TWA Flight 800 & Myths about
the Friendly Fire Theory
by Ian Williams Goddard
On July 17, 1996, Trans World Airline Flight 800 suddenly exploded killing all 230
passengers. In November 1997 CNN reported that I said the theory that the jet was
shot down by a US Navy missile was a mistake and they spun the story to sound like
I admitted the theory was a hoax. As the report rolled around the media that erroneous spin grew
into the false story that Ian Goddard was the source of the Navy-missile theory, overlooking
its actual inside sources. See the footnotes below for a listing of accurate  and
inaccurate  media reports about the theory's sources.
The Obscured Reality
I began publishing commentaries on media reports on the crash well after the
Navy-missile theory originated elsewhere. I was not a source of any original factual claims
or alleged items of evidence regarding the Flight 800 crash. I was therefore not in a
position to "admit" anything was bogus. My input was merely commentary on information
already available to the public.  Here's an accurate timeline showing that the
friendly fire theory was existent and reported by the media before my input:
The Friendly Fire Theory: A Factual Timeline
JULY 17, 1996: TWA Flight 800 explodes off Long Island, NY.
JULY 17, 1996: During the FBI's final
press conference on the crash a reporter noted:
"Within 24 hours
of this disaster there were stories of military friendly fire circulating, they were
not stories that happened later."  Perhaps the first suggestion of a military link
came from ABC News reporter Chris Bury who, after reporting a "pyrotechnic exercise" involving
a C-130 aircraft, asked: "Did the C-130 have anything to do with tonight's crash?"
JULY 21, 1996: The Jerusalem Post
reported that "French Defense Ministry experts" speculated that if Flight 800 was hit with
a missile it must have come from the U.S. military, and "if the TWA plane was accidentally
shot down by a military unit, it is unlikely that the US army will admit it."
JULY 24, 1996: Parveez Syed
of Shanti RTV News Agency in London began an investigation into the possible role
of the U.S. military in the sudden explosion of Flight 800. 
AUGUST 22, 1996: An "anonymous Internet document"
 claiming that the US Navy did in fact accidentally shoot down Flight 800 circulated over the Internet.
That document was written by retired United Airlines pilot
Captain Richard Russell. Russell based his report on a trusted inside source who had attended a high-level briefing on the
Flight 800 crash.
Russell's inside-sourced report was
Pierre Salinger's so-called "Internet document." See footnote  for multiple
accurate media reports about Russell's document.
SEPTEMBER 5, 1996: WCBS News reporter Marcia Kramer reported:
"Highly placed sources say [...] friendly fire is a possibility."
 CNBC's Mike Jerrick reported: "Now shocking
allegations are that the plane may have been hit by friendly fire from a U.S. missile, off course. [...] Marcia Kramer, WCBS
Investigative reporter, says basically they're saying a U.S. missile was fired and caused the explosion."
SEPTEMBER 17, 1996: Ian Goddard made his first
input on the Flight 800 crash with a newsgroup post
expressing an opinion that favored friendly fire based on a quoted media report of more than
100 eyewitnesses supporting the missile theory.  Thereafter Goddard published a series of reports
expressing his opinion on the crash. 
NOVEMBER 7, 1996: Pierre Salinger told
a meeting of airline officials that a French Intelligence source with close ties to
U.S. officials told him that Flight 800 was in fact accidently shot down by
a Navy missile. Salinger's source, whom he trusts, gave him Richard Russell's report
(ie, the "Internet document" cited previously) as it described what he knew.  Salinger
made the error of assuming that Russell's authoritative report was a government document.
In March 1997, I, Ian Goddard, was included as a "co-author" to a report released by
Salinger and Mike Sommer.  That report was not released by me nor was it posted
to my website as some media reported.  My co-authorship constituted allowing the
republishing of excerpts from my reports containing my opinions and commentary on
media reports, not original claims of fact.  My reports were always honest and when
necessary I published errata notices. I always facilitated my reader's ability to verify my
findings by maintaining a standard of source referencing unparalleled in journalism.
Perhaps the most common media myth about me is that I authored the "Internet document"
given to Salinger, fabricated its contents, and thereby duped Salinger into believing
a hoax. That myth obscures the historically relevant fact that Salinger's sources all led
to inside and thus potentially reliable in-the-know sources rather than the mythical random
liar on the Internet that so many media reports created out of thin air.
Another media myth is that my views on Flight 800 caused the government
to waste millions of dollars -- as if I direct the government! As one
journalist claimed: "he cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in investigative pursuit
of his counterfeit claim."  However, not only was there no "counterfeit claim" that I made but
Associated Press reporter Pat Milton claims that the FBI investigated and cleared the Navy
within a few days of the Flight 800 crash,  which was before I said anything
about it. As the factual timeline above shows, I was not the source of the friendly fire theory.
