sitemap Donaldson Report on Baltimore Hearings

TWA FLIGHT 800 Hearings

Five Days of Propaganda in Baltimore

The hearing was structured much like an old Soviet Union show trial.
In this case the defendant, already assumed guilty, was the Boeing classic 747-100.

William S. Donaldson, Aviation Consultant to A.I.M.
December 18, 1997

Even before the December 8, 1997 kickoff of the public hearing by the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board into the loss of TWA Flight 800, NTSB soundbites were already flooding the media:

"No evidence of a Bomb or Missile".... "NTSB's test flights prove Flight 800's centerwing tank was explosive" .... "Temperatures in the tank 145° F" .... "Faulty wiring, fuel pumps and fuel probes come under scrutiny as the cause"...

were typical statements conveyed to the millions of American and French citizens still interested. Unfortunately they were misleading or not true.

The hearing was structured much like an old Soviet Union show trial. In this case the defendant, already assumed guilty, was the Boeing classic 747-100. Despite the absence of proof, the safest aircraft in the world, came under relentless and often painfully prescripted attack by the NTSB. The witness panels were comprised almost entirely of researchers or experts either directly or indirectly on the Federal payroll.

The five day theme was mechanical failure, nothing else would be considered! Glaringly absent were the hundreds of eyewitnesses or anyone who might represent them. FBI Deputy director Kallstrom ensured the very word "eyewitness" wouldn't even surface in the hearing by pulling the scheduled viewing of the CIA video tape depicting a flaming noseless B747 that was alleged to have suddenly climbed three thousand feet prior to crashing. That video designed to explain away what the eyewitnesses observed had been universally ridiculed by the parties to the mishap and aviation experts alike. Mr. Kallstrom also had eyewitness lists and statements held confidential, as well as expert testimony designed to discredit eyewitnesses canceled. The recently resigned deputy FBI director, who has reach folk hero status among some media for his compassionate treatment of victims' families, was true to form by making himself available in a special room set aside for the families the first day at Baltimore.

After five days of hyperbole, that would have done Chicken Little proud which included graphic video tapes of hydrogen-filled, 1/4 scale fuel tanks exploding, the NTSB has apparently convinced the mainstream media the loss of TWA FL800 had to be a mechanical failure.

Having studied this mishap for 9 months, taken witness testimony, attended the hearings and read the thousands of pages of documents recently released, and even taken CWT fuel temperatures from B747's I would offer the following analysis presented as Fact, Anomalies, and Comments:


No Boeing Civilian Jet transport has ever experienced an inflight explosion of a fuel tank caused by internal mechanical failure.

Fuel tanks have exploded on these aircraft when they were attacked with military missiles or terrorist bombs.

The instrumented Evergreen B747 leased by the NTSB to measure fuel tank temperatures in an attempt to replicate TWA FL800's flight, demonstrated the following:

(A) Three hours of operating 2 airpacs (air-conditioning units located under the CWT) on the ground can raise the average CWT temperature 28° F (8° F warmer than the pilots handbook suggests), that is, provided the ambient temperature was 90° F at the start.

(B) The highest average tank temperature was recorded just before taxi on the ground, fuel vapor/air samples taken at the same time from the 118° F tank were found not flammable.

(C) Fuel vapor/air samples taken at 14,000 ft. on the flight were flammable. The tank having cooled only to an average temperature of 111° F and vapor increasing with reduced atmospheric pressure.

The Evergreen test flight that flew the TWA FL800 profile did not prove TWA FL800's CWT was flammable at any altitude. TWA FL800's environment was a minimum of 17° F colder than the test aircraft's. The takeoff temperature for TWA FL800 was 71°. The test aircraft takeoff temperature was 88° F! The critical 17° F temperature differential was not once mentioned much less scientifically addressed in either the mishap data or in sworn testimony. When I measured the temperature of a B747 CWT tank fuel in October of this year it was 69° F, the aircraft had landed 55 minutes earlier after a transatlantic crossing. The ambient temperature was 68° F (3 degrees cooler the FL800) and all three airpacs were running. Measured at the same point in time the Evergreen test CWT average temperature was 96° F, a full 27° F hotter!

