Although it would be impossible to maintain a complete archive of reports on anomalous airline crashes,
we have kept some articles here for those who may wish to do further investigation.
Many of the original sources for these articles are no longer online.
Editor's note: On the evening of July 17, 1996, at 8:19 p.m., TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747, took off from Kennedy Airport, bound for Paris. At 8:31 p.m., over 730 people watched Flight 800 explode, killing all 230 of the people aboard.
Not long afterwards, millions of Americans watched their televisions in fascinated horror as search and rescue crews looked for survivors among the flaming debris. Only dead bodies were recovered.
Flight 800 is mostly an ugly memory for people these days. The U.S. government issued an explanation that a fuel tank had somehow exploded. Yet, they flatly denied any evidence existed of foul play, including the possibility that Flight 800 had been blown out of the air by a missile.
All but a few journalists accepted the government's version of events. Few bothered to investigate the numerous eyewitnesses, the radar records and the physical evidence that all suggested a strikingly different explanation of Flight 800's untimely demise. And those few who did question the government's version were made to look like fools or, worse, thrown in jail and prosecuted as criminals for meddling in an official investigation.
What really happened to Flight 800? In light of recent FBI disclosures of buried evidence that have resulted in a postponement of the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, new questions are being raised about other high-profile U.S. government terrorism investigations including the explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.
Today, WorldNetDaily begins a daily five-part series of explosive commentaries by independent writer and Emmy-award-winning producer Jack Cashill detailing what he has learned in the course of producing "Silenced: Flight 800 and The Subversion of Justice," http://www.dxmarket.com/worldnetdaily/products/V0028.html a documentary video which presents compelling evidence that Flight 800 was indeed shot down by missile fire and of the massive cover-up that followed that tragic event by the federal government.
By Jack Cashill
© 2001 WorldNetDaily.com
SILENCED: FLIGHT 800 AND THE
SUBVERSION OF JUSTICE
Our dark places
"You don't want to go there, Jack."
I do not know how clichιs emerge, but this one seems to have my name on it. I have heard it said in recent weeks more times than I could count or care to recall.
Not from my liberal friends. Willfully clueless the past eight years, these folks have not even heard of, say, Juanita Broaddrick or the Sudanese aspirin factory. Were I to tell them that the Clinton White House covered up a missile strike on an American airline off the coast of Long Island, and that I was producing a documentary about the same, they would think me daft.
My conservative friends, on the other hand, don't think me daft at all. Most of them believe Clinton corrupt enough to attempt a crime of this magnitude, and half of them think him capable. It is they who don't want me "to go there."
"What if all evidence leads in that direction?" I ask.
It doesn't seem to matter. Like Conrad's Marlow, these otherwise rational Main Streeters seem "unnerved by a sheer blank fright, pure abstract terror." I wish I were overstating the problem, but I am not.
Too many ordinary citizens have reconciled themselves to an enduring heart of American darkness, one that can swallow reputations and bank accounts whole and possibly even lives. "Look what they did to Pierre Salinger." And it is to these dark places they don't want me to go even if Clinton no longer mans the gate.
Kelly Creech, my editor on this project, still chuckles when he thinks of my involvement. A Kennedy assassination buff (a troubling zeugma if there ever was one), he has tried to convince me for years of the dark forces that conspired to murder JFK. Something of an idealist, or perhaps just a naοf, I have continued to insist on Lee Harvey Oswald alone, though lately with less vigor. Kelly has been amused to see how this project has opened my eyes. He is eager for the voyage.
So is my intrepid guide, James Sanders. Jim has journeyed up this river before. It cost him everything but his life. Indeed, after writing the best-seller, "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," he and wife Liz were arrested and convicted of conspiracy, a sad moment in journalism history, all the more shameful for its obscurity. Still, this good-hearted pair of felons remains undeterred even the sweet, fragile Liz, a former TWA attendant and trainer, whose search for vindication subverts her need for peace.
For all their travails, the Sanders will stay the course. Like me, they believe that the White House has been cleansed with Clinton's removal, but not redeemed. Redemption will come not by "moving on" but by "going there" wherever it is the truth takes us, no matter how disturbing that truth might be.
On the evening of July 17, 1996, at 8:19 p.m., TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747, took off from Kennedy Airport bound for Paris. It headed east without incident in fair skies along the south coast of Long Island. About 8:30 p.m., Mike Wire, a millwright from Philadelphia, saw a streak of light rise up from behind a Westhampton house and head south, southeast away from shore.
At the same time, Dwight Brumley, a senior Navy NCO on board US Air Flight 217, watched a streak of light rise up towards his plane before leveling off and heading north, towards Long Island.
Lisa Perry, from her Fire Island deck, and Paul Angelides from his on Westhampton, both followed the southbound streak towards east-bound Flight 800 and then each saw the northbound streak rise off the horizon at the last moment.
At 8:31 p.m., FAA radar operators out of Islip (on Long Island) saw an unknown object rise up and merge with Flight 800. This, they reported to the highest authorities. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Jim Hall acknowledged as much in a November, 1996, memo. He wrote:
Top intelligence and security officials were told in a video conference from the White House Situation Room that radar tapes showed an object headed at the plane before it exploded.
At the same moment FAA radar picked up something else unusual a ship of good size nearly right under Flight 800's final airborne position.
At 8:31 p.m., Wire, Perry, Brumley, Angelides and at least 732 others watched Flight 800 explode catastrophically, killing all 230 of the people aboard. But the ship turned tail and fled the scene at 30 knots. Says Cmdr. Bill Donaldson, USN retired, "They ran from one of the greatest disasters in history. You don't do that at sea."
In those first few chaotic hours after the crash, all leads pointed in one direction, but for reasons still uncertain, no one in official Washington wanted "to go there."
After the crash, thousands of workers made a great, good faith effort to redeem the bodies and to retrieve the wreckage. But not everyone.
Although empowered by Congress to take charge of such scenes (Title 49 U.S.C.), the NTSB failed to do so. The U.S. Justice Department would not permit it. U.S. Attorney Valerie Caproni descended upon the site, FBI in tow, and forcefully shut down the NTSB investigation. By law, The FBI could only seize control if they declared the crash a crime scene. This, they did not do, and never would.
According to The New York Times, senior NTSB officials were furious. In times past, the NTSB might have resisted. Not in 1996. Three years prior, President Clinton neutered this once proud agency when he named attorney Jim Hall, an old Gore crony from Tennessee, first to the NTSB board and quickly to its chair. Hall's best qualification said the Washington Post in an unkind cut was his "driver's license."
The FBI would not let the NTSB interview eyewitnesses, not even Major Fritz Meyer, an Air National Guard pilot who stared the explosion in its face from his helicopter above Long Island. "The FBI forbade it," Meyer was told by an NTSB investigator and old Vietnam buddy who had been hoping to interview him for six months.
The FBI, however, showed curiously little interest in what some key witnesses had to say. Save in rare instances, they fixed no positions and took no sight lines. As Meyer relates, he went to an FBI trailer to give his testimony. When he arrived, he found five agents sitting around, talking. They picked the junior man to interview him. The interview lasted about five minutes.
"He wrote nothing down," says Meyer. "That was my sole interview with the FBI." And Meyer is arguably the most critical of all witnesses.
Another key witness, Dwight Brumley on board US Air Flight 217, lodged a similar complaint. Despite his military training he was an active master chief in the U.S. Navy at the time of the crash his unique vantage point and his expertise in understanding relative bearing and true bearing, no one with any aviation experience ever talked to him. He too had one cursory FBI interview.
One month after the crash the FBI ceased interviews altogether. Not a single interview took place for nearly two months. Since then, the FBI has re-interviewed fewer than 2 percent of the witnesses. Why the lack of interest? As the world would learn only later, there was presumably "no physical evidence" to back up testimony of a missile strike.
At the beginning of the final NTSB hearing four years after the crash, Jim Hall made this quite clear, "Let me state unequivocably," he said, stumbling over the word "unequivocably" and meaning, one guesses, "unequivocally," "the safety board has found no evidence of a bomb or missile strike." As if by rote, several other witnesses made the identical point.
Only one problem. The authorities were slighting or suppressing talk of a missile long before the physical evidence was collected and reconstructed. Says Liz Sanders, then on active duty with TWA as a trainer: "That was the part that bothered everyone. Within days, all of a sudden you heard nothing about missiles."
The FBI initially favored a bomb. "Prime Evidence Found That Device Exploded in Cabin of Flight 800" read a New York Times headline a month after the crash. According to the article, the FBI lab had found traces of PETN on the plane.
The critical observer has to ask himself at this point, why a bomb? Why not a missile? PETN is an explosive common to both bombs and missiles. Why, through a pattern of leaks and public statements, did the FBI steer the public towards a bomb? No physical evidence suggested a bomb over a missile. None of the over 730 eyewitnesses implied a bomb. No radar or sound or flight recorder data said, "bomb."
Why a bomb?
The FBI did not seem eager to learn otherwise. In a later report, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) complained bitterly, "We feel that our expertise was unwelcome and not wanted by the FBI.
The threats made during the first two weeks of the investigation were unwarranted and unforgettable."
Threats? Why threats?
Was the FBI sincere about its bomb theory? During this same period, its agents were very quietly trawling for "debris" in a 2.7 NM radius area largely north and west of the flight path where no debris was likely to be found (since wind and currents were generally moving in a southward direction). This was, however, the most likely site for a missile launch pad. Was the purpose to find evidence or to assure that no one else would? The trawling lasted six months.
An encounter with the assistant FBI director in charge of the investigation led Marge Gross, a TWA attendant whose brother was killed in the crash, to doubt the FBI's sincerity. As Gross would retell the story at the National Press Club, she heard a reporter yell out to Jim Kallstrom, "You can't tell me it was anything but a missile that took that plane down." According to Gross, Kallstrom shot back just as quickly. "You're right, but if you quote me, I'll deny it."
For its part, the NTSB officially argued for mechanical failure virtually from day one. As Liz Sanders notes, "All of a sudden you're hearing mechanical, mechanical, mechanical." And at that time, adds Liz, "They didn't have the mock-up nothing."
Within months, the NTSB went on record favoring an explosion of fuel vapor in the center wing tank. The public debate spurred on by a media either too corrupt or too complicit to care was now between bomb and mechanical. This false dialectic troubled many inside the investigation. One of them, 747 pilot and manager Terrel Stacey, shared his concerns with investigative reporter Jim Sanders. It would cost them both dearly.
SILENCED: FLIGHT 800 AND THE SUBVERSION OF JUSTICE
"We are certainly fortunate to live in a country where we have a free media and a free press."
-- Jim Hall, NTSB Chairman, at the August 22, 2000 Flight 800 hearing.
I used to challenge Kelly Creech, my editor, with one particular question if so many people knew what really happened in Dallas, why hasn't anyone come forward? But after eight years of observing the Clinton White House, I have ceased to wonder.
With a compliant media, an administration can suppress dissent and demonize dissenters without breaking a sweat even in this age of the Internet. In the case of Flight 800, people did come forward. It's just that almost no one has wanted to hear them.
