TWA Flight 800 Missile Theory

Physical Evidence

by Ian Williams Goddard

Trans World Airlines flight 800 suddenly exploded off Long Island, New York on July 17, 1996. All 230 passengers died. Within days ABC News reported that more than 100 eyewitnesses indicated Flight 800 was shot down by a missile. [1] Having examined witness sketches, let us now examine physical evidence.

High Velocity Fragments

Many anti-aircraft missiles are designed to detonate in the proximity of a target and kill it with a spray of fragments. According to the official report, small holes produced by "fragments" traveling as fast as bullets were found in Flight 800. The following graphic illustrates (a) an external detonation, (b) the location of two holes described in the official report, (c) the trajectory of the causal fragments, and (d) a photograph of one of those holes published in the official report. [2]

proximity detonation outside Flight 800

Small holes in Flight 800 described in official report. Photos from official report. [2]

Officials concluded that the two holes located above were made by "fragments" traveling along a downward trajectory at velocities between 1,000 and 1,500 feet per second. [2] These two holes where located in the pressure deck of the rear landing-gear bay (B) as shown. Other small holes produced by downward- traveling fragments were found in recovered portions of the center wing tank (A) the sudden explosion of which reportedly destroyed Flight 800. [3] Matching the speed of bullets such fragments may have ignited fuel vapors in the center tank.

Known Missile Evidence

After a Russian airliner was accidentally hit by a missile from a Ukrainian military exercise, small holes were evidence of the missile strike. On the left, a Russian investigator points to a small hole made by shrapnel from the missile that investigators concluded exploded outside that Russian aircraft. [4, 5]

And Yet No Missile Evidence?

Given that officials concluded that small holes found in Flight 800 were made by "fragments" traveling 1,000 to 1,500 fps -- as fast as bullets -- along a trajectory inconsistent with fuel-tank shrapnel, how did they conclude that there was no missile evidence? While items of physical evidence are real, categorical schemata are mental constructions. Officials imposed a categorical schemata onto the small holes that arbitrarily placed penetration velocities at or below 1,500 fps into the "not missile evidence" category. Since no penetration velocity was reported to exceed that limit, none of the small-hole evidence could fall into the missile- evidence category even though fragments traveled as fast as bullets along a trajectory that fuel-tank shrapnel could not follow.

Questions: Why are there holes from projectiles that traveled downward like bullets through Flight 800? Other than a high-explosives detonation, what could accelerate small fragments to bullet-like velocities along the indicated trajectories? The official investigation provides no answer. Apart from defining the projectile holes as "lower velocity," and thus not missile evidence by decree, the NTSB provides no causal explanation for the existence of these high-speed impacts.

Evidence of Evidence Tampering

Conclusions derived from physical evidence are only as reliable as the integrity and preservation of that evidence. Because parties to the official Flight 800 investigation have reported that physical evidence has been altered, destroyed, and disappeared, the official conclusions about the physical evidence are questionable.

Senior NTSB official Hank Hughes testified before a Senate Committee about the disappearance and destruction of Flight 800 evidence. [6] He testified that FBI agents would remove physical evidence from the Calverton hangar without proper notification (other insiders have reported the same). Hughes testified that in one case FBI agents were caught sneaking into the hangar at 3 am on a Saturday morning. Hughes also testified that

"an agent from the FBI was brought in from Los Angeles... [he] had some experience in bomb investigations, and I saw him in the middle of the hangar with a hammer in the process of trying to flatten a piece of wreckage. In investigative work, you do not alter evidence. You take it in its original state and preserve it. But I actually saw this man with a hammer, pounding on a piece of evidence, trying to flatten it out." [7]

Hughes testified further that "contrary to universally accepted forensic procedure" [8] all clothing from Flight 800 passengers -- which could contain traces of explosives -- was co-mingled and stored wet, which allowed mold to grow on the clothes. According to Hughes this "destroyed" any evidentiary value the clothing could have provided. [9] Hughes described the standard protocol for handling clothing as follows:

"Stated procedure for any clothing in a crime scene or other accident site -- and the procedures are basically the same, there is no difference between a crime scene and an accident scene investigation in terms of the handling of evidence -- but wet clothing, whether it is wet by chemicals, body chemicals, blood, or water, salt water in this case, the proper procedure is to air dry the clothing, wrap it in clean butcher paper after it has been photographed, catalog it, and put it away for safekeeping." [9]

Hughes also discovered that seat cushions and seats from Flight 800 that disappeared from the hangar had been dumped in a dumpster. [9] Investigative journalist James Sanders had acquired two tiny samples of Flight 800 seat cushioning from the Calverton hangar that was covered with a red residue containing high concentrations of elements found in missile fuels and explosives. [10] Shortly after Sanders published his findings the cushioning from the residue-covered seats was stripped off the seats and removed from the hangar. [11] Could that residue-covered seat cushioning that disappeared be the same seat cushioning Hughes discovered in a dumpster?