Absolutely no evidence exists that an internal source of ignition was present in TWA FL800's CWT.

Based on the test aircraft's CWT fuel/air sample taken at the event altitude, NTSB testimony indicated overpressure expected from an ignition in the aircraft's CWT would be 40 to 60 pounds per square inch. 40 to 60 PSI is a low pressure, low velocity event.

70% of the TWA FL800's CWT left side body rib is still missing (left sidewall of the tank).

In the debris field hundreds of small aluminum pieces with spiked edges were found that are evidence of a high energy high pressure explosion on FL800.

TWA FL800 parts from the debris field were found with high velocity and near high velocity punctures. They are evidence of high energy explosion on FL800.

The NTSB did not convene a ballistic analysis group to study the debris field! Detection of ballistic anomalies, particularity lateral displacement of heavy debris, are one of the fastest ways to determine if the aircraft was shot down. There were no substantive discussions of TWA FL800's many lateral ballistic anomalies in the debris field either in testimony or in the data.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was not located for a week, when presented to the lab the data plate was missing and the front panel had been ripped from the unit held on only by the Beacon mount. The Dukane under water locator beacon was tested and found to be working normally! The CVR transcript shows normal voice communications until 2031:03 when an "unintelligible word" is uttered then @ 2031:05 "sounds similar to recording tape damage noises" is heard, then @ 2031:12 the tape ends. This was 7 seconds after the unexplained damage sound.


The upper fuselage skin forward of the wing failed in compression and the lower fuselage skin forward of the wing failed in tension, both are opposite of normal loading. The nose was pushed up with great force.

About 30 feet of both wing tips failed symmetrically (broke off) in positive high G overload. Indicating an extremely rapid airframe breakup.

The upper skin of the left wing was particularly shattered.

Small pieces of wing parts were found in the early debris field.

Evidence of a post separation fire was found on the left wingtip. Source of ignition in the left outboard reserve tank unknown.

Three of four nose gear doors were found in the early debris field but examination of the hardware showed at the time of failure the doors were both mechanically locked up and hydraulically locked up.

TWA FL800's speed was only 19 knots above normal gear operating speed. Even the intentional lowering of the nose gear would not have caused the doors to fail.

The aircraft suffered disproportionately higher damage to the left side.

96 witnesses observed a streak of light rise from the surface and intercept TWA FL800.  Eyewitnesses are on record who observed a missile approach the 747 from the left side and detonate. One eyewitness observing from a boat off shore stated, "only the nose appeared to climb slightly after the explosion."

Debris field parts from the forward fuselage were found as much as 2,900 feet right of the extended flight path of the aircraft after corrections for wind velocity.

A low velocity 40 to 60 PSI overload in the CWT would first cause significant bending of structure and would puncture the tank by opening seams or vents and at most would produce large pieces. Small pieces with spiked edges and high speed punctures in aluminum alloy structure are anomalies.


It is now clear that extraordinary efforts have been expended by personnel within CIA and the Department of Justice, Transportation and Defense to persuade the American people that TWA FL800 somehow destroyed itself. This effort has been largely successful because of an unlimited federal budget (at least $100 million so far) and a complacent press corps.

If reporters had bothered to read the thousands of pages of documents supplied by the NTSB they would have discovered the Evergreen tests presented at Baltimore were fatally flawed. The bottom line is: you can't test for aircraft fuel tank volatility on an 88° F day, finding it non flammable on the ground and only marginally flammable at altitude and use it as an excuse as to how an aircraft mysteriously exploded on a 71° F day! I suspect these people didn't dare address the temperature difference because the 17° F ambient temperature might translate to a 20° to 30° F cooler tank in TWA FL800. Unlike the Evergreen test aircraft, TWA FL800's airpacs were not trying to cool a 90° F fuselage!