As activist Marge Gross observes, "I'm treated as an oddball, a freak, I'm treated as someone overcome with grief who doesn't know what she's doing." Gross' treatment is hardly unique. Instructive in the ways of Clintonian Washington is the case of Kelly Patricia O'Meara.
In 1997 the NTSB had quietly released new radar data showing a large number of radar blips moving in unison between 22 and 35 miles south of the crash site. This piqued O'Meara's interest. A reporter for The Washington Times' Insight Magazine, O'Meara interviewed NTSB managing director Peter Goelz and asked him what the data meant and why it had not surfaced before.
O'Meara had no sooner left his office, however, than Goelz called Howard Kurtz of the rival Washington Post to plant a story defaming her. Kurtz would quote Goelz as saying "She really believes that the United States Navy shot this thing down and there was a fleet of warships." Zap. Salingerized.
As O'Meara's audiotape revealed, however, it was the mocking and evasive Goelz who raised the issue of a missile, not O'Meara.
Wrote Insight editor Paul Roderiquez, "In my experience as a veteran newsman, journalists would never roll over and allow government bureaucrats to use them to slime their colleagues. Yet that precisely is what recently happened."
Goelz, by the way, had honed his transportation skills lobbying for riverboat gambling interests on the Missouri. In 1992, he moved on to Tennessee where he worked as a paid staffer for the Clinton-Gore get-out-the-vote effort. By 1997, he was the top administrator for the world's most sophisticated accident investigation agency. Only in Clinton's America.
Much more chilling is the case of Jim and Liz Sanders. Aware of the dissatisfaction within the TWA community, reporter Jim Sanders sought out a few good sources at the investigation hangar on Long Island. Liz introduced Jim to Terrel Stacey, a TWA manager and 747 pilot.
Stacey was identified to Sanders as "a straight arrow, go-by-the-rules kind of guy," the least likely potential source. But given the consequences for being wrong, that's exactly the kind of person Sanders hoped to find.
"What he told me over those first hours," relates Sanders, "was one thing 'I know there's a cover-up in progress.'" Soon after their meeting, Terrel Stacey began to feed Sanders a series of documents related to the debris field that is, what falls off a plane and in what order.
Sanders, a retired accident investigator for a California police department, analyzed the sequence of events and saw what appeared to be a path of destruction sweeping right across the plane. When Sanders showed Stacey the path, Stacey for the first time connected that destruction to a reddish residue trail across those very rows, 17-19.
According to Stacey, the FBI had taken samples of the residue months before but had refused to share the analysis with the other investigators, including Stacey, TWA's number two man on site. Stacey knew the plane well. He had flown it from Paris to New York just the day before the crash.
Without prompting, he volunteered to take the next step secure some residue for testing. When he found he couldn't scrape the residue off, Stacey removed two pinches of foam rubber out of a universe of thousands and sent them to Sanders that night by FedEx. Sanders had one sample tested in a California lab. He sent the second piece of foam rubber to a producer at CBS News' 60 Minutes program for safekeeping as prearranged.
The elements identified by the lab proved to be consistent with residue from a solid fuel missile or warhead explosion.
On March 10, 1997, the Riverside Press-Enterprise in California ran a front-page story on Sanders' research that was quickly picked up by other papers across America. This was no longer a polite debate about theories. If Sanders' results were right, then someone in the FBI had not merely made a mistake, he had committed a crime.
Sanders waited anxiously for an alternative explanation from the feds. He knew they would have to provide one. He didn't have to wait long. The day after the article appeared, March 11, Dr. Bernard Loeb of the NTSB told a House Aviation Subcommittee, "One thing I can say categorically is that there is no such thing as a red residue trail in that airplane."
On March 7, however, the FBI's Jim Kallstrom had told The Riverside Press-Enterprise, "There is a red residue trail. It has nothing to do with a missile. I'm not going to get into it."
Who was lying about the residue trail, Kallstrom or Loeb?
Again, it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is. Between March 7, when the FBI learned that a sample of the residue was out of its control, and March 11, when Loeb testified, it seems likely that the relevant seatbacks had been ripped out of the reconstructed airplane, never again to be seen.
Technically, they may have both been telling the truth. As to the cause of the fuss, the missile residue, well it was really just glue or so said the NTSB. In truth, the glue hypothesis was pure damage control.
The media, as had become all too typical, never bothered to ask for proof. They should have. The fabric sample that senior NTSB scientist Dr. Merritt Birky sent to NASA for testing could have come from anywhere.
Said Birky in a tape-recorded conversation, "So, in trying to prove we have the same samples as Sanders, I'm not sure it gets us very far. Supposing Sanders' comes out differently?"
The samples did come out differently. Charlie Basset of NASA confirmed as much. He signed a notarized statement saying the sample he tested had nothing to do with the Sanders residue. It is not hard to tell the difference. The Sanders' samples are erratically streaked in a dark orange. The NTSB sample shows an almost perfectly applied layering of reddish pink that Bassett identified as red dye. On screen, the contrast is glaring.
In December of 1998, in the course of discovery for his criminal trial (for conspiracy), Sanders was able to photograph the given seat, 19-2. He found no other trace of red around the square that had been removed for testing. In fact, he later detected through photo analysis that the entire seatback had been replaced, a rare re-upholstering job on a downed airplane.
As to Sanders' second sample, the one that could have easily revealed the chicanery afoot, CBS handed the fabric over to the FBI without protest and refused to renew the contract of the Emmy award-winning producer who received it. So much for an honest test.
So much for a free press.
With the media in check, the conspirators could proceed with a brazenness that stuns even the cynic. After the residue story first broke, and with Jim in seclusion writing his book while he still had the chance, the FBI leaned on Liz Sanders to reveal Jim's source.
