- Amazingly, ABC News just covered witnesses of the TWA
Flight 800 crash in an atmosphere that did not criminalize the consideration
of witness accuracy. Suddenly it's safe to second-guess the FBI/NTSB!?
While covering the terrorist-missile theory, the Navy-missile theory wasn't
to be mentioned once. ABCNews also notably failed to acknowledge the 30
unidentified large surface vessels below Flight 800, most of which were
either in or headed toward the reported-to-be activated naval-warning zone
W-105. Well, maybe next year ABCNews will discover that too, until then
there's always, Ian Goddard's Journal: http://users.erols.com/igoddard/twa-core.htm
- Could 100 Witnesses Have Been Mistaken?
- Questions Linger Over TWA Flight 800 Disaster
Four Years Later
- By David Ruppe - ABCNews.com link
- NEW YORK, July 17 - Today
is the fourth anniversary of one of the most mysterious, tragic and controversial
air crashes in U.S. history -- the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the
coast of Long Island, which killed 230 passengers and crew.
- It is also roughly a month before the National Transportation
Safety Board (NTSB) is scheduled to announce the conclusions of its four-year
investigation into the cause of the crash.
- The government's investigation of the TWA 800 crash,
considered the largest and most expensive in commercial air disaster history,
has been controversial from the start. In the days following, nearly 100
of more than 700 eyewitnesses interviewed by the FBI described seeing a
streak of light move from the Earth leading to an explosion, which seemed
to suggest a missile had struck the Boeing 747.
- Initially, law enforcement officials also strongly believed
a criminal act -- either a bomb or a missile -- was the likeliest explanation
for the catastrophic explosion, which severed the plane's front end, including
the cockpit, from the rest of the fuselage. But now, government officials
from the FBI, CIA and, privately, the NTSB, say they are fairly convinced
no such thing occurred. All that investigators will say they know for sure
is that the plane's center fuel tank blew up. To date, no single source
of ignition for that explosion has been identified, although investigators
say they have closed in on several possibilities.
- So why have government officials dismissed the missile
theory? How could so many eyewitnesses be wrong? Largely because of the
absence of any physical evidence supporting the theory and the unreliability
of memory, current and former officials say.
- But ABCNEWS.com's examination of the main arguments and
evidence used by various government agencies to dismiss the missile theory
reveals a degree of conjecture, along with disagreements about key eyewitness
- Compelling Eyewitness Accounts
- The most compelling case for the missile theory is made
by the 755 FBI records of eyewitness interviews, which were recorded on
standardized FBI "FD-302" forms typically used by the bureau
- Recently posted on the Internet and given little notice
by the press, the FBI records seem to tell a dramatic story of a missile
striking the plane.
- Ninety-six of the eyewitnesses -- from boats, from the
Long Island shore, and from a nearby jet and helicopter -- described seeing
a streak of light or what appeared to be a flare moving up from the Earth
and eventually leading to an explosion over the Atlantic, according to
the FBI reports.
- One eyewitness, for instance, described "what he
thought was a shooting star traveling west to east, coming form the south
shore, over Fire Island," an FBI agent wrote. The "object he
observed was more like a bottle-rocket with a dull orange glow to it"
and he "further stated that the glow moved faster than an aircraft."
- Yet another witness on Long Island's south shore said
she observed "what appeared to be a 'contrail' which appeared to be
coming from an object which was flying toward the plane which she had been
watching," according to another FBI record. That eyewitness said she
thought the object originated from somewhere on the ocean.
- Some of the eyewitnesses in the days after the crash,
lent weight to the missile theory by describing what they saw to TV news.
- "It was a bright, reddish orange color. It appeared
to be a flare going up," witness Lou Desepoli told a news camera.
- "If you take the time and read through [the witness
reports], you're gonna be a believer. I mean, a hundred people can't be
seeing this stuff without something being there," says retired Navy
Commander James Donaldson, who was a crash investigator for the service
and is currently the most vocal critic of the government's investigation
and a strong advocate of the missile theory.
- Donaldson has posted the FBI forms, obtained from the
NTSB, on a Web site, http://twa800.com/witnesscd/witnesscd.htm.
- Terrorism Seemed Possible
- In fact, immediately following the crash, the possibility
that an act of terrorism had downed the jet seemed very real to the FBI,
the bureau's Legislative Council A. Robert Walsh later explained in a letter
to a U.S. senator:
- "[A]t the time of the TWA explosion, [convicted
terrorist] Ramzi Yousef and others were on trial in the United States District
Court in the Southern District of New York for plotting to blow up 12 United
States airliners over the Pacific Ocean, all on the same day, as well as
for charges connected with a test of their device on an airliner that resulted
in the death of a Japanese national."
- The tragedy occurred just one week before the Olympic
Games in Atlanta, and when Washington was still on a high state of alert
following the April 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma.
- In the hours and days immediately following the crash,
hundreds of FBI agents fanned out across the Long Island's south shore
interviewing potential eyewitnesses. Initially, "everyone thought
this was an act of terrorism," says then-FBI Assistant Director James
Kallstrom, who would lead the bureau's investigation into the crash.
