Aug 03, 2019 I Brett Tingley

NASA Won’t Say Why Its Aircraft Has Been Circling the San Andreas Fault

On July 22, 2019, a NASA-operated aircraft made a long, low-altitude survey of areas struck by the recent California earthquakes. Flight tracking website tracked the path of the McDonnell Douglas DC-8-70, registered to NASA under the call sign NASA817, and images of the aircraft’s flight path show it to have clearly zig-zagged directly over the San Andreas fault. Is NASA worried that The Big One is coming? 

The aircraft flew well below 1,000 feet for large portions of its flight, frightening and confusing southern California residents below. “It was scary, a little bit. You didn’t know if was going to land,” said CBSNLA anchorwoman Jasmine Viel after she saw the aircraft during her commute“Everyone kind of stopped in their cars, looking up. It was big and loud.”

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NASA's DC-8 science aircraft

After receiving several calls about a plane flaying dangerously low overhead, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department assured the public via Twitter that the plane belonged to NASA and posed no threat. NASA has yet to respond inquiries asking why the plane was flying so low over densely populated areas.

The recent wave of earthquakes in California revealed that scientists are still working to understand the complex interactions of seismic forces and structures underneath America’s west coast. For years, many have predicted that “The Big One” is imminent, an earthquake that will destroy much of what we know today as California and create a tsunami that could send cities crashing into the waves. Is this why NASA were flying a DC-8 precariously low over California?

While some of the more conspiratorial and sensational YouTube channels and blogs are covering this flight as proof of some sort of impending doomsday, the fact is that NASA operates many of the most advanced scientific aircraft and instruments the U.S. government possesses, so of course they would want to study the aftereffects of recent earthquakes in order to assess future or even current risks. On NASA’s Airborne Science website, the space agency writes that the DC-8 “provides a unique set of NASA supported aircraft that benefit the earth science community” and “carry the sensors that provide data to support and augment NASA spaceborne missions.”

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The aircraft has previously been used to study radiation and chemical gases in the atmosphere.

Still, it’s odd that NASA has yet to comment on the activities of NASA817 over Southern California. Let’s say, very hypothetically, that NASA came across evidence suggesting The Big One is coming and coming soon. Would they tell the public and most certainly create panic, chaos, and pandemonium?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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