In my view, the 'Alice in Wonderland' public positions the FBI has taken in this incident have now crossed over from being mearly illogical or incompetent to the appearance of obstruction of justice. The FBI's heavy handed indictments of a TWA pilot and the author, James Sanders, for taking a few square inches of worthless seat fabric was timed perfectly to intimidate investigation insiders prior to the hearings. Suppression of the evidence provided to the FBI by 96 eyewitnesses who observed an object leave the surface, climb up and intercept TWA FL800 is unconscionable.

If TWA FL800 was engaged by a large airbursting anti-aircraft weapon on the low left side as suggested by both witnesses statements and the physical evidence, the pilot in the left seat may well have seen it in the seconds before detonation. If so, any exclamation he made would be picked up on the cockpit voice recorder.      

Federal responsibilities in the TWA flight 800 incident transcend any duty the FBI might have in playing 'cops and robbers' for the justice department. It goes to the core value of this administration's integrity and its ability to provide honest national defense. The idea that the organization which conducted the Jewel investigation in Atlanta is not only placed in charge of a potential National Defense issue, but has both simultaneously dropped the investigation, managed to silence the witnesses and obscure evidence, all in plain view of the media, is incredible. At this point it appears only congress has the power to clean this mess up.

The question becomes: Will it?



TWA 800 Hearings Bomb In Baltimore

James Wildey, the NTSB investigator who supervised the analysis of the breakup
sequence, in addressing the possibility of a missile hit, stated that "there were no
large holes that lined up to form a clear line of entry into the center tank."  
Mckenna was careful to point out, however, that "he did not say there were none."

By Edward Zehr

Published in the Dec. 22, 1997 issue of The Washington Weekly
Copyright 1997 The Washington Weekly (
Reposting permitted with this message intact
[ Edward Zehr can be reached at ]

The long awaited public hearings on the crash of TWA-800, conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, opened in Baltimore on December 8. The chairman's opening statement was prefaced by a shouted protest from a person identified as a reporter from Worker's World. The reporter, who denounced the proceedings as a coverup and demanded an independent hearing, was quickly hustled away. That may well have been the high point of the conference which concluded that the center fuel tank blew up and nobody knew why, although the NTSB was not averse to making wild guesses, supported by evidence of a dubious nature.

However, the board was not of a mind to be deterred by the dearth of physical evidence. David van Biema writing in that authoritative journal of aerospace technology, Time magazine, breathlessly informs us that "the plane on a hot July evening, was so combustible that almost anything could have touched it off," and that "970 other currently active 747s may be at some risk for the same catastrophe, especially when the air conditioning is overworked."

The thought that might occur to someone who has given a bit of thought to the matter is that if there are 970 other currently active 747s, of which about 700 may be presumed to be flying day in and day out, making a quarter-million flights every year for years on end, why is this the only 747, fueled with the low volatility Jet A-1 normally used in commercial jet aircraft, that has had an explosion in a fuel tank while in flight? Retired Navy Commander William Donaldson, who took the course in Crash Analysis at the Navy Post-Graduate School, pointed out in a letter to NTSB chairman James Hall that "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)."

For a vehicle that is "so combustible that almost anything could have touched it off," the 747 would seem to have enjoyed an extraordinary run of "good luck" thus far. Having completely missed this obvious point, Biema goes on to compound the absurdity:  "According to papers released by the Federal Aviation Administration, the fuel tanks of 26 planes--13 civilian and 13 military--have blown up since 1959."

Now 1959 was 38 years ago, as the crow flies, so 26 fuel tank explosions in 38 years works out to about two-thirds of an accident per year, out of how many million flights, military, commercial and general aviation? Notice also that the author of this fright-piece does not distinguish between commercial aircraft and private planes that maintain lower safety standards and use highly volatile aviation gasoline. Nor does he mention that military aircraft use a much more volatile grade of jet fuel than commercial aircraft.