Witness Analysis Was Credible
It's also been claimed that my conclusion that Flight 800 witness accounts matched a missile
strike was amateur, deluded, or misrepresentative. However, not only did witnesses with military experience say a missile struck
the jet, but perhaps the only expert to review the Flight 800 witness accounts who has a background
in interviewing witnesses of crashes involving missile strikes came to the same conclusion.
An excerpt from the affidavit
of Colonel Lawrence Pence filed in a FOIA lawsuit reads:
"One of my duties in Vietnam was battle damage assessments of our aircraft in order to increase
our understanding of enemy weapons. In performing these assessments, I interviewed numerous
pilots and crew members who witnessed missile attacks, both ground-to-air and air-to-air. Their
descriptions were quite consistent with the eyewitness descriptions given by those who saw the
TWA 800 incident. Of particular note is the internal, sequential consistency of the TWA 800
eyewitnesses, i.e., a bright light rising erratically from ground level toward the aircraft,
followed by an explosion and fireball. This description and sequence of events is substantively
identical to that given by anyone who ever witnessed a surface-to-air missile attack in Vietnam."
- Colonel Lawrence Pence (USAF, retired)
Additionally, when I visited the National Transportation and Safety Board's public reading room
several years after CNN's attack on me, I discovered that the NTSB had conducted a
study where witnesses observed and then described actual missile firings at various distances. The genuine
missile-witness accounts in that official study are virtually identical to Flight 800 witness accounts.
While the media ignored that official study, I published a detailed analysis of its findings.
Why Did I Tell CNN I Made a Mistake?
What I did admit to CNN after the repeated requests of a CNN reporter was that I made a
reckless mistake to argue for the theory that the Navy was the source of a missile
that eyewitnesses reported streaking toward Flight 800.  After the CNN report I reasserted
the theory to demonstrate that it was not a hoax but was based on a possible
interpretation of circumstantial evidence surrounding the crash. 
Reasons I felt compelled to renounce the Navy-missile theory included: (1)
belief that I would continue to be harmed by misleading media attacks ,
(2) physical threats and widespread hated of me for my views, and
(3) belief that if there is a cover-up of an accidental shoot down,
there are most likely valid national-security reasons under a utilitarian greater good
standard of ethics -- in short, more lives might be saved by the nondisclosure of local defensive
military opperations than were lost by the accident. In fact since then the government has
cited national security to prevent disclosure of military activity around the Flight 800 crash.
 I expressed concern about this possibility in an post to a Flight 800 forum
shortly before the CNN story. 
In closing, during the summer of 1997 I became sufficently pursuaded based on a constellation
of factors including pilots reporting missiles off Long Island months after the
crash  that the most likely cause of a cover up of an accidental shoot
down (if there is such a cover up) is not corruption but legitimate national-security
issues preventing disclosure of the naval activity surrounding the crash of TWA Flight 800.
References and footnotes
 Here are some accurate media reports
citing Captain Richard Russell,
a retired 747 pilot and former crash investigator, as the source of the "anonymous Internet document" that
spread the Navy-missile theory in August 1996 before Ian Goddard published anything on the Flight 800 crash.
Russell's report was honest and based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just
attended a high-level briefing on the crash. These media reports also prove that Pierre Salinger's sources
were Russell and a French Intelligence agent, not Ian Goddard as some media reports have claimed:
Accurate Reports About Pierre Salinger's Sources
"Salinger said he was basing the claims on information he
saw in a document given to him six weeks ago by someone in French Intelligence
with close contacts to U.S. officials."
CNN (3/13/97): "Salinger first based his
friendly fire claim on a memo Russell wrote and circulated on the
Internet." Russell's memo is the document that Salinger's French
Intelligence source gave him noted in the previous CNN report.
USA Today (10/31/96): "Richard Russell, a retired United Airline pilot and former
crash investigator, shouldn't have been surprised when an authoritative
sounding e-mail he sent to fewer than a dozen friends Aug. 22--claiming a
government cover-up in the crash of TWA Flight 800--was copied across the
New York Times (11/17/96): " [The] anonymous message that began circulating in late
August ... was written on America Online by Richard Russell, a 66-year-old
Floridian and former United Airlines pilot. ... Russell can't be accused
of courting publicity. He says he has been contacted by several major
television shows, but they've all lost interest because he won't give up
The Westchester Weekly
(1996) published a detailed and accurate review of Richard Russell and the Flight 800 friendly fire theory.
Accurate Book Citings of Pierre Salinger's Sources
Pat Milton (AP reporter) in her book In The Blink of an Eye writes:
"Sometime in early October, Salinger was handed a copy of an unsigned document
written, he was later told, by a former United Airlines pilot." (page 266-7). Milton goes on to
note in detail that the author and retired pilot was Richard Russell
(see pages 272-5).
