fter an exhaustive examination, officials investigating TWA Flight 800 say they still don't know what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FBI have spent more than $40 million in the "most extensive examination of an aircraft accident in history", and the best official guess of the cause is the explosion of the center wing fuel tank from a spark of unknown origin, but no final conclusion has been announced.
The events, as viewed by independent investigators, are not conclusive as to the exact source of the initial explosions that hit the plane, but they are very definite that it was not the center wing fuel tank that initiated the catastrophic explosion that destroyed the aircraft, killing all 230 people aboard.
Although the government's investigative agencies say they don't know the exact cause, analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency have concluded that a missile was not the cause of the fiery crash of the jetliner. "There is no way a missile brought down the plane," CIA spokeswoman Carolyn Osborn said. "Based on analysis using 244 eyewitness reports, radar data, infrared data, and cockpit recorder information, CIA analysts have determined that the eyewitness sightings thought to be that of a missile actually took place after the first of several explosions on the aircraft.... What these eyewitnesses saw was, in fact, the burning 747 [jet] in various stages of crippled flight, not a missile," Osborn said. (The Press-Enterprise 9-25-97).
The facts as revealed by independent investigators, however, show an entirely different picture with a massive amount of supporting evidence that runs counter to almost every detail of the official conclusions. The WINDS recently talked with William Donaldson, a retired navy commander, who has done extensive research into the cause of the crash. He is a graduate of Crash Analysis from the Navy Post Graduate School, with a twenty-five year career in the navy.
Commander Donaldson's research has led to a congressional investigation that is still under way into the circumstances and causes that led to the crash. He said that he has "gotten access to inside information which is disheartening", showing the duplicity of the agencies responsible for the inquiry. "There are several individuals internal to the investigation that don't like the way this has gone", CDR Donaldson said. "I've gotten documents over the months, and one of those documents shows the debris field. When it is graphically displayed, it immediately refutes the entire scenario that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is pushing with the way [they claim] the aircraft broke up.
This former navy crash investigator said normally the debris field evidence is a critically important facet in determining the sequence and cause of a crash. He said, "this debris field shows that there was a tremendous hit made on the left side of the plane. The nose itself was broken into four major groups of pieces." Donaldson went on to describe how the plane was impacted. "Frame 240 which is located approximately twenty feet back from the nose of the aircraft, was dislocated more than 2,000 feet to the right of the extended track of the aircraft in the debris field. In order to do that, you must have a tremendous push operating perpendicular to the flight path of the aircraft."
Donaldson said, "even worse than that, when you go a little further back along that nose section, frame 840 to 860, forward lower left cargo compartment, the left side and center of that cargo compartment was dislocated 3,000 feet to the right of the track of the aircraft. You would expect normal dispersal of heavy parts probably up to several hundred feet left to right of center line if they were just falling off the aircraft. But that's not what happened. You have maybe 200 feet to the left, but you have a 3,000 foot dispersal to the right which means that either a freight train hit that plane up there at 13,000 feet, or a missile, or some high energy object did."
One of the leading eyewitnesses to the events that led up to the explosion and subsequent fiery crash of TWA Flight 800 is Major Fredrick C. Meyer. He and co-pilot Chris Bauer were with the Air National Guard and were practicing helicopter landings at the time the plane came down.
Meyer, an attorney from New York, spoke with The WINDS about his observations and his eyewitness account of three separate explosions involved in the crash of the TWA jet. While coming in for a landing "I leaned forward in the seat to look up and look forward and began to scan the sky more intently than I would normally" because a small plane had also been cleared for landing on the same runway. "At that moment, I saw a streak of light moving to my left. It was very curious because it looked like the streak that you would see from a shooting star at night, except that it was broad daylight and the streak was red-orange in color. It lasted three to five seconds. There was an interval in which I saw nothing and then on the same trajectory, further to the left, I saw a high velocity explosion which to me looked like ordnance, a war-head exploding. Whether it was a naval rifle, or a missile, or even a bomb, I couldn't distinguish. Then a second high velocity explosion took place; it was brilliant white light. The third event was the fuel explosion" [from the jet].
What followed, "is a moment in time that I remember. We were headed toward the lake of fire in the ocean [the burning aircraft] and I looked up and saw debris still falling out of the sky, and I told my co-pilot to 'slow it down, let the stuff fall' so that we would not fly under the falling debris." They were the first to arrive at the scene, but found no survivors in the water.