"I was not about to give up a fellow employee and a friend," says Liz. "So we thought it would be in everyone's best interest if I disappeared for a while." Despite Liz's sacrifice she would spend 8 months in an Oregon trailer park and lose her job at TWA the FBI found its way to Stacey, came down on him hard, arrested both Liz and Jim for conspiracy, and seized Sanders' computer without a warrant.
"The day I was arrested was surreal," says Liz. "It was something I would never thought could happen to an innocent normal person in the United States." Adds Jim Sanders, "The FBI handcuffed Liz with her hands behind her back and dragged her through throngs of reporters. Never once did any reporter think of writing a story in defense of a wife of a journalist. That was a low moment."
Liz's crime? She introduced Jim to Stacey. She and Jim were tried together as thieves in a conspiracy to steal government property, a law written to ward off scavengers. The federal jury was not allowed to know that Sanders was a reporter, let alone that he was pursuing evidence of a cover-up by the same government agencies prosecuting him and his wife. The jury convicted them both.
Before sentencing, the NTSB's Jim Hall sent a letter to the judge. He wrote: "
this is not a so-called victimless crime
These defendants have traumatized the families with the release of misinformation, the only plausible cause of which is commercial gain."
Left unsaid was that this avowed champion of the free press had a vested interest in sending Sanders to prison and shutting his investigation down. The judge thought better of it and put both Jim and Liz on probation.
Lying eyes Despite all the incentives not to, the eyewitnesses continued to plead their case. To make its "no physical evidence" mantra stick, the administration somehow had to shut them up.
Enter the CIA.
For reasons unclear, the FBI contracted with the CIA to analyze the witness testimony. During a November, 1997, press conference, the FBI shared the CIA's analysis with a national television audience.
In the course of a showy 15-minute video, much of it animated, the CIA argued that when the nose of the plane broke off due of course to a spontaneous explosion in the center wing tank the plane pitched up and climbed like a rocket for more than 3,000 feet to 17,000 feet in altitude. This climb, not a missile, is what the 736 official eyewitnesses must have seen.
This explanation stunned the aviation world. Says Ray Lahr, a retired United pilot and a veteran ALPA crash investigator, "All the pilots that I've spoken to think it's ridiculous."
Lahr argues that when the nose left the aircraft, the center of gravity moved aft, "like putting two people on one side of teeter totter." He adds, "The plane would not have any opportunity to climb."
Cmdr. Donaldson, the head of the Associated Retired Aviation Professionals, reached similar conclusions. A 25-year Navy carrier pilot with 89 combat missions in Vietnam and a dozen aviation accident investigations under his belt, Donaldson is not one to be taken lightly. He has dedicated the last five years of his life to this investigation.
"Once it goes beyond about 20 degrees nose up," says Donaldson of the plane, "it can't fly anymore because these wings are no longer into the wind. They can't produce lift."
Dr. Tom Stalcup, a physicist and chair of FIRO, the Flight 800 Investigative Research Organization, argues the law of the conservation of energy.
"The radar data shows that the plane didn't slow down. If it didn't slow down, it didn't climb if it didn't climb, the witnesses didn't see the plane climb, they saw something else."
What the witnesses did see was perhaps best captured by Air National Guard helicopter pilot, Major Fritz Meyer, a man with 30 years of experience as a search and rescue pilot and the first to arrive at the scene of the crash: When that airplane blew up, it immediately began falling. It came right out of the sky. From the first moment it was going down.
It never climbed. The thought that this aircraft could climb was laughable. In fact, not one of the official 736 witnesses reported seeing a crippled plane ascend like a rocket or ascend at all. Nor does any physical evidence support this theory.
As to the manufacturers of the 747, consider their muted response to the CIA animation: Boeing was not involved in the production of the video shown today, nor have we had the opportunity to obtain a copy or fully understand the data used to create it
The video's explanation of the eyewitness observations can be best assessed by the eyewitnesses themselves. Almost to a person, those witnesses dismissed the CIA animation.
Says Meyer, "It was totally ludicrous."
Adds Paul Angelides, "That bore no resemblance whatsoever to what I saw."
And Mike Wire, "When I saw the scenario I thought it was strange because it was nothing like what I observed."
SILENCED: FLIGHT 800 AND THE SUBVERSION OF JUSTICE
Mike Wire's denial is the most troubling. In a stunning bit of chutzpah, the CIA recreated the missile-like ascent of Flight 800 and its subsequent fall from exactly the same perspective Wire had on Beach Lane Bridge in Westhampton. Wire was the CIA's poster boy. But at the time, he didn't know it.
Mike Wire was originally interviewed by the FBI's Philadelphia office, and his testimony is among the most detailed of all the witnesses. Said the CIA of Wire, "In his original description, he thought he had seen a firework and that perhaps that firework had originated on the beach behind the house."
But if Wire had seen something come up from behind the house, what he saw could not have been Flight 800 this, the CIA itself acknowledged in an 85-page transcript. According to the CIA, the plane began its rocket-like ascent 20 degrees above the horizon. As the story goes, the CIA then called the FBI and asked that Wire be interviewed once more. This time, Mike Wire now admitted to the FBI that, yes, he had first seen the streak when it was 20 degrees in the sky.
Several problems here disturbing ones. In its hearings the NTSB made the point repeatedly that first impressions are usually the most reliable. So why go back to interview Wire months after the original interview?
Much more disturbing: The FBI did not re-interview Wire as claimed. Never. Wire's wife did take one call from an alleged FBI agent, but when Wire called the number back, he got a New York publishing house and presumed the call a fraud. Even if the FBI had called back, Wire would not have changed his testimony. He has not changed it to this day. What is more, a boater just a few hundred yards away saw the same streak rise off the horizon and traces it exactly to the spot where Wire does.