Christine Negroni (CNN reporter) accurately states in her book
Deadly Departure that the author of the document that Salinger held as evidence was
(see pages 109, 141-5). Negroni also accurately describes the content of my Flight 800 reports:
"Goddard, a thirty-five-year-old graphic artist, assiduously reviewed every bit of media
coverage and created an impressive Web site that was a patchwork of news reports, smart-looking graphics,
eyewitness quotes, and personal commentary." (page 144). Ironically Negroni produced the
CNN report that resulted in other media sources errantly assuming and then claiming that I was the
author and source of Salinger's so-called "Internet document."
NOTE: the file to which the Richard Russell links here go is an affidavit from Russell
filed in a lawsuit against the NTSB for their refusal to make mathematic equations available for peer review that
allegedly support their claim that Flight 800 shot upwards like a missile after its forward
section was blown away, causing witnesses to think they were seeing a missile. Numerous experts and others have filed
affidavits in that case testifying against a wide range of claims the government has made about
the TWA Flight 800 crash. Affidavits filed in this lawsuit are available
here. Further details on
this lawsuit are available here.
 These media reports make false claims about the
Flight 800 friendly fire theory:
Inaccurate Reports About Pierre Salinger's Sources
Los Angeles Times (11/06/97) headline reads: "Author of Flight 800 Tale Admits Hoax."
The article falsely claims Ian Goddard created the friendly fire theory.
Omaha World Herald (11/8/97): Internet Hoax a Damaging Lesson [...]
"the reputation of Pierre Salinger was tarnished by Goddard's story. Salinger swallowed the story and
went public with a condemnation of the government."
Howard Kleinberg: "Ian Goddard who influenced former John Kennedy press chief Pierre Salinger to make a fool of
himself last spring in not only accepting the missile theory, but claiming he had irrefutable evidence - which he did not."
The Tampa Tribune, November 9, 1997.
Roxanne Barber: " [...] Pierre Salinger, who reported in the fall
of 1996 that TWA Flight 800 had been shot down by U.S. Navy missiles, a claim supported by 'government
documents' in his possession. After a national stir, news reports revealed that the source of the
'government' information was Ian Goddard's Web site." The Quarterly, winter 2001.
REALITY: Salinger's sources, documents, and belief in the friendly fire theory were based on a trusted French
Intelligence source and Captain Richard Russell,
not on Ian Goddard or his website. Goddard was also not a source of any original factual
claims or alleged items of evidence regarding the Flight 800 crash. Russell's document claiming that the
Navy shot down Flight 800 was based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just
attended a high-level briefing on the Flight 800 crash. See the previous footnote on accurate
media reports and the factual timeline in this report for details.
Inaccurate Book Citings of Pierre Salinger's Sources
Jim Hall: "One of the effects of Drudge and others like him [...] seems to be a reduction by media generally in the time and
effort devoted to checking stories. Perhaps the most notorious example of such abrogation of responsibility are the
reports, derived solely from mischievous information placed on the web (via Usenet), that TWA flight 800, which
crashed off Long Island in 1996, was brought down by a missile."
Hall, Jim. Online Journalism, A Critical Primer. London: Pluto Press, 2001, page 134. The source of the
friendly fire theory was not "mischievous information placed on the web" but media reports (see timeline),
the official investigation that purportedly investigated the Navy, a French Intelligence agent and Captain Richard Russell
whose claims were based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just attended a high-level briefing on the Flight 800 crash.
Ronald De Wolk:
"The consequences of these destructive elements suddenly grown from the Web were evident in an early debacle involving former newspaperman, network news correspondent and presidential spokesman Pierre Salinger. He announced to the world that he had discovered that the sudden explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York, in July 1996, was caused by a U.S. military missile. His announcement, because of his standing, was covered widely. When real reporters asked him to attribute his statement, he said he had read it on the Internet.
The sites Salinger used were run by non-journalists who had little or no concern about accuracy, multiple sourcing,
independent verification, libel or fairness. The result of Salinger's initial pronouncement and subsequent insistences
resulted in a sad ending to a long and distinguished career."
De Wolk, Ronald. Introduction to Online Journalism, Publishing News and Information. Allyn & Bacon: 2001, page 172.
I wrote a message to De Wolk outlining his erroneous claims, which can be found here.
Additional examples of inaccurate media reports are cited in this report.
"Salinger announced to the world on November 8, 1996, that he'd received documents from French intelligence proving
that a U.S. Navy missile had accidentally downed the jetliner. […] Without a doubt, Salinger's rushing to the
press with a statement he couldn't back up was incredibly irresponsible, and he got what he deserved."
Into The Buzzsaw. New York: Prometheus Books, 2002, pages 110, 116.
