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Discussion Starter #1
So, I've got a pretty specific question.  Its hard to get at through pure research because its... well... specific.

I'm working on a scene where a large explosion (Think cargo plane full of explosives) goes off in the Libyan Desert. Its the middle of the night, early 80s. One US Ranger is conscious to see it.
He is suppose to be in the middle of nowhere. He says at one point that he doubted there was another human being for 50 miles in any direction.

The question is, back then, is there any chance of it going unnoticed or unreported? My thinking is no, but I have no idea what 1980's Libya might have been capable of technology wise. 
If it was reported, how long would 1980s Libya have taken to investigate? For that matter, would the US have been aware of it first? Satellite imagery or some such?

Sorry, I was born in 81 and don't have a feel for what was realistically possible in this decade. 

I know its a long shot but I thought I might get lucky and find someone who could make some educated guesses.
Thank you to anyone who offers any thoughts.


 

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This is basically a variant of, "if a tree falls in the woods..."

I was in the Army from '86 to '89. Libya is a desert almost the size of Western Europe, with only a handful of cities. The answer is, "it depends." Depends on where it crashed. Depends on who's wandering in the area.

I don't know how long it would have taken for them to notice or investigate. In the 80s Libya had a fairly sophisticated Air Force with various Russian aircraft, but were seriously out gunned by much more capable American aircraft, and in 1981 (?) the US easily shot down two Libyan aircraft after excessive provocation.
 

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Who do you need to notice it, or not? An explosion like that would probably be more likely to be noticed by U.S. satellites or planes than the Libyan military.

A C-130 load of explosives would make a pretty big boom. If our satellites can detect a rocket launch, they could sure detect that.
 

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Planes go down today and are lost. I think it's completely reasonable one could go down mostly unseen with an explanation of how remote the area is.

The main cause of them remaining unseen is when they land in the ocean.

Wreckage on land is going to be found pretty quickly, even in the '80s, if the US government wants to find it.

So if you want it to remain lost, you're probably going to need to have it land in a sizable body of water.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for all the info guys. I think its enough to go on, but I'll give more detail to see if it changes anyone's thoughts on the subject.

The plane is already down. The character finds it while he is searching for something else entirely and believes its been under sand for 30-40 years. The idea being that it may have been lost there since the end of WW2 or shortly afterward. The character is a Ranger but he doesn't have a thorough knowledge of foreign military air craft half a century ago. He is making an educated guess, and as the only witness the reader has to take his assumptions.

For my part, I simply need a plot device that would cause a large explosion. Something no one else would realize missing. (IE he can't find a bunker where some group is stock piling explosives). The scene needs a lot of shrapnel thrown in lots of directions and the possibility of hurting a very powerful (sci-fi) enemy. There are some sci-fi elements at play for why the plane 'just happens to be' uncovered when he "happens" to be there. I mention all this because the question isn't really one about a plane going down as it is the explosion itself being noticed. It effects how much time the character will estimate he has to get out of the area if he doesn't want to risk being discovered by 1980's Libyan authorities.

He needs about three hours in the area to accomplish his goals. Its a flash back scene from the point of view of a dead man, so its a matter of making sure events hinted at in two previous books all line up when the reader gets to see what happened "that day" for themselves.

My feeling from all the comments though is that its at least conceivable that no Libyan Authorities would be aware of it, and the desert winds could quickly cover the evidence in the days that followed. Let me know if you think its too far fetched though, I could write it the other way, where it is discovered, and the future events will still make sense.  I just want to wrap up the details with the most realistic outcome--that said, Libya not noticing would be the easier version.

 
 

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TElleryHodges said:
So, I've got a pretty specific question. Its hard to get at through pure research because its... well... specific.

I'm working on a scene where a large explosion (Think cargo plane full of explosives) goes off in the Libyan Desert. Its the middle of the night, early 80s. One US Ranger is conscious to see it.
He is suppose to be in the middle of nowhere. He says at one point that he doubted there was another human being for 50 miles in any direction.

The question is, back then, is there any chance of it going unnoticed or unreported? My thinking is no, but I have no idea what 1980's Libya might have been capable of technology wise.
If it was reported, how long would 1980s Libya have taken to investigate? For that matter, would the US have been aware of it first? Satellite imagery or some such?

Sorry, I was born in 81 and don't have a feel for what was realistically possible in this decade.

I know its a long shot but I thought I might get lucky and find someone who could make some educated guesses.
Thank you to anyone who offers any thoughts.
I think your mention of satellites could be the key, and might be one of the first things to spring to a reader's mind.

So it seems a reasonable question to ask would be: what kind of satellites were in regular use in the mid-80s? I'm sure someone here (military vet) might know that. As well as, who else other than the US had those satellites, and were they friend or foe of Libya? (I.e., would they tell the Libyan govt about the explosion?)

Another thing to remember is that this is fiction, and if you need Libya to have satellites (or not have them), then you can do it. If so, I would just add an "author note" at the end of the book, mentioning whatever you changed.
 

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There were satellites that would notice any large thermal event in the 1980s. However, they were not aimed at Lybia. In fact, they were aimed only at areas of possible missile launches or nuclear tests.

For example, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster created a thermal event far larger than a planeload of explosives would, but US satellites didn't detect it first. That had to be redirected and aimed at the site, cued by more ordinary means--reporting, detection of radiation downwind, etc.

So, if for the purposes of your story it needs to go undetected, that's plausible.

Or vice versa. If you need for it to be detected, you can make up some circumstance where it is.

 

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TElleryHodges said:
My feeling from all the comments though is that its at least conceivable that no Libyan Authorities would be aware of it, and the desert winds could quickly cover the evidence in the days that followed.
That sounds plausible.
 
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