Facts did not deter the CIA.
"FBI investigators determined precisely where the eyewitness was standing," said the CIA video, this despite the fact that the FBI had met with Wire in person only once, and that in Philadelphia.
Said Jim Kallstrom, explaining why he called off the criminal investigation in November of 1997, "In fact, we ran out of things to do." If Kallstrom were really looking for meaningful activity, he might at least have sent an agent to talk to Wire.
"The white light the eyewitness saw was very likely the aircraft very briefly ascending and arching over after it exploded rather than a missile attacking the aircraft," continued the CIA narrative solemnly. The animation itself not only eliminates the streak's rise off the horizon, but it moves the explosion dramatically to the west of where Wire clearly remembers it taking place, the better to transform Wire's ascending missile into a noseless plane.
At this juncture, one question nags the observer. Why choose Wire's testimony to alter? Best guess: the CIA reasoned that an unassuming union millwright from Philadelphia would have much less access to the media than an affluent vacationer on the Long Island coast. In this sense, the CIA would have been right (their craft, after all, is deception). Wire did not become aware of his role in this recreation until March of 2000.
Still, the CIA underestimated Wire. An Army vet, with service in Korea, Wire has refused to roll over. With his wife's encouragement, and with no reimbursement, he made the four-hour drive from Philadelphia so that we could interview him on Beach Lane Bridge and position him exactly where he was on that fateful night.
Neither the FBI not the CIA asked him to do that. No one in the CIA ever talked to Mike Wire.
In fact, the CIA talked to no eyewitness. The agency reached its startling conclusion after reviewing only about 12 percent of the FBI's summaries, many of these hasty and slapdash in the first place.
"It is difficult to put into words the enormity (sic) of this investigation." Jim Hall, December 8, 1997 NTSB hearings.
Producing a video gives one a perspective that writing a book does not. It forces the producer to watch the people whose story he is telling over and over again. One gets to know them like family.
In fact, before I agreed to this project, I spent three days with the Sanders in their Florida exile (they apparently are the two felons in that state who did not vote), watching hours of video and looking for holes in their argument. What I saw only strengthened their case.
Among the more revealing of the footage I watched is the final NTSB hearing on Flight 800, August 23, 2000. To read about Jim Hall is one thing. To see him in action is another. Imagine Floyd the Barber from Andy's Mayberry now as chairman of the NTSB: Kindly, bumbling, full of empty bromides in so far over his head one cringes on his behalf.
Now picture Howard Sprague, Mayberry's officious, self-deluding town clerk. Imagine him a little more unctuous and a little less charming, and you have the hearing's best supporting actor, Dr. David Mayer, head of the NTSB's Orwellian-titled "Human Performance Division." At the 2000 hearings, the job of discrediting witnesses fell to Dr. Mayer.
"As you well know," Mayer piously informed the NTSB Board, "the work of the committee is under the party process. If we would interview witnesses, we would form a group and the group would interview the witnesses."
Please note the words "if" and "would" and the following clarification by Mayer's boss, Dr. Bernard Loeb.
"In this particular case, some of these witnesses we did not get to because the FBI initially interviewed them. That is a slight difference."
"Some of the witnesses"? Despite the clear directive of Title 49 that the NTSB be the "priority" agency on the crash scene, the NTSB did not interview a single one of the more than 700 civilian witnesses. Its staff talked to only a handful of military people and, then, not until 1997. As Jim Hall acknowledged more than once, "I would like to emphasize normal procedures were not followed."
For the record, not a single eyewitness was allowed to testify at any NTSB hearing. In 1997, the FBI prevented the NTSB from introducing any witness testimony or talk of explosive residue lest, mirabile dictu, the FBI one day decide to reopen the criminal investigation it had just closed. The FBI also cancelled the screening of the CIA animation.
Wrote Kallstrom to Hall, "Until the NTSB has definitively determined an accidental cause for the crash, I believe it is prudent to withhold from public disclosure or discussion the identities of witnesses and the raw investigative details of the criminal investigation."
By 2000, witnesses would have only caused problems for the NTSB whose mechanical thesis was now drafted in blood.
The NTSB did not, however, shut out all alternative theories. At the 1997 hearing, a witness was allowed to speak to the possibility of a meteor strike. Said Hall, congratulating himself on his open-mindedness, "The meteorite. We got a lot of correspondence on meteor strikes."
At the 2000 hearing the NTSB did, at least, consider the witness notes gathered by the FBI, including that from one witness chilling enough to impress even Dr. Mayer. "Witness 649 described events that certainly do sound like a missile attacking the airplane," Mayer admitted.
So specific and powerful is 649's drawing, in fact, that when we animated it for the video, it made my editor and myself shudder in terror for the poor souls on board.
Still, Dr. Mayer dismissed 649's testimony, and he did so for one reason only: as Mayer described it, everything 649 saw occurred "between these two flagpoles." Mayer then used an illustration to show where those flagpoles were located and vectored 649's line of sight from between those flagpoles out to sea. "So, again," said Mayer, "it doesn't appear that this witness was looking in the right location to see where Flight 800 would have been when it would have been struck by a hypothetical missile."
One more problem. In none of the FBI notes does witness 649 ever mention a flagpole, let alone two flagpoles. With good reason. There weren't any at his location in Westhampton. This is all easily verifiable, but the major media had long since ceased to care.
Late in the investigation, the NTSB staged a missile test. "We did not do this to prove whether or not it was a missile strike," said Mayer, "We have known for a long time it wasn't." How the NTSB could have hoped for an unbiased result given its predisposition beggars the imagination, especially since it tested just one class of missile out of many.