- "I assigned 500 additional agents to look at the
missile theory. We thought there was a likely chance it could have happened,"
- But as FBI and NTSB investigations progressed, federal
agencies publicly began to discount the likelihood of a missile strike.
- FBI Stops Investigation
- Sixteen months after the crash, the FBI's Kallstrom held
a press conference to announce that the bureau was suspending its extensive
criminal investigation, saying no evidence had been found to suggest the
accident was due to a criminal act. Kallstrom said the FBI exhaustively
investigated one lead after another, and conducted forensic tests, with
- "If a bomb or a missile or a missile fragment or
a concussion missile or a shape charge or a bomb in a suitcase, or any
of those things happened, we would have seen forensic evidence of it, metallurgic
evidence of it," said Kallstrom, who now works in the private sector,
in an interview with ABCNEWS.com. The eyewitness testimony initially pointed
the FBI in the direction of the missile theory, said Kallstrom.
- "But the reality is, eyewitnesses seeing things
in the sky does not make evidence. It can point you in directions. You
can't bring that kind of testimony into a court of law. In the final analysis,
the evidence of what hit the plane is in the plane itself. And there was
no evidence," he said.
- [ IAN: See numbers 2, 4 re: disappeared physical evidence:
http://users.erols.com/igoddard/coverup6.htm and http://judiciary.senate.gov/51099f9.pdf
about FBI agents altering & destroying physical evidence ]
- So the agency turned to a CIA analysis for a way to explain
what the witnesses had seen.
- CIA Challenges Theory
- The CIA, at the FBI's request, produced an analysis concluding
it was improbable eyewitnesses saw a missile strike the plane. The CIA
argued that witnesses who described seeing a streak of light leading to
an explosion instead probably saw the aircraft already on fire, suddenly
climbing 3,000 feet from an altitude of 13,800, after the plane's nose
broke off. The sudden weight loss propelled the rest of burning plane abruptly
upward, trailing flames, they concluded. The streak that 98 eyewitnesses
said they saw originate from the Earth actually started high in the air,
the CIA said.
- The CIA briefed the FBI on its final analysis in October
1997 and the FBI, at a press conference the following month, released a
video produced by the CIA to explain its theory titled, TWA Flight 800:
What Did the Witnesses See?
- Parts of the video were broadcast widely on network TV
- [ IAN: See invalidation of CIA scenario: http://www.erols.com/igoddard/ciavideo.htm
http://www.erols.com/igoddard/experts.htm & http://www.Flight800.org/radar6.htm
& http://www.Flight800.org/radar9.htm ]
- Doubts About CIA Analysis
- But some critics charged the CIA analysis -- an unusual
endeavor for a commercial air disaster investigation -- seemed curiously
- The analysis, for instance, did not take into account
all of the eyewitness testimony. It was produced as the FBI gradually fed
the CIA just 244 of the 755 eyewitness accounts, a CIA official later acknowledged.
- Also, CIA officials told an NTSB panel their theory about
the crash was largely supported by the testimony of a single eyewitness
to the crash, whose account appeared at odds with many others, but whom
analysts had determined was highly reliable. Moreover, that key witness'
testimony at first didn't fully support the CIA's theory, a CIA analyst
told the panel. The witness at first told the FBI that the streak of light
originated from the Earth. Only when interviewed for a third time did the
eyewitness give the FBI an account that better matched the CIA theory --
also based on radar, satellite, physical and other evidence -- that the
light had originated high in the sky.
- The CIA's theory drew some skepticism from the NTSB panel,
called the Witness Group, during the briefing.
- "My concern is that when all 755 statements are
made available to the public, you and the public will see numerous statements
that appear to be excellent witnesses that don't agree with [the CIA's
key witness]," said Jim Walters, with the Air Line Pilots Association,
according to an NTSB transcript of the briefing.
- The CIA analyst responded that those witnesses who saw
something ascend steeply and lead to an explosion that then split and fell
to Earth were probably mistaken.
- "[W]e are confident that even though they thought
what they saw was something originating perhaps off the ocean's surface,
streaking up and hitting the plane, that in fact, what they really saw
was a fire trail in the sky which culminated in the breakup of the plane."
- The CIA "had all of the evidence that we thought
were worthy of consideration," says Kallstrom. "Those were the
best witnesses, which had the best location. They had the best recall.
They were articulate. They were people who we thought were not just making
up stuff because they heard it on the radio." And Kallstrom notes
the CIA's analysis was derived from far more than the key witness to calculate
what might have happened to the plane.
- "[W]e gave them the product of 12 different radars
of [a] satellite atomic clock, and [the satellite] saw the infrared explosion
of the plane, so we could pinpoint that. We had all of the facts of the
flight data recorder. We knew where all of the witnesses were. You know
the speed of sound, the speed of light."
- The CIA analysis is "conjecture, based on a lot
of evidence," Kallstrom says.
- NTSB Finds No Evidence of Strike
- NTSB officials, to date, have not announced any official
conclusions as to what caused the center fuel tank to explode. They are
expected to do so in August.