When asked whether he had formulated any sort of conclusion from what he'd seen, Meyer said, "I stay away from it because I really believe that I had a unique view and that it was my responsibility to be as precise and as accurate and to make no assumptions. I really believed that the NTSB would probably do video tapes of an interview and be very interested in having a very accurate, very carefully explained, but not analyzed eyewitness report to help them determine the cause. I was wrong....That is what leads me to suspect, not to know, but to suspect that they knew before they asked the first question, what brought that aircraft down, because they did not seem to be interested in anything they heard [from eyewitness accounts]."
As a military pilot, Meyer has twenty-five years experience with aircraft and he sees many fatal flaws in the NTSB, FBI and CIA's official scenario. "Let's focus on the aircraft accident and a rational determination as to what caused it", he said, "and the [probabilities of an] explosion of a fuel cell with slosh quantities of Jet A. It is an extraordinarily safe fuel. And all this talk about wires [causing a spark to ignite the fuel tank]--there are no wires in the center fuel tank. The electric [fuel pump] motors and the wires are on the outside of the fuel tank. They are bolted to the outside wall of the tank, the rotating shaft of the pump penetrates a gland seal into the fuel tank, the impeller and the housing are inside, but there are no wires in the fuel tank.
"So then, the NTSB comes out and says 'there was an arc in the wiring.' We're talking about a 12-volt system here, measured in milliamps, and they say 'an arc between two 12-volt wires'. There are no wires! Tell me that the NTSB doesn't know that?
Could an overheated air conditioner be the cause of the aircraft explosion? Major Meyer unequivocally says "no". "The circuit breakers are set at 130 degrees Fahrenheit [temperature at JFK airport was in the 70's]. People came to me who fly the 747 and said 'if an overheated air conditioner could set off the center fuel tank, I wouldn't be talking to you. Because I've set on the tarmac at Riyad [Saudi Arabia] in 130 degree ambient temperature, popping those circuit breakers back on and keeping those air conditioners running so that I wouldn't fry in the cockpit while I was waiting for take-off clearance, with an empty center fuel tank! I am one of five-hundred pilots who have done that since the 747 came out, and none of them have ever exploded.' It doesn't happen. The [NTSB] stories are scientifically impossible."
According to Commander Donaldson, "jet airliners built by the American aerospace industry have logged at least 150 thousand years of flight time. Not once has there ever been a spontaneous fuel tank explosion on any fuel tank while airborne." (Letter to NTSB 11-14-97).
Consider that until TWA-800's purported midair fuel tank explosion, the only Boeing 747's that came out of the air in pieces were blown out. In 1978 an Air India jetliner was downed, in 1983 KAL-007, in 1985 another Air India plane, in 1988 Pan Am-103 was blown out of the air. All of these downings were due either to bombings or missile hits.
In a letter to NTSB director James Hall, Commander Donaldson said, "no aircraft loaded with Jet A-1 [fuel] has ever had an internally ignited fuel tank explosion due to latent fuel vapor in the ullage [tank]. NTSB Safety Recommendations make the point clearly that there has never been a fuel tank explosion in an airborne commercial jet aircraft that was not ignited by an external source (hundreds of millions of flight hours in all types of jet carriers)."
The FBI has interviewed 244 eyewitnesses and there are many more who were not interviewed, according to investigators. This was not an obscure event. It had high visibility over a wide area by hundreds of individuals, many of whom are very credible.
"Several eyewitness like Mr. Roland Penney and his group of eight not only saw a missile-like object rise up from the haze at sea, leaving a thin gray smoke trail. They distinctly describe a bright white flash, 'like a flashbulb' when it hit TWA Flight 800." (Donaldson letter 11-14-97).
"We know what we saw. We weren't drunk," said [Jim Naples]. "I looked up and my immediate response was, I never saw an alert flare like that. It was projecting upward with a stream of smoke behind it." On July 17, 1996, Jim Naples was out on his boat with his wife and two daughters. Hundreds of other coastal people were out on the water too, and scores of them saw what Jim Naples saw in the southern sky: a white jet trail streaking up from near the horizon and arcing through the sky for many seconds and later a fireball." (New York Observer November 24, 1997).