For all that, Witness 649, like many others, described even drew a virtually identical pattern to the one the test witnesses reported. According to his witness documents, 649 saw an object like "a firework," ascend "fairly quick," then "slow" and "wiggle" then "speed up" and get "lost." Then he saw a second object that "glimmered" in the sky, higher than the first, then a red dot move up to that object, then a puff of smoke, then another puff, then a "firebox."
Mike Wire's description is virtually identical to 649's as are many others. In video editing, when we superimposed the smoke trail of the missile test on Wire's gestures or on 649's drawing, it left us speechless. Curiously, too, the CIA animation acknowledged Wire's description of a tell-tale wiggle but quietly attributed that to an airplane in crippled flight.
SILENCED: FLIGHT 800 AND THE SUBVERSION OF JUSTICE
At this juncture, the NTSB hearing as it often does gets bizarre and Clintonian. No one likes to lie, not even David Mayer. So he fudges. In a "hypothetical missile attack," Mayer testifies, a witness would first have seen one streak of light, the hypothetical missile. Then he would have seen a second streak of light, the "airplane in crippled flight."
"What horrible luck!" I say to Creech in a darkly humorous moment. "First the nose falls off the plane spontaneously, without any hint of an explosion, and then it gets hit with a missile." No other reading of Mayer's testimony makes sense.
"We could not find anyone describing this scenario," says Mayer semi-honestly, "one that began with two sequential streaks of light and concluded with a fireball." Of course, no one saw that scenario. It is preposterous. Nor can Mayer's double talk be written off to nervousness or confusion. It was all scripted and rehearsed.
Other witness drawings might have proved even more awkward to explain away than 649's. But fortunately for the NTSB, at least 30 of the drawings have turned up missing.
According to an NTSB exhibit, however, 96 witnesses did report seeing the streak come off the horizon. Still, this did not deter the agency from creating its own animation, one that also showed a noseless plane ascending from a starting point 20 degrees above the horizon.
"We studied all the witness reports," said Mayer fatuously. "They are consistent with crippled flight, not a missile."
Cmdr. Donaldson strenuously disagrees. His disgust for the NTSB theory of breakup is palpable.
"They got smart when the CIA got laughed out of town by aviators," he scoffs. "The NTSB figured they'd get away with half of it. So they said it climbed 1,700 feet. It didn't."
To sell the NTSB theory, Mayer had to discredit all the witness testimony and each of the key witnesses one by one, Mike Wire included. As he did in the case of 649, Mayer unveiled a stunning series of rationalizations, one more contrived than the next.
In the case of consulting engineer, Paul Angelides, Mayer claims that in his July 21, 1996, interview with the FBI, Angelides mentions seeing only "a red flare descending." Adds Mayer, "He makes no mention of other details."
This is nonsense. Angelides whom we interviewed at length gave the FBI a detailed, point-by-point sketch of what he saw from the deck of his beach house, and this included an object streaking out to sea, a second streak rising off the horizon, a ship, as well as the climactic fireball.
This charade climaxed with his discussion of the "fifth witness," Major Fritz Meyer. Through an elaborate series of charts, Mayer made a specious, almost comical, case that, given the time it took the National Guard helicopter to reach the crash site it arrived, in fact, when bodies were still falling from above Major Meyer "saw a fireball, not a missile."
It is a good thing Major Meyer was not present at the NTSB hearing. Despite the similarity of their names, the contrast between the major and the "doctor" could not be starker. To visualize the laconic, no-nonsense Major Meyer, imagine John Wayne in his gruff, mature period. Unlike Mayer, Major Meyer got his experience with missiles the hard way, rescuing downed pilots in Vietnam. He completed 46 missions in Vietnam, many north of the DMZ, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He describes what he saw on July 17 without hesitance:
It was definitely a rocket motor. What I saw explode was definitely ordnance. I have enough experience. I saw one, two, three, four explosions before the fireball. The explosion of the fuel tank was the last event, not the initiating event. The initiating event was a high velocity explosion, not fuel. It was ordnance.
The FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Jim Kallstrom, specifically denounced Major Meyer and these other key witnesses. "I have no idea why they say what they say," he blustered. "It's nonsense. It's stupid. It has no base in fact at all." Remember, the FBI investigated Major Meyer for all of five minutes.
There is some question, however, as to whether even the NTSB believed in the ascending plane theory. Asked Jim Hall of Mayer in a telling exchange during the 2000 hearing, "If you could show that the airplane did not climb after the nose departed, would that change your analysis?"
"No, sir," Doctor Mayer replied. "Though we believe the plane climbed after the nose departed
our analysis is not dependent on it."
They believe the plane climbed? Their analysis is not dependent on it? This, from the same expert who testified an hour earlier that "We studied all the witness reports.
They are consistent with crippled flight not a missile."
The questions remain. Why did no one in the major media challenge so demonstrably weak a theory, let alone the CIA's inexplicable role in creating it? Why did no one critique Mayer's appalling testimony? And a more vexing question: Why did the NTSB and the CIA champion a theory in which they themselves had little faith and in which almost no one else had any?
"What troubles me most," says physicist Dr. Thomas Stalcup of the NTSB, "is their insistence that there is no physical evidence of a criminal act or explosion and that's completely false."
Even by the generous standards of the Clinton administration, this was a troubled investigation. Not just in the witness testimony, but in every salient detail. A quick review here gives some sense of the problem's breadth.
Let's start with the radar. Although the FBI confiscated the radar data from all reporting stations, they did an imperfect job of controlling them. As mentioned earlier, the FAA reported a possible missile strike to the White House immediately after the crash. In December 1996, the NTSB leaned on the FAA to make it go away. Wrote Bernie Loeb, NTSB Director of Aviation Safety:
I would appreciate it if you could verify that all specialists and/or managers
agree that there is no evidence within the FAA ATC radar of a track that would suggest a high-speed target merged with TWA 800.