What this really illustrates is the ability of media mavins to manufacture a "crisis" out of thin air. Does anyone suppose that those 26 fuel tank incidents during the past 38 years would have evoked more than a stifled yawn if some propagandist at Time magazine had not ballyhooed the figures slipped him by the bureaucracy in an effort to alarm his readers? The practiced eye will recognize this piece for what it is, typical Time-twaddle. If we compare auto deaths with airline deaths for any year -- I'll just pick one at random, 1987 -- we see that 48,700 people died in auto accidents and 231 died in airline accidents. So it seems that auto accidents are the greater hazard to life by about 21 thousand percent, but never mind -- Time magazine has determined that flying is hazardous to our health and restrictive regulation is called for.

The badly hidden agenda is revealed in Biema's observation that, "in Hall's opinion, the industry has been remiss in checking those planes for danger and researching ways to fix the tanks."

So there we have it in a nutshell. The purpose of the Baltimore hearings was to hijack the investigation of the TWA-800 crash and convert it into a propaganda campaign -- supported by the mainstream media -- to impose expensive and utterly useless "safety" innovations upon the industry, which will be paid for by the public in the form of higher air fares. Bear in mind that NTSB chairman James Hall has no engineering degree. He is a political appointee and a protegee of tree- hugging, crypto-luddite eco-fanatic Al Gore, who in an earlier era would have been peddling snake-oil from the back of a covered wagon. The irony of it is that in this "enlightened" age the snake-oil salesmen seem to have gained the upper hand.

Typical of the phony evidence presented at the hearings was the testimony of an expert from the Air Force Research Lab, who described an experiment in which a fuel probe, grossly overloaded under lab conditions, had actually exploded in a fuel tank. It was left to a Boeing representative to point out later that this type of fuel probe is not used on the 747, and in fact, has never been used on the 747. In other words, this was a piece of heavy- handed propaganda intended to confuse and alarm the public. If the purpose had been to present evidence relevant to the investigation, why would the investigators not have tested equipment actually used on the aircraft?

The summary of the hearings in last week's Aviation Week & Space Technology, a magazine widely read in the industry, was a good deal less airy-fairy than the fluff that appeared in the mainstream press, although it is necessary to read between the lines at times to understand the point being made. The magazine walks a narrow line between government and industry -- Boeing may be one of their biggest advertisers, but many long time readers suspect that some of their greatest scoops were planted by the CIA, or the military.

According to James T. Mckenna, who covered the Baltimore hearings for the magazine, the NTSB investigation "has uncovered minor failures and degradations of electrical hardware".

That is not to say that the NTSB did not score a few points. Research they had sponsored by an expert from the California Institute of  Technology, Joseph Shepherd, showed, according to him, that Jet A fuel, when heated to high temperatures, is considerably more flammable than aircraft manufacturers and operators believe it to be. According to Shepherd, a 50 degree Fahrenheit increase in the temperature of Jet A fuel will reduce threefold the minimum temperature at which its vapors will ignite. The FAA is presently reviewing Shepherd's data and will make a determination of its validity.

The NTSB claims that tests they performed last summer indicate that the temperature inside the center fuel tank of TWA-800 may have been as high as 128 F. (The fact that these tests were performed in the desert was not mentioned in the article). Previous testing had indicated that the temperature in the tank was less than 96 deg F. At this point one has towonder if this doesn't fit the familiar pattern; if a test doesn't tell you what you want to hear, keep repeating it under ever more extreme conditions until you get the answer you want -- and then soft pedal all the other results. Do I sound unduly suspicious? Perhaps, but I can't help wonder why the NTSB was testing that airplane in the desert when they knew that the temperature at JFK, when Flight 800 departed, was in the 70s.