"It would be one thing if just three or four or five people saw it," said Anita Langdon at her boat motor shop at the Senix Marina. "But fifty or sixty people saw it in Center Moriches, well respected citizens, and they know what they saw." ibid.
"A commercial fisherman was out there south of Long Island putting along. He sees on his left a missile [like object] rise over the horizon, a reddish-orange flare. He watches it as it goes overhead and he saw it smack into the plane. He didn't see TWA Flight 800 until the missile [like object] hit it and then he said, 'my God! It just hit a plane!' And then he watched Flight 800 as all the guts came streaming out of it and down it goes." (James Sanders- Reagan Radio Broadcast, Oct. 16, 1997).
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was interviewed by CNN two days after the disaster. His conclusions come after 'various conversations' with government officials.
"'I won't go so far as to say it was terrorism, but there was sabotage here,' Hatch said. 'We're looking at a criminal act. We're looking at somebody who either put a bomb on it or shot a missile, a surface-to-air missile.'" Hatch said, 'the National Transportation Safety Board should now turn the investigation over to the FBI because the crash was not related to an aviation problem.... It's very -- almost 100 percent unlikely that this was a mechanical failure,' Hatch said. 'It looks pretty darn conclusive that it was an explosion caused either internally or externally by a criminal act.' Investigators told CNN that there is no indication that the Boeing 747 suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure." (CNN 7-19-96).
The public hearing conducted by the NTSB in Baltimore seems to be calculated to bring resolution to this major air disaster which still has many unanswered questions. Yet, it seems doomed to failure from the outset. Bringing closure to this tragedy will require honest and candid evaluation of all the evidence, including what the hundreds of eyewitnesses have seen. It will require more than pleadings from James Kallstrom saying, "all I can do is try to impress upon them [the family members] that we're telling the truth."
As with any accident, eyewitness testimony is crucial in establishing what actually happened and in what sequence. In a court of law eyewitness testimony is essential in achieving accuracy and justice and is indispensable before issuing a verdict. However, in the NTSB's public hearing involving TWA 800, this critical evidence will not be permitted. "Responding to pressure from the FBI on the eve of the first public forum on the explosion of TWA Flight 800, the National Transportation Safety Board has canceled the discussion of eyewitness accounts and explosive residue at the five-day hearing into the cause of the crash." (Newsday , 12-8-97).
Requesting that the NTSB avoid issues touching on the possibility that a missile or bomb brought down Flight 800, James Kallstrom said his agency found broad public acceptance after the FBI said it discovered no evidence of a missile or bomb. He indicated that the agency has concerns that reconsidering the issue could create new controversy. James Hall, NTSB chairman, agreed, stating that "although it would normally be a part of NTSB practice to evaluate eyewitness observations of a particular accident, we have agreed not to do so."
Officials conducting the week-long public hearing showed little tolerance toward the suggestion of alternative causes of this tragedy. When a reporter from Worker's World called for an independent investigation, he was quickly removed from the hearing while shouting, "we have to know the truth!" He was implicating the navy as a possible source of a missile which downed the plane.
According to a November 29 AP report, French families of TWA Flight 800's victims said they can no longer trust U.S. investigators. They accuse American officials of "dragging their feet" in investigating the crash.
Michel Ney who represents the families said that the FBI and NTSB had refused to hand over important documents to a French judge studying the crash. Ney said investigating magistrate Chantal Perdrix had requested copies of autopsy reports of French victims, results of clothing analysis, chemical and metal tests conducted by U.S. authorities, a copy of the cockpit voice recorder, and Boeing and TWA maintenance reports.
Ney said, "The judge received practically nothing, just a few innocuous documents already made public." He indicated the U.S. Justice Department wanted Judge Perdrix to promise to keep the information confidential...and that she declined. "This is unacceptable. We will do everything possible to find out the truth," Ney said.
A recent airing of TV's Hard Copy discussed the mysterious disappearance of Jeremy Crocker, a "renowned engineer" who had become obsessed with the TWA explosion. Crocker, a Palm Springs resident, had become convinced, after much research, that the government was hiding the truth and he was determined to find it.
Crocker's son Jonathan said his father was "somewhat of a crusader. He wanted people to be accountable and honest and he felt that wasn't happening. He was willing to dig for evidence that might point fingers."
