Quite who Ethiopian Airlines thinks it is kidding with its theories on the Beirut 737 accident two years ago is unclear. But by insisting from the outset that flight ET409 must have sustained some unexplained problem, rather than an operational breakdown on the flightdeck, it dug a public relations hole so deep its continued protests reek of desperation.
Its dramatic claim of dark, conspiratorial events - centred on sabotage or the shooting down of the 737 - competes for attention with the equally suspect suggestion that a lightning strike caused the twinjet to disintegrate minutes after departure. Backed by the Ethiopian civil aviation authority, the carrier's statement that the report is "lacking evidence" would be sheer parody in less serious circumstances, but takes on a terrible irony after an accident that claimed 90 lives.
Initially, Lebanon's government did itself no favours, with loose and premature comments from ministers in the aftermath of the disaster, and a leaked US diplomatic cable spelled out embarrassing behind-the-scenes manoeuvring only three weeks after the crash.
Even with detailed flight-recorder data and dozens of other sources of information, no accident investigation can draw up a precise sequence of events - there is always room for interpretation.
But the Lebanese report does not seem a product of anyone's imagination, simply a combination of hard evidence, consideration of probability, and a nod to Occam's Razor.
It is not hard to understand why the airline and the Ethiopian civil aviation authority would prefer to peddle a different version of events. But beginning with a conclusion, cherry-picking evidence and criticising anything which fails to support the hypothesis is not the process of investigation, but of conspiracy theory.
When we last commented on the loss of ET409 (Flight International, 5-11 April), we were rebuked by the African Airlines Association (3-9 May) for highlighting obvious parallels - now undeniably reinforced - with the Kenya Airways 737 crash three years before. That comment had the headline 'Tragically familiar' - and sadly the same one could apply to Ethiopian Airlines' reaction to the Lebanese report.
It smacks of the same attitude that has emerged in the wake of other uncomfortable inquiries, prioritising face-saving by sowing doubt over investigators' integrity, when a more appropriate reaction would have been reflection, humility and a vow to do whatever is necessary to avoid a repeat. Ninety lost lives deserve nothing less.
[This appeared as the leader piece in Flight International, 24 January]