WINGS, a publication of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that represents TWA flight service managers and flight attendants, recently carried the following statement of a 747 pilot: "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 Aviation Week, the NTSB compared data from nine radar sites in an effort to determine Flight 800's final moments. One point made in the hearings, but not mentioned in the article, is that altitude data was not available following the explosion, so that conclusions regarding the altitude of the aircraft following separation of the forward fuselage were necessarily speculative, based upon inferences drawn by comparing simulation results with the trajectory of the debris deduced from radar returns. Furthermore, only one radar site -- the one at Islip/ MacArthur Airport -- was able to provide "skin paint" returns following the explosion. It was the plots of those primary returns that investigators used in their attempt to deduce the aircraft's flightpath after the explosion, when information from the Flight Data Recorder became unavailable.

It is significant that no mention was made of the CIA "simulation" touted by FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom in his animated cartoon presentation which purported to explain that eyewitnesses who "thought" they had seen a streak of light approach the aircraft were really seeing the aft fuselage climb 3200 feet after separation of the rest of the fuselage forward of the wing. That version of events seems to have become "inoperative," replaced by the NTSB scenario which held that the aft fuselage banked 50 degrees to the left and continued climbing to 15,000 feet, "then rolled right until it was inverted and in a dive."

The truth is, the 3200 foot climb had become an embarrassment -- nobody in the industry believed it. The CIA simulation failed to address the issue of static stability in an aircraft that had lost its fuselage forward of the wing root, destroying the credibility of their scenario.

The experienced eye will note that the Aviation Week article also failed to mention the 15,000 foot altitude claimed by the NTSB. It merely mentioned that the aircraft "continued climbing." Some flight dynamics people believe that the aft fuselage may have "ballooned" a few hundred feet, but even that estimate is undercut by claims that the aircraft rolled almost immediately after separation of the forward fuselage.

The eyewitness account given by Tom Dougherty of East Quogue, Long Island is suggestive of what actually happened. Dougherty was on Fire Island in front of Dockers Restaurant when the disaster occurred. He described what he saw as follows: "I saw a whitish red-orange flame go up and explode, then it came down in a shower of different colors. It was definitely a flame. It looked like fireworks going up, like Grucci fireworks. It was going away from us, to the south. I saw it go up and it almost disappeared and then I saw this glow in the sky. Then one piece fell, it just flopped out. It might have been the nose section. And then a couple seconds later, maybe 3 or 4 seconds, that's when the whole thing came down. I wouldn't have even looked there if it hadn't been for that flame coming off the ocean."

Notice that Dougherty's estimate of several seconds between the time the nose fell off and "the whole thing came down" contradicts the scenarios presented by both the CIA and the NTSB, but is consistent with the aircraft pitching up violently, stalling and plunging into the ocean. In any event, the NTSB scenario does not support Kallstrom's claim that eyewitnesses saw the burning wreckage of TWA-800 and mistook it for a missile traveling upward. At a distance of ten miles, the 1300 feet of additional altitude the NTSB claim the aircraft climbed would subtend an arc of 1.4 degrees.

It was twilight on July 17, 1996, and Jim Naples was out on his boat with his wife and two daughters. Hundreds of other coastal people were out on the water that night, 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 as big as the sun -- fuel exploding on Trans World Airlines Flight 800." This eyewitness account was described by Philip Weiss in his article that appeared on November 23 in the New York Observer. Weiss went on to comment: "Now the F.B.I. has reached its conclusion in the matter. Its message to the eyewitnesses: Shut up, you didn't see anything."

Weiss first heard two recorded eyewitness accounts when they were played by retired Navy Commander William Donaldson at the Accuracy in Media conference in Washington last month. That inspired Weiss to seek out additional witnesses around Center Moriches. Eventually he met six people who gave accounts similar to those Donaldson had recorded. Michelle Dorney, a teenager who was in her family's big house on a hill overlooking the water in East Moriches. "I looked out the window, and it was a straight line going up from over the condos." "It left a trail. It was very white, we thought it was a flare", said a 45-year-old Center Moriches woman who was out on the bridge of her boat in the bay just north of Fire Island. "It came up over the dunes from the east toward the west, it curved up and started to fall. It never flared up. What struck me was the whiteness of the trail; they've got to explain that to me before I'm happy. A second later, we saw the first fireball like a waterfall of flame in the sky, six inches across."