Crocker's work had come to the notice of Peter Ford, a Los Angeles radio host. Just five days before his disappearance, he had been a guest on Ford's program where the subject was TWA 800. Ford indicated that Jeremy Crocker was "absolutely convinced that there was a lot of foul play involved" in the downing of TWA Flight 800.
Continuing his research on December 9, 1996, Crocker traveled to Los Angeles where he put some of his current findings into an envelope and mailed them to Ford. That was the last anyone has heard from Jeremy Crocker. "The dark side theory would be that he was taken out. That someone, somewhere felt he was a threat", said Ford. The Crocker family is still searching, but police have never found a trace. They say he simply vanished. (Hard Copy, November 27,1997).
James Sanders has been an independent investigator with an interest in Flight 800 from the beginning. As a retired California police officer, he began looking into the possibility of a missile being the primary cause of the destruction of the plane. Sanders, like Commander Donaldson, calls attention to the debris field. He says it shows that the center fuel tank did not explode until eight seconds after the break-up of the plane began, indicating the fuel tank could not have been the initiator of the explosion. "Every anomaly they have works with a missile but doesn't work with the center fuel tank being the primary [cause]." (Reagan Radio).
Sanders, who chronicled the information in his book,The Downing of TWA FLIGHT 800, became the object of a Justice Department probe inquiring into his telephone records. At issue is a small fragment of the plane's seat fabric containing red residue which Sanders says independent analysis proved was missile fuel. The seat fabric originated from the investigative site at Calverton hanger in New York.
Sanders says the fabric showed up in his mailbox from an undisclosed source. In August, however, Janet Reno issued a written subpoena to Atlantic Bell for his telephone records. The FBI, in collusion with the Justice Department, has been investigating how Sanders obtained the fabric since his material was published earlier this year.
Sanders and his wife Elizabeth, a longtime TWA flight attendant trainer, have now been charged with stealing "parts of a civil aircraft involved in an accident," a felony, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Terrell Stacey, a senior 747 pilot who has been with TWA for thirty-one years, is charged with stealing government property, a misdemeanor offense for supplying the scrap of fabric to Sanders.
Jeff Schlanger, attorney for Sanders says, "the FBI has spent millions creating a videotape and holding a lengthy press conference to make sure their theory got the public's attention. Why are they moving to arrest a man who holds that up to a little scrutiny?"
Sanders' claim that a missile was the primary cause for the downing of the plane and that the red residue on certain of the aircraft's seats is consistent with missile fuel, would at least assign a source for the elusive spark which the NTSB has thus far been unable to place.
In an interview with CNN, Sanders said he was being "harried by the FBI for raising uncomfortable questions about the investigation. Actually, what the feds want to do is get even. They are livid."
Supporting Sanders' claim Mr. Kallstrom fumed, "this criminal investigation is far from over. These defendants are charged with not only committing a serious crime, they have also increased the pain already inflicted on the victims' families. [Of course, this is not mentioning the many families working for TWA who are made to believe they have some responsibility in the disaster]. This investigation will continue in an effort to identify any other individuals who may have played a role in this scheme." The maximum sentence possible for Sanders is ten years imprisonment.
Schlanger said, "every action that he [Sanders] has taken in his investigative reporting on the crash of Flight 800 was taken pursuant to moral and journalistic imperatives protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press." (Newsday 12-10-97).
In a move that may reveal the true implications of the red residue, James Kallstrom contacted the NTSB asking that it not discuss the residue during its public hearings.
Outlining his concerns, Commander William Donaldson wrote a series of letters to NTSB chairman James Hall expressing his outrage at the way his agency was conducting the investigation. "I have been closely following the NTSB's position, your statements and congressional testimony concerning the TWA Flight 800 mishap with with ever-increasing alarm.
"It is apparent to me and other professionals within the aircraft manufacturing, airline, and petroleum industries that [regarding] TWA 800 your agency has been conducting a campaign in the media to misinform the public and willfully assign the least probable cause to this mishap. Your agency has been depicting the volatility of the fuel as if it were nitrobenzene.
"Because of your agency's successful permutation of facts essential to this investigation, the incredible crash scenario you have tabled apparently designed to subvert eyewitness testimony, and your stonewalling of simple congressional questions, I have received funding to conduct an independent investigation.
"Mr. Hall's logic would have us believe that a pedestrian killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of thirty eyewitnesses died from unexplained natural causes. He would discount all eyewitnesses simply because the victim's body showed no evidence of tire marks." (Donaldson letter to Hall).