While I recommend Borjesson's book,
her comments on Salinger are inaccurate. In reality the press rushed to Salinger catching him unprepared
rather than Salinger "rushing to the press." Milton (pages 266-70) and Negroni (pages 141-5)
cited in the accurate-reports section above give accurate accounts of this. As Negroni aptly puts it: "Salinger had
mentioned TWA Flight 800 in a speech to aviation executives" (141). Being famous, Salinger gives lectures in various
forums. On November 7, 1996 he happened to be speaking at an aviation conference in France and thus decided
to mention what his friend in French Intelligence had told him a month ago (Milton, 266). Then, an AP
reporter who happened to be in the audience rushed to publish a report about Salinger's allegation at the
conference. Within hours the media and the FBI were rushing to Salinger's door (not the other way around)
and he found himself in the world spotlight.
Salinger's certitude in the friendly fire claim rested with the trust he placed in his long-time friend in the DGSE,
but scrambling for some concrete justification other than faith in a friend he relied on the papers his friend had
given him a month ago errantly assuming they were government documents. The picture Borjesson paints in her book
Into The Buzzsaw, of Salinger
breathlessly rushing to the media is inaccurate and unfair because she uses it to denigrate, indeed to "buzzsaw,"
someone who was subjected to more buzzsawing than anyone.
Salinger, a retired journalist had valid concerns about the crash and expressed them in a forum that seemed
appropriate. When he spoke to the media that then rushed to him he was not speaking as an active
investigative journalist, just as someone relaying what he had been told to people who were asking him. The mistake Salinger
made was assuming that Captain Russell's report was a government document.
 Archive of Ian Goddard's TWA Flight 800 reports.
 VHS tape recording of question-and-answer
session of FBI press conference, November 17, 1997. The unidentified reporter's quoted comment
seems to have been raised to counter the implication made during the conference that the
friendly fire theory was fabricated by Ian Goddard months after the Flight 800 crash. Here is an
topics covered by the FBI at the press conference, which is not a transcript.
 Bury, Chris. ABC News NightLine, July 17, 1996.
 Beck, Eldad. France: It's possible TWA plane was
shot down by missile. The Jerusalem Post, July 21, 1996, page 1.
 Syed, Parveez. TWA
Flight 800 A U.S. Mistake? Shanti RTV News Agency, July 24, 1996.
Here is a copy of the "anonymous Internet document" that was written by
retired 747 pilot Captain Richard Russell
whose claims were based on information relayed to him from a long-time friend who had just attended a
high-level briefing on the crash of TWA Flight 800.
 Kramer, Marcia. Newsradio 88 and Channel Two News, WCBS New York, September 5, 1996.
Later that day U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Edward Kristensen responded to Kramer's report saying "the Navy didn't bring it down in friendly fire"
(Nighttime Edition, NTLI Cable, New York).
 Jerrick, Mike. America After Hours. CNBC, September 5, 1996.
Ian. FBI Says Missile Theory "Outrageous." September 17,
 CNN: Salinger 'totally sure'
TWA 800 missile theory is true. March 13, 1997.
Kettle, Martin. Missile theory on TWA crash was Internet hoax. The Guardian, November 7, 1997, page 15:
"In March, Mr Goddard released a report on his Internet website claiming that the US government was covering up the
fact that a Navy missile had mistakenly brought down the Paris-bound Boeing 747 [...] Mr Salinger, who was President
Kennedy's press secretary, and Mike Sommer helped him to write the 69-page report." In reality I never
posted the March report to my site. Kettle also echoes the media myth that I was the report's primary
author while Salinger & Sommer merely helped. In reality I allowed excerpts of my Flight 800 reports to be used in their report,
and my reports were merely opinions and commentaries on media reports, not original claims of fact. I was later
included as a co-author (last listed) due to the inclusion of said excerpts. Here's the
press confernece where the report actually was released by Salinger
& Sommer, not by Ian Goddard.
 Kleinberg, Howard. Losing Faith in the Internet. Plain Dealer, November 9, 1997, page 3E.
 Milton, Pat. In the Blink of an Eye, The FBI Investigation of TWA Flight 800.
New York: Random House, 1999. See pages 88-93 and 157-74.
Goddard, Ian. Official Witness Study Released. January 25, 2001.
several eyewitness sketches. Also see
a listing of FBI witnesses.
Goddard's Journal - TWA
 Pre-CNN attacks: 60 Minutes attack,
PBS Attack, Newsday Attack.
 FIRO: National Security Invoked
Re Navy Activity Near Flight 800.
 Goddard, Ian. Maybe Not Now. October 21, 1997.
 Goddard, Ian. The Crash of TWA Flight 800 - Circumstantial Evidence.
LINKS TO ONGOING FLIGHT 800 RESEARCH & LAWSUