Many of us remember the terrible tragedy of Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 800, which crashed off the coast of East Moriches, Long Island, on July 17, 1996 en route from JFK International Airport to Paris, France, killing all 230 people on-board.
At the time of the crash, and the subsequent four-year-long investigation that included reports from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the TWA, the Airline Pilots Association (APA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and third party accident investigators, the official statement was that it was caused by a gas tank explosion due to a spark from a damaged wire.
But not everyone believes that, and producers of a new documentary on the crash, appropriately titled TWA Flight 800, aim to prove that the second deadliest plane crash in U.S. history wasn’t an accident at all, but that it was shot down.
Their line-up of credible experts is pretty incredible, too. The three men actually worked on the initial investigation. The Daily Mail reports:
Among the skeptics who worked on the investigation are Hank Hughes, a senior accident investigator, Bob Young, a TWA investigator, and Jim Speer, an accident investigator for the Airline Pilots Association.
The documentary features interviews with these key members of the original investigation team, who now claim that their investigation was systematically undermined.
All three aforementioned whistleblowers, who are now retired, claim that they were placed under a gag order by the NTSB. And while they apparently fall short of naming an exact cause of the explosion that brought TWA Flight 800 down in the documentary, their acknowledgement that the official cause statement is false corroborates what more than 736 eyewitness accounts reported to the media and FBI following the tragedy: that they saw a missile hit the plane.
Here are the top 10 facts you need to know on the conspiracy theories surrounding the missile strike of TWA Flight 800 so YOU can be "in the know" when you watch the documentary on EPIX, on Wednesday, July 17, the 17th anniversary of the tragedy.
1. Explosive Residue Found
After the explosion, wreckage recovery and chemical testing began immediately. In the initial reports, FBI scientists stated they had found cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX), nitroglycerin, and a combination of RDX and pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) in a concentrated area on on the right-side of the cabin in rows 15-25. This since removed CNN graphic, courtesy of WhatReallyHappened.com, illustrates:
RDX, nitroglycerin, and PETN are necessary components in military-grade bomb making. PETN is also commonly found in both nuclear and non-nuclear missile warheads. Even more alarming, these three chemicals were found in an area with a strange red residue, a known indicator of rocket fuel combustion.
This information was not public knowledge until almost a month later.
2. 736 Claim They Saw a Missile (Or Two!) Hit the Aircraft
At the same time the FBI was conducting chemical analysis in their Washington, D.C., labs, they were also conducting interviews as to what East Moriches, Long Islanders saw in the sky moments before the explosion occurred. Several of the interviewees included experienced military personnel.
Major Fritz Meyer, who watched the event while flying a National Guard helicopter, was one of the military personnel interviewed. WorldNetDaily, a conservative and political news site, reports:
Meyer says he saw a trail of white headed for the plane and then four explosions before the ultimate fuel-tank explosion that erupted into a fireball. But when Meyer approached the FBI to give his testimony, a five-minute interview with a single agent who took no notes was the only time he was given.
Meyer is a Vietnam war combat veteran who flew 46 rescue missions in Vietnam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. But despite the witness’ credibility, the FBI never contacted him again.
Later, Major Fritz Meyer personally filed an affidavit pending the four-year-long investigation. Here is an excerpt of his official statement.
Other eyewitnesses told very similar stories.
On August 15, 2000, some witnesses of the event, still frustrated at not being given the time of day by the FBI and NTSB, had formed the TWA 800 Eyewitness Alliance and took out a full page ad in the Washington Times to highlight the struggles of their ignored "truth."
3. Media Blackout
One of the main complaints both civilians and media pundits had was the lack of official confirmation from any official on whether explosive residue had been found, despite reports from unaccredited or anonymous sources leaking.
A month after the investigation, CNN was voicing their chagrin at how little official information was being released, even when the explosive residue was all but confirmed.
A key investigator of the crash of TWA Flight 800 declined Friday to confirm or deny a CNN report that a trace of explosives had been found in the wreckage of the passenger cabin.
Robert Francis of the National Transportation Safety Board also refused to comment on a similar report in The New York Times.
A week later, on August 30, the FBI and NTSB finally broke their silence to CNN (via WhatReallyHappened.com):
Investigators have found traces of the chemical RDX in the wreckage of TWA Flight 800, CNN has learned.
FBI scientists found the trace of PETN on a section of flooring from the center of the TWA Boeing 747 jetliner.
4. FBI Tries the Old 'Dog Did It' to Explain Explosive Residue
With explosive residue now officially public knowledge, media sources ran rampant with ideas as to where it could have come from.
However, no public official had acknowledged TWA Flight 800 as anything more than an accidental tragedy. Terrorism, domestic or foreign, was not widely discussed.
Finally, on September 20, 1996, the FBI issued a statement as to the origins of the explosives, reported CNN (via WhatReallyHappened.com):
As part of a training exercise, law enforcement authorities carried packaged explosives aboard the TWA Boeing 747 that burst into flames off Long Island two months ago, the FBI confirmed Friday.
Several packages of explosives were used to train bomb-sniffing dogs in St. Louis six weeks before the July 17 crash of TWA Flight 800; all the materials were removed after the training session, agents said. The Federal Aviation Administration and the St. Louis police were involved in the exercise.
The fact that the packages were aboard the jet may explain the traces of explosives investigators found in the wreckage, the FBI said. Federal investigators found traces of two chemicals, PETN and RDX, on some pieces retrieved from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
It was then concluded that the explosive residue and the faulty wire and fuel tank explosion, the official statement as to how the plane exploded, were unrelated.
5. Why 'The Dog Did It' Doesn't Work
The seats affected by the residue, as shown above, were rows 15-25.
In a typical bomb-sniffing exercise, a bomb is hidden in an enclosed place. On a plane, a seat back, or a closet, or a cabinet would be ideal.
Not a continuous swath of 10 seats.
6. So What Was It?
As Major Fritz Meyer claimed alongside his other 735 Americans, it was most likely a missile in a Navy training exercise, hopefully gone wrong, or a terrorist attack.
In the reconstructed TWA Flight 800 airplane (above), the right side where the origin of explosion is has a very obvious impact point from the outside.
The potential of a Navy missile accident coverup is raised when you see that East Moriches, Long Island, is adjacent to a known Navy training ground.
7. But What About Terrorists?
Despite the Navy implications, terrorism also can't be ruled out.
The TWA 800 Eyewitness Alliance, the same one that took out the 2000 Washington Times ad, has ample evidence for this from newspaper articles saved on and around the disaster.
One of the more pertinent ones is from Newsday.com on July 19, 1996. The article reads:
In the absence of explanations, theories abounded. One focused on a fax sent Wednesday to an Arabic language newspaper in Beirut warning of an attack. State Department and CIA officials confirmed they had received copies of the fax Thursday. The message said "tomorrow morning we will strike the Americans in a way they do not expect and it will be very surprising to them," according to one official. A counterterrorism source familiar with the fax said that it was sent at 11 a.m. New York time Wednesday, more than nine hours before the bombing.
The fax read:
"The Mujahadeen will respond harshly to the threats of the stupid American president. All will be shocked by the magnitude of the response. The determining of the place and time are in the hands of the Mujahadeen. The invaders must get ready to leave alive or dead; and their rendezvous will be morning, and isn't morning near."
8. Why Would They Have Covered Either of These Up?
The main reason the U.S. government would have covered up either of these possible scenarios, if true, would be to ease public paranoia about the safety of travel for political and corporate purposes.
To call it anything but a chance mechanical failure would result in billions of dollars of lost revenue for the airline industry. For a more recent example, recall what happened to the airline industry after 9/11.
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, major airlines such as United and American faced declining profits. The primary culprits: rising expenses, excess capacity because of the growth of the airline industry and competition from low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines.
After the terrorist strikes, the industry went into a financial tailspin.
Since TWA Flight 800 was much more manageable than the globally seen 9/11, it would make financial sense to try to downplay it any way possible.
9. Who is Ray Lahr?
Ray Lahr was a retired United Airlines pilot who punched a hole in the official statement regarding the cause of the aircraft explosion. When the CIA took over the FBI's investigation in 1998 and released a video explaining how the explosion might have looked like a missile hit it, Lahr released his own video (seen above).
The CIA's term for how a plane could explode and continue flying to look like a missile was called "zoom climb."
Lahr said this is aerodynamically impossible.
He also pursued a lawsuit against the CIA and NTSB in 2003 regarding TWA Flight 800 citing the "Freedom for Information Act." In 2006, he won his case.
The CIA responded to the court's verdict: "We lost the documents."
10. Why This Documentary Now?
Doubt has always circled the true cause of TWA Flight 800's crash, and now that we have officials coming forward directly involved with the incident, it only makes sense to capture their tell-alls.
On the heels of Edward Snowden, it can be expected that as Americans grow and connect more on social media, and put more pressure on our government, we will either see a growth of or clamp-down on information.
The three whistleblowers for TWA Flight 800, Hank Hughes, Bob Young and Jim Speer, will continue to push us and our government in one of those directions.
Be sure to catch the documentary.