- But as their investigation come to an end, officials
say none of the substantial evidence they have gathered showed any signs
of a missile strike.
- [ IAN: See numbers 2, 4 re: disappeared physical evidence:
http://www.erols.com/igoddard/coverup6.htm and: http://judiciary.senate.gov/51099f9.pdf
about FBI agents altering & destroying physical evidence ]
- "In the case of TWA, with 96 percent plus of the
plane recovered, with extensive testing done on the recovered wreckage,
with all sorts of other physical evidence, there simply was nothing, there
was not one iota of evidence, to indicate the plane was struck by a missile,"
explains Peter Goelz, former NTSB managing director who served during the
- Goelz says the absence of such evidence does not rule
out a missile strike. But he says that absence, and a number of other factors,
make it highly improbable.
- "If you are going to blow up a plane, if you are
going to shoot down a plane, you can't do it without leaving physical traces.
And those are the physical traces that we looked for. And they were simply
not present, they were not there," he says.
- The eyewitness accounts remained under consideration
in the NTSB investigation, Goelz says. But because of the Board's experience
with the fallibility of memories, particularly during times of excitement,
they are not a primary one, he says.
- "The witness interviews are one part of the investigative
puzzle, but they're not dispositive on their own. Unlike a criminal investigation,
the NTSB's primary reliance is on the physical evidence," he said.
"We look at the tin."
- Theory Not Discarded
- The NTSB Witness Group -- a section of the investigation
composed of representatives from NTSB, FAA, TWA, Boeing, a pilot's association
and an aerospace union -- has not wholly rejected the missile theory.
- It noted, for instance, that 38 eyewitness accounts of
a streak of light appearing to rise straight up from the Earth, or nearly
so, and noted that those did not correspond with the calculated flight
path of the crippled aircraft. But the panel called the FBI witness statements
-- which according to FBI procedure were not direct quotes but paraphrased
summaries -- "poorly suited for purposes of an aircraft accident investigation."
It also concluded some FBI interviewers may have disclosed a bias towards
the missile theory, asking questions that tacitly supported it, such as,
"how long did the missile fly?"
- Ultimately, the Witness Group concluded the cause of
the plane crash could not be determined through the eyewitness accounts
alone but in light of the whole body of evidence uncovered.
- NTSB officials continue to say they've found no evidence
of a missile attack in the wreckage of the aircraft -- which, again, doesn't
necessarily eliminate the possibility -- but it doesn't support the theory
either. "At this stage, we know that the center fuel tank exploded.
The question is, what ignited that?" said NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz
in a June interview.
- Other Possible Causes
- The NTSB has been examining a number of other possible
causes such as faulty wiring, a malfunctioning fuel pump, a possible spark
of static electricity, and sulfur deposits in fuel.
- An FAA official, though, told reporters last week that
its own substantial investigation into fuel tank safety following the crash
found the tanks to be safe from explosions. Still, to make the fuel tanks
safer, the FAA has issued sweeping changes to commercial aircraft designs
and maintenance procedures, including nearly 40 rules and directives.
- A Washington Post story in June reporting the NTSB had
test-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in April, as part of its TWA
800 investigation, raised some speculation the board might after all be
seriously considering the missile theory as it prepares to make its final
- NTSB officials, however, seemed to suggest the test was
something of a formality, more about covering all of the bases than finding
- "The tests have been described as "dotting
the i's and crossing the t's and that's a good way of looking at it,"
said NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm.
- With no physical evidence to substantiate the eyewitness
accounts of a missile strike, NTSB officials say the theory is all but
- Eyewitness Can't Forget
- William Gallagher is one of nearly 100 witnesses to the
crash of TWA Flight 800 who says he saw something streaking upwards from
the surface, followed by an explosion. An FBI agent interviewed him three
days later. Even though it's been four years since the crash, the commercial
fisherman says his memory of those few seconds remains clear. Unfortunately,
he says, his memory of the crash does not coincide with the government's
explanation of the tragedy so far.
- Gallagher, who was at sea about 10 to 12 miles west of
the 747 when it crashed, wrote down his observations a few days after the
tragedy and drew a diagram of what he saw to make sure he would not forget
the terrible details.
- "It looked like a red flare heading up into the
sky from the horizon. Then the flare became a big white ball of light.
Out of that came two orange streaks. One went down and the other arced
up a little before coming down," he said. Gallagher was heading toward
his homeport, Point Pleasant, N.J., on his way back from a squid fishing
expedition on July 17. He said he was standing on his boat facing east,
and estimates he was close to four miles from the New Jersey shore, when
he saw the single red streak shooting up. He believes that red streak could
have been a missile, but admits, "no one really knows what happened."
Although he has read reports of the government's explanation this far,
those reports don't account for the red streak he saw heading up, and not
down, he says.
- "I know what I saw," said Gallagher, who was
never called back for a follow-up interview by the FBI. "I just wish
the government and the media would really investigate what I and a lot
of other people saw. I think they're waiting for us to forget."
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