But the FAA was not quick to roll over. "Although we understand and share your desire to allay public concern over this issue, we cannot comply with your request," responded David Thomas, FAA Director of Accident Investigation. "By alerting law-enforcement agencies, air-traffic control personnel simply did what was prudent at the time and reported what appeared to them to be a suspicious event. To do less would have been irresponsible."
At a House hearing in July of 1997, the NTSB argued lamely that the radar tape showing the projectile "might not be authentic," but there is no good reason to doubt its legitimacy. The FBI was concerned enough about leaked radar data to confiscate a copy from retired United pilot Richard Russell.
"I'm offended by it," Russell told the AP. "They took my property away, but that's the way they operate. I knew that they would be doing this. It's a cover-up."
One of the Navy radar tapes, RP44, raises eyebrows as well, not for what is on it, but for what isn't. The last sweep of the Riverhead data shows four data points deleted right where Flight 800 was supposed to be.
"It's just like any investigation where evidence comes up missing, there might be a reason," Dr. Stalcup argues, "but when you have data that's not just missing but deleted that doesn't happen by itself."
Radar sweeps also picked up a good-sized ship speeding away from the crash site at a brisk 30 knots. At first the Feds refused to acknowledge its existence. Nearly six months later, Louis D. Schilioro, Acting Assistant Director of the FBI, admitted, "Despite extensive efforts, the FBI has been unable to identify this vessel."
And then there is the issue of explosives. The FBI found traces of PETN on the plane and RDX, a combination commonly found in missiles. The FBI's best explanation for their presence borders on the comical a careless canine bomb-sniffing exercise.
In September of 1996, just as The New York Times was zeroing in on a likely explosion, the FBI interviewed a patrolman for the St. Louis Airport Police Department responsible for such exercises. He admitted having planted explosives on a TWA "wide-bodied" a month before the crash. This, argued the FBI, must have been the source of the explosive residue, even if the residue type was different and even if the officer placed it other than where it was found on Flight 800.
It gets worse. The officer was not required to write down the ID number of the plane or the gate, but he did keep highly-detailed time logs on the exercise. During the time his dog was happily romping through an empty plane, the "Flight 800" 747 was filled with Hawaii-bound passengers, ready to back out of the gate. One gate over at that very moment was an empty TWA 747, quite likely the exercise site for our valiant pooch. This is still another bit of easy reporting the major media chose not to do.
There were problems with the flight data recorder as well. Glen Schultz, an expert in the field, made a compelling case to the top NTSB brass in December 2000, that the last four seconds were deleted. The NTSB promised to get back to him. Schultz is still waiting.
SILENCED: FLIGHT 800 AND THE SUBVERSION OF JUSTICE
Indeed, a book could and ought to be written on the myriad details in this investigation that raise alarms. In fact, no single bit of evidence says "mechanical." Even the evidence at the very heart of the NTSB thesis "the inescapable conclusion that the cause [of the crash] was a fuel-air break up in center wing tank that involved the explosion of the center wing tank" argues against that thesis.
Despite its name, the center wing tank sits in the fuselage under the passenger seats. No one denies it blew up. The only questions are when and how.
Cmdr. Donaldson argues that the fuel could have blown only if the center wing tank were seriously disturbed by some external event. He has performed some simple but telling experiments on this point. In the one, Donaldson dips a lit match into a tin of Jet A Fuel. The fuel extinguishes the match. As he notes, the Aviation Fuels Handbook says the same phenomenon will occur up to 127 degrees Fahrenheit with this fuel.
When, however, Donaldson sprays a candle flame with Jet A Fuel, the spray erupts wildly into flame. This results, says Donaldson, "If something violent happens and the fuel is misted into the atmosphere by kinetic energy."
In fact, in its own tests, the NTSB could not get any kind of explosion from the Jet A fuel that they could use for analysis. So they had to test with hotter fuels. Nor could the NTSB identify the spark that would ignite the fuel especially since there is no wiring in the center fuel tank. Consider this damning conclusion by an honest NTSB investigator at the final NTSB hearing:
The search for the probable ignition location was pushed to the limits of current technology. An accounting of the scientific uncertainties was meticulously maintained throughout the entire experimental, computational and analytic processes. In the end the uncertainties were too great to locate probable location of ignition.
Comments Jim Sanders a bit more succinctly, "They spent 40 million trying to find some scientist, somewhere in America to say this hypothesis would work. They couldn't find one."
The IAMAW couldn't find anything either. In its final report, the machinists union declares, "We conclude that the existing wiring recovered from flight 800 wreckage does not exhibit any evidence of improper maintenance or any malfunction that lead to a spark or other discrepancy."
So why did the fuel tank blow up? The IAMAW came to its own conclusions: "A high pressure event breached the fuselage and the fuselage unzipped due to the event. The explosion was a result of this event."
A "high pressure event" is a technical way of suggesting an external force, like a missile. Not surprisingly, the NTSB quietly suppressed the IAMAW report.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the NTSB persisted at the final hearing in its argument that there was no "physical evidence" of a bomb or missile. NTSB staffers could do this with a straight face only because the reconstructed plane showed no apparent sign of missile damage, even though only 95 percent of the plane was alleged to be recovered and there were gaping holes in the sides of the plane.
Something to remember here. The top NTSB brass was pushing a mechanical thesis before much of anything was recovered. Indeed, it seems altogether possible that in an administration notorious for misplacing evidence the McVeigh case only the most recent the physical evidence from Flight 800 was "misplaced" as well.
In a telling and amusing bit of ABC news footage, a man, who appears to be an NYPD bomb expert, looks closely at a recovered part of the plane and says, "I wish Clinton would get off his ass and do something about this terrorism." He then comments to the FBI agent next to him that the part before him bore obvious signs of an explosion. The agent leans in and quiets him. Sometime before the final NTSB hearing this part apparently disappeared.
The NTSB, you see, could never "find" any physical evidence. That was their Clintonian escape hatch, "find." During the Sanders' trial, a senior FBI official, Ken Maxwell, under oath in court stated that the NTSB was not allowed to see any evidence as it came off the ship, onto shore, or into the hangar, it remained under FBI control during the entire process. The FBI would go through it at will, taking anything that it wanted. This was stated under oath as well.
Under oath, too, senior NTSB official Hank Hughes told a Senate committee that FBI agents were caught in an internal sting at 3 a.m. removing Flight 800 evidence from a hangar Hughes controlled.
Commander Donaldson's allies within the investigation were telling him much the same thing. In one specific case, a Donaldson source had a suspiciously damaged part tested for explosives. It turned up positive. "The FBI alerts on it," claims Donaldson, "and the next thing you know the part is gone."
As part of the discovery process for his criminal trial, Sanders was allowed access to information and places others were not. He took many photos. One significant series of photos Sanders obtained shows what the inner portion of the center wing tank looked like when it came into the hangar. The part was swept dramatically upwards, indicating an external force coming into the airplane blowing it up and in.
In the video, we superimposed this part on the reconstructed plane. It reveals the path a missile warhead blast would have made through the right side of the center wing tank and out through a charred, gaping hole in the fuselage above. It is frightening to behold.
This, the NTSB could not live with. Later photos suggest that the upward bending metal from this huge piece was cut off and mashed down, the way a spontaneous explosion of the center wing tank might have pushed it. At the final NTSB hearing, a video showed an NTSB official standing on this very part, pointing up toward an imperceptible scrape, declaring it to be compelling evidence of a mechanical failure unprecedented in its magnitude. And by this time, only the reckless would dare challenge him.
Let me present a likely scenario:
Within hours of the crash, for reasons unknown, a decision is made at or near the top to contain any reports of a missile strike. To assure cooperation, participants are told that it is a matter of highest national security. Whether the missile strike is a tragic misfire by Navy or NATO forces or an act of terrorism is no longer relevant. What is relevant is that some individuals know what happened and decide to conceal the truth.
Once made, this decision cannot be taken back, not in this White House not in the months and days before a presidential election. As the conspirators begin to realize that the media will not challenge them, they decide in small, awkward steps to tailor the evidence to fit the safest political outcome, a mechanical failure. The great majority of workers are fully in the dark. A small percentage, including much of the NTSB brass, remains willfully blind. Only a handful sees what is happening.
But a spontaneous explosion of this type and violence has never happened before, ever, and did not happen on July 17. What did happen? Here is a solid, fact-based estimate.
Yes, TWA Flight 800 does take off from JFK at 8:19 p.m. and head east along the Long Island shore. About 12 minutes later a boater sees a missile rise up off the horizon and loses it behind a beach house.
Mike Wire, a few hundred yards to the East on Beach Lane Bridge, picks the missile up as it rises vertically above that house and watches it head south away from shore, now zigzagging as it tries to acquire its target.
Lisa Perry and Paul Angelides pick up this same missile now high in the sky. So does Air National Guard pilot Major Fritz Meyers.
Meanwhile Dwight Brumley, a senior Navy NCO on board USAir Flight 217, watches a second missile rise up towards his plane, arc over and head to the north.
An unidentified ship now boldly flees the scene, perhaps having launched that very missile. Angelides sees the ship. From a school parking lot on Long Island, Witness 649 sees Brumley's northbound missile streak up vertically and then start zigzagging in pursuit of its target.
Lisa Perry who has followed the southbound missile to Flight 800 now sees the northbound missile.
Says Perry, "The other one comes up from underneath the bottom of the plane and it's in the shadow the plane and I think it's going to thread it like right through the middle of the head of the plane, thread it like a needle."
At 8:31 p.m. the southbound missile explodes in a white phosphorescent light a few feet from Flight 800, nicks the left wing and blasts into the underside of the nose, blowing it 15 degrees to the right and thrusting debris more than a mile in the same direction.
Nine-tenths of a second later, the northbound missile corrects direction at the last second, explodes, and the blast slams up into the belly of the plane, ripping through the center wing tank and transforming the liquid fuel into a volatile mist. Now noseless, the plane pitches backward, and the fuel erupts in flame.
From his helicopter, Major Fritz Meyer sees exactly what witness 649 so graphically described: "The first two (explosions) appeared to be high velocity. The last one was a low velocity petro-chemical explosion which grew into a huge fireball."
There is no 3000-foot ascent to deceive the witnesses, nothing like it. TWA Flight 800 immediately begins its slow, oddly graceful descent into the sea, breaking up as it descends, transforming itself in those sad final seconds from a horror into a tragedy, a tragedy that will soon resonate in a thousand scenes of intense personal sorrow throughout the world.
"The main thing that hit me then was anger," says Marge Gross whose brother was killed on the flight, "anger and a promise." I said "Who did this to you? I would find out who did this to him."
Five years later, Gross lives her promise. It has not been easy not for her, not for the resolute eyewitnesses, not for the persecuted Sanders, not for the stalwart and now seriously ill Cmdr. Donaldson. These gallant souls have explored our dark places for us and, to this point, the only light they have seen is the light they themselves have generated.
Jack Cashill is an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue
REPORT INDEX TWA P2