In his testimony before the Senate, Hank Hughes listed many other alarming instances that seriously compromise the reliability of the official Flight 800 investigation. [8]

More Evidence of Tampering

Linda Kuntz, a TWA employee and former party to the official investigation, observed what she believed to be evidence that NTSB officials were altering data to make it appear that seats from the rear of the plane found in the western debris field were instead found further to the east. Linda Kuntz called on the assistance of two New York Police Officers who photographed the evidence in question. They then informed TWA attorneys, who informed the NTSB. The NTSB then contacted the FBI in order to have Kuntz investigated for taking photographs in violation of regulations. Kuntz was then dismissed from the investigation and threatened with indictment and prosecution. [12]

Major Frederick Meyer, a New York Air National Guard pilot, was assigned to transport a piece of Flight 800 wreckage from the Calverton hangar to FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. About this special piece of wreakage, Meyer told the Village Voice:

"I knew from looking at it that it was the leading edge of some aerofoil -- horizontal stabilizer, rudder, or wing -- and it had punctures in it. We're talking about a piece of aluminum alloy that is very strong and rigid. In this were dimples with holes in the center of the dimple, like something was driven through with incredible force." [13]

Meyer said the holes "were about 3/4 of an inch to one inch in diameter." [14] When I asked him if the punctures appeared to come from the outside, he replied: "The dimples around each hole indicate that something passed through from the outside to the inside." [15] Penetration from the outside to the inside would be consistent with an external explosion, such as the explosion a proximity-fused missile warhead would deliver.

Unfortunately the whereabouts of that important evidence is unknown. Robert Davey, a Village Voice reporter, tried to tack it down without success. As he reported in the Village Voice, FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette "says the FBI returned the wing with the suspicious holes in it to the NTSB investigation in Calverton... However, NTSB director Goelz says he is not aware of any piece from a wing edge with holes in it." [13] Perhaps it slipped into a black hole.

Speaking of black holes, the New York Times reported: "Certain federal agents, calling the FBI's laboratory in Washington a 'black hole,' remained convinced that the bureau was hiding its positive lab confirmations." [16] This was after investigators at Calverton kept sending debris with traces of explosives to FBI headquarters only to have the FBI consistently declare those traces to have been false positives, even though investigators at Calverton were using the highly sensitive and accurate EGIS detection system. [17]

Evidence of evidence tampering in the official Flight 800 investigation keeps coming in. Just last August (2000) Agence France Presse reported that Glen Schulze, a flight data recorder (FDR) expert, [18] determined that the last four seconds of FDR data had been tabulated but was removed from the data before it was released to the public. [19] The last seconds of FDR data are the most important evidence for diagnosing the cause of a crash. Schultze recently published his analysis of the FDR data. [20]

Additionally, the Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization (FIRO) has filed a lawsuit against the FBI for its failure to release data in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. [21] The data in question pertains to shrapnel recovered from bodies. The chief medical examiner for the crash, Charles Wetli, had stated that "virtually all of the bodies had shrapnel" and that "FBI agents were here and standing with us while we were doing the autopsies and taking the shrapnel that we found." [22] What became of that critical evidence? Obviously someone at the FBI knows, but it seems they don't want us to know. FIRO is also suing the NTSB for its refusal to release radar data. [23]

In Conclusion

Even if all the examples cited above and others not cited here were not deliberate acts of tampering, it would still not be reasonable to conclude that the physical evidence refutes eyewitness accounts of a missile engagement when so much of it has been damaged, destroyed, disappeared, withheld, or remains unrecovered under the ocean. The claim that a lack of physical evidence of a missile trumps Flight 800 missile witnesses is only as reliable as the integrity and preservation of all physical evidence. That claim is therefore clearly not reliable. Furthermore, with respect to evidence that has managed to survive the official investigation, it seems that definitional standards used by investigators serve to define potential missile evidence out of existence, thereby preventing the possibility of its discovery.

[1] The Washington Times, 07/24/96, cites ABC News report.

[2] NTSB Public Exhibit 15B: Examination of Small Holes.

[3] Ibid, pages 4-7.

[4] BBC: 'Missile traces' in plane wreckage. 10/9/01.

[5] Melnyk, Yuriy. Russian Tu-154 airliner downed by the Ukrainian anti-aircraft complex. York Vision, 132, November 2001.

[6] Senate Hearing 106-534. Administrative Oversight of the Investigation of TWA Flight 800. May 10, 1999.

[7] Ibid, transcript page 11.

[8] Ibid, Hank Hughes Senate-Hearing notes.

[9] Ibid, transcript, page 10.

[10] FIRO: The Red Residue of TWA Flight 800: A Brief Description and the Scientific Paper-trail.

[11] FIRO: Red Residue Stripped from Seats.

[12] Associated Retired Aviation Professionals Interim Report on the Crash of TWA Flight 800 and the Actions of the NTSB and the FBI. pages 20-21.

[13] Davey, Robert. Flight 800 The Missing Evidence. The Village Voice, April 15, 1998.

[14] Eyewitness Meyer Speaks to the Granada Forum.

[15] Personal corresponadnace with Major Meyer.

[16] The New York Times: Behind a Calm Facade Investigation Embodied Chaos, Distrust, Stress. Joe Sexton, 08/23/96.

[17] TWA 800 Case Files, Vol 2, No. 1, August 1997.

[18] Resume of Glen H. Schulze.

[19] Agence France Presse: Independent panel criticizes TWA Flight 800 crash report. August 22, 2000.

[20] The Four Missing Seconds, Analysis from the Flight Data Recorder, Glen Schulze. September 26, 2000.

[21] FIRO Complaint Against FBI.

[22] CNN Interactive: Six months later, still no answer to TWA Flight 800 mystery. 1/17/97.

[23] FIRO Complaint Against NTSB.