Another man with twenty-five years experience flying military aircraft is Major Frederick C. Meyer with the Air National Guard. He was an eyewitness to the object streaking across the sky followed by two aerial explosions into Flight 800. Meyer and others have been incensed with the "show" the official investigation has been producing. "Every time I move into a circle of pilots or mechanics or anyone in the circles of private or commercial aviation, they all say the same thing, 'it's such a bloody lie, it's ridiculous; we know they're lying.' Meyer stated further that "I don't believe anything of this magnitude has remained as guarded as it has without direct intervention from the White House."
Well over one year after the crash, more evidence was revealed that focuses hard questions on the official version of the cause. In September, 1997 it was disclosed that the nose gear doors on the plane were blown inward. The doors are located well forward of the center fuel tank and would not have been impacted by that explosion. It was also determined that they were one of the first things to come off the plane in flight. Exterior doors blown inward are strong evidence of an outside event impacting the plane.
One crash investigator told CNN that "the discovery keeps open the question of whether the fuel tank explosion was the primary or secondary event in the in-flight breakup of TWA Flight 800." (CNN 9-5-97). Officials are said to be "mystified" about the significance of damage to the doors, "but Shelly Hazle, an NTSB spokeswoman, downplayed the significance, emphasizing that investigators will have to see how this newly discovered evidence fits into their theory of how the plane blew up." (ibid.)
CDR Donaldson said that "military warheads cause hundreds of P.S.I overpressure, blowing in hatch doors, shearing off antenna.... The hinges of the failed nose gear doors were pushed inward and came off the plane very early. This is solid physical evidence, "one of the smoking guns." Why do we hear about this only now, fourteen months after the fact?"
When asked by the Press-Enterprise about the eyewitnesses, CIA spokeswoman Carolyn Osborn said, "our technical analysis concludes that what these eyewitnesses saw was, in fact, the burning [Boeing] 747 in various stages of crippled flight, not a missile."
"I know what I saw. I saw an ordnance explosion", declared Frederick Meyer, the Air National Guard helicopter pilot. "The explosion of the fuel was not the initiator of the event, it was one of the results." Meyer said he contacted the FBI the second day after the crash, but they did not ask any questions. He also spoke with NTSB investigators who "spent about five minutes" with him, he said.
"We know what we saw. We weren't drunk", said another group of witnesses who saw the the ascending object rise in the sky, then strike the plane.
The New York Post reported that "witnesses to the fiery TWA crash don't accept the FBI's explanation of the mysterious streaks they saw in the sky that fateful night. The FBI concluded that the witnesses were confused. (NYP 11-19-97).
"I'm not satisfied at all," said East End fisherman Roland Penney, who insists he saw a "streak of light" racing into the sky just before the plane exploded. "I don't think they're being honest with the people. They're telling us we saw something else than what we say."
In September, 1997 James Kallstrom said the FBI and CIA were still doing "a sophisticated and detailed" analysis of witness accounts. (AP, September 18, 1997). The CIA said that "based on 244 eyewitness reports, analysts have determined that the eyewitness sightings thought to be that of a missile actually took place after the first several explosions on the aircraft." (Press-Enterprise, September 25, 1997).
"I know what I saw," agreed Barbara Pacholk, a fifty-year old housewife from Quogue. "I saw ... fires go across the sky. One hit the plane at the tail and the second hit at the front, just before the wings...I understand that when a plane bursts into flames the flames fall, but this was a fire going up towards the plane."
"The investigators' arrogance toward the eyewitnesses angered Representative James Traficant Jr., Democrat of Ohio, who earlier this fall...began investigating the possibility that the government is shortchanging the citizens' views. 'Ms. Osborn said they were mistaken in what they saw. That's not very professional, and it's not the way to dispute eyewitness statements,' said Paul Marcone, press secretary for the congressman." (NY Observer, 11-24-97).
Perhaps the bottom line was best stated by Philip Weiss of The New York Observer. "Now the FBI has reached its conclusion in the matter. Its message to the eyewitnesses: shut up, you didn't see anything."
Flight 800 - Why Won't it Go Away?
Commander Donaldson's Flight 800 Report Refutes NTSB
TWA Flight 800 Analysts Say FBI is Intentionally Obstructing Justice
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