All that in an arc of 1.4 degrees? Does anyone really believe that? If so, is there anything they wouldn't believe? And then there is the account that appeared in the March 10, 1997 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology of what was seen by the pilot and copilot of an HH-60 helicopter from the ANGs 106th Rescue Wing, which the New York Air National Guard says was over the Grabreski Airport at the time TWA 800 crashed. The copilot, Capt. Christian Baur, had been forbidden by the FBI to talk to the press, but the description of the event he had given investigators was described to the magazine by "two officials."

According to the two officials, Baur, who was on the left side of the cockpit, saw a streak moving from left to right toward TWA Flight 800 prior to the initial explosion. Almost due south the helicopter, there was a hard white light, like burning pyrotechnics, in level flight, Baur told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, FBI and a Federal anti-terrorist task force. "I was trying to figure out what it was. It was the wrong color for flares. It struck an object coming from the right and made it explode". Major Meyer said that he saw a streak traveling from right- to-left. He gave the following account to WINDS: "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]."

Whatever was seen initially by Meyer and Baur, it was certainly not the burning wreckage of TWA-800 breaking up. Discrepancies in the eyewitness testimony have been used by those who wish to dismiss the possibility that TWA-800 was struck by a missile. It should be noted, however, that discrepancies in eyewitness accounts of unusual events are normal. What are most difficult to explain are the similarities. Many of the eyewitnesses reported seeing the "streak of light" arc over or fall a bit. This is consistent with what was seen by Meyer and Baur, and resembles the terminal correction of a missile that has locked on to a target.

According to Dougherty's eyewitness account, he first became aware of the event "when he heard two loud booms. He turned around to look for the source of the booms and to the southwest he saw a flame shooting up into the sky."

It was the reports of witnesses having heard the sound(s) of explosions before seeing the "streak of light" that gave the FBI the wiggle room to say that they must have seen the flaming debris of the aircraft, since the sound would not have reached them until well after the center fuel tank explosion. Commander Donaldson disputes this, saying, "They failed to address two "bright", "hard", "high velocity", "ordinance", explosions 3 seconds apart, in addition to the large petroleum [explosion] agreed to by witnesses airborne, on land and sea."

On Wednesday of the week preceding the opening of the NTSB hearings in Baltimore, The Seattle Times reported that conflict between the FBI and the NTSB "over the crash of  TWA Flight 800" had surfaced regarding what evidence could be made public. The gist of it was that the NTSB wanted to reveal how investigators were able to rule out criminal causes, but the FBI did not wish to disclose this until the NTSB had determined the cause of the accident.

According to James T. Mckenna, writing in Aviation Week, The FBI had obstructed the NTSB's efforts to elicit "potentially vital information from witnesses to the flight and crash of TWA Flight 800" for months. Included were mechanics, ramp service personnel and gate agents who had been on duty at the time Flight 800 departed from JFK on Long Island, "as well as 96 other witnesses who claimed to have seen a streak of  light rise from the surface prior to the 747-131's crash," according to Mckenna. The reason given by Kallstrom for excluding the eyewitness testimony from the board hearings was the possibility that it might jeopardize any future criminal prosecutions resulting from the crash.

The FBI interviewed 458 witnesses of whom 183 reported seeing a streak of light and 102 provided information on the origin of the streak. According to their report, 6 witnesses said that the streak originated in the sky and 96 said that it came from the surface. The CIA analysis upon which the FBI based its conclusion that TWA-800 was not struck by a missile included an analysis of the testimony of 244 witnesses. Mckenna noted dryly in the closing paragraph of his piece that it is not clear whether any of the 96 witnesses who reported seeing the missile rise from the surface were included in the CIA analysis.

Somebody recently referred to Aviation Week as a mainstream publication. My impression of the magazine, after having read it for many years, is that it is written for people who earn their living in occupations that require considerable aptitude for analytical thinking. In order to get the full benefit of the information contained in their articles, it is necessary to read them very carefully.

For example, James Wildey, the NTSB investigator who supervised the analysis of the breakup sequence, in addressing the possibility of a missile hit, stated that "there were no large holes that lined up to form a clear line of entry into the center tank."  Mckenna was careful to point out, however, that "he did not say there were none."

What is really being said here? Think about it.

The testimony of a missile-damage specialist from the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, Calif. was also summarized. He ruled out the possibility that Flight 800 was hit by a missile "that detonated on contact or failed to detonate," because that would have produced distinct, large scale damage that was not found in the debris. He did say, however, "There is no question that a [shoulder-fired] missile could have reached TWA 800."

While he did not dismiss the possibility that such a missile might have detonated near Flight 800 "and flung a very small number of high-velocity fragments into the aircraft," the missile-damage expert characterized this scenario as "sheer improbability piled upon improbability. I can discount it as a valid area of pursuit."

Indeed? And how probable is it that 96 independent eyewitnesses who saw a "streak of light" rise from the surface just prior to the explosion that brought down Flight 800 were all having the same hallucination simultaneously? (Click for Answer) Or, since we are dealing hypothetically, on the basis of pure probability, which is more likely -- 96 independent eyewitnesses simultaneously experiencing the same hallucination, or a single expert assessing the effect of his testimony upon his future career prospects and optimizing the possible outcomes?

The dirty little secret that the mainstream press won't tell us and Aviation Week covers mainly in the blank spaces between the lines is that almost everyone in the airline industry believes that TWA-800 was brought down by a missile. In all fairness, Mckenna did come close to making this point in a piece his magazine published on December 8, titled "TWA May Revive Missile Theory Debate." He noted, however, that many observers found the airline's strategy "curious." In the actual event, TWA did not raise this point at the hearings. The reason should not be too difficult to fathom -- airlines live or die by federal regulation. In any event, NTSB chairman Hall had indicated that he was prepared to cut off all debate regarding possible "criminal causes" of the crash on grounds that this is the concern of the FBI.

According to Mckenna, TWA was questioning the board's conclusion that the center fuel tank explosion was not triggered by an external source such as a bomb or a missile. He quoted the airline's vice president of corporate communications, Mark Abels, as saying, "We are not convinced there was a spontaneous explosion in the center tank."  Abels went on to say, "We won't be until there is an ignition source identified and there is proof it set off the explosion. All we see now is circumstantial evidence."

In its contacts with the NTSB, the airline has expressed skepticism regarding some of the board's findings, including the methods used to track debris, and their limited access to statements of witnesses who have described what would appear to be a missile intercepting Flight 800 just before the crash.

One of the more delicate points raised in the Aviation Week article, but not elaborated upon: "The U.S. Navy oversaw operations to recover debris from 120-ft.-deep waters. As a part of their criminal probe, FBI agents restricted access to some debris and seized other pieces for unspecified reasons for months at a time." Could this be an allusion to allegations made by James Sanders in his book "The Downing of TWA Flight 800"? Sanders stated hisDowning of TWA Flight "Knowing that the United States Navy had shot down the plane with a missile, a plan of action was developed to remove evidence from the scene that would implicate the United States Government." The author maintains that a team of Navy divers was used to recover debris from "a particularly sensitive area of the Red Zone," and that no divers from any other organization were allowed in the area. And what was in that area that the government was at such pains to conceal from the public? According to Sanders: ". . . the critical evidence, metal parts from the Navy Standard missile and exterior pieces of residue-streaked airline fuselage, had been removed in the predawn darkness to a location other than the Calverton hanger."  Could this be true? Who knows? The only thing that one can say with certainty is that the heavy-handed police state tactics the government has used against Sanders and his wife have done nothing to dispel suspicion thus far and, in fact, have raised new suspicions. As badly as the feds want us to believe them, they have shown themselves unwilling to seek expert opinion outside the narrow confines of a group of government and industry people over whom they can exercise a large measure of influence, if not absolute control. Where, for example, is their missile- damage expert employed? He works for the Naval Warfare Center.

It sounds as though they have thoroughly investigated the charges made against them and, to nobody's great surprise, found themselves to be above reproach. I'm afraid that there is an irreducible segment of the public who will not be convinced by such a transparently self-serving  approach. This is not an age of great faith. Would the government lie to us? Is there anyone out there who would not consider such a question naive? If the government really wishes to have any credibility in this investigation, it will be necessary to submit the issue to experts who are not susceptible to official coercion, as was done in the investigation of the Challenger accident.

The TWA pilot who provided the strip of seat padding material to James Sanders pleaded guilty last week to theft of government property. Sanders had the material analyzed at a private lab which found that the residue with which the seat material had become impregnated contained the ingredients found in missile fuel. The government maintains that the residue was actually glue used in the process of assembling the seats, but the seat manufacturer disputes this.

Terrell Stacey, the TWA pilot, was charged with theft of government property, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of as much as $100,000. Sanders and his wife, Elizabeth, were each charged with aiding and abetting, for which they could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

And so, as the benign mask of "liberalism" slips away, the true, snarling, crypto-fascist countenance of this government becomes ever more apparent. Can anyone really doubt that Sanders and his wife are being punished for Sanders' attempt to get to the bottom of an official government coverup? As his attorney, Jeff Schlanger, has pointed out, Sanders was acting in his capacity as a journalist when he accepted the missile-fuel impregnated material from Stacey. As the lawyer told Newsday, "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."

Ten years in prison is a pretty stiff sentence for attempting to cover a story, but that is what we have come to. Never mind about the First Amendment. That is reserved for the exclusive use of the belly-crawling reptiles who infest the mainstream press. They can't be bothered about Sanders' rights as a journalist. He doesn't agree with them, you see -- that means he doesn't have any rights so far as they are concerned. Besides, they are too busy at the moment licking the boots of the bureaucracy to concern themselves with First Amendment issues.

If there is to be a realistic determination of what actually happened to TWA-800 it will probably have to come from abroad. The infantile, junk-science cartoon shows with which our government attempts to befuddle what it clearly perceives to be an audience of the intellectually impaired, followed close on by the trained seal act in Baltimore make that abundantly clear. In late November a spokesman for 40 French families of crash victims issued a statement saying that "they no longer trust U.S. authorities to tell them the truth about the July 1996 explosion," according to the Associated Press.

WINDS reported that Michel Ney who was chosen by the families to represent their interests indicated that the FBI and NTSB had declined to hand over to a French judge important documents relevant to the crash. "The 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," according to Ney.

The spokesman indicated that Judge Perdrix had received virtually nothing of significance in response to her request, just a few documents that had already been made public. According to Ney, the judge had refused demands by the U.S. Justice Department that the information they provide be kept secret. Ney characterized this as unacceptable. "We will do everything possible to find out the truth," he said.

Jose Cremades, whose 15-year-old son was killed in the crash, said, "We no longer have faith in the United States. We will trust the justice system of our country and support the French investigating judge." Cremades is president of the Victims of Flight 800 Association which has called for a formal French investigation of the crash.

The Associated Press story which reported this was a viciously twisted propaganda piece that attempted to smear the families of the French victims by insinuating that they were pursuing the case only because they thought there might be money in it for them. Perhaps this bit of gratuitous hatefulness should be viewed in the light of FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom's shrill, self-serving accusation that James Sanders, his wife and others "have also increased the pain already inflicted on the victims' families."

Have this government and its media shills no shred of decency left?  Well, Kallstrom announced his early retirement just before the start of  the Baltimore dog & pony show. Perhaps that can be taken as an indication that there are limits to the degradation that even a U.S. Government bureaucrat is willing to countenance.


Go to Valley/Springfield Advocate & Fairfield/Westchester Weekly article

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