 2000s when the coming 25th and 30th anniversaries renewed public interest in the case.

In a 2004 documentary film shown on Hungarian TV, a Hungarian woman talked about the former crew of RAF Olympus long range radar station in Akrotiri, Cyprus testified that they saw the Tu-154 being shot down by an AA missile fired by another aircraft, whose radar signature was characteristic of the F-4 Phantom II. Only the Israeli Air Force operated such craft in the area and that specific area fell also under their control.

Some radar and military experts do not believe that this sort of exact determination would have been possible with the 1960’s vintage radar in question.

Several motives have been proposed for the shot-down, including:

* The large cargo space of the Tu-154 was allegedly filled with a four metric ton small arms (AK47) and ammunition shipment intended for the Palestinian armed struggle and the flight was shot down to deny these weapons to the militias, although such flights were resumed and continued for years, as did also LOT, the Polish Airline.
* A delegation of ten medium-high ranking Palestinian representatives had just opened a PLO office in Budapest and were en route to Beirut and about to board Flight 240, but they were late and missed the plane by mere minutes. The flight’s departure had been rescheduled three times. Therefore the downing of Flight 240 was a possible large-scale assassination attempt, which did not get canceled for lack of up-to-date information.

Relatives and descendants of the victims are currently trying to organize a privately funded underwater mission to film the wreckage. The Hungarian government is notably silent on the issue, although it has used the pages of largest Hungarian newspaper Népszabadság to mildly inform relatives that research can only be undertaken if any interest in trying to discover the cause of such events is renounced beforehand.

Israeli investment is a very significant source of capital in post-communist Hungary’s new market economy, which could be hurt badly by a war crimes themed feud.

It is worth noting that there was a strikingly similar case: OK-DBF, the Ilyushin Il-62 plane of Czech Airlines’ Flight 542 crashed off Damascus on 20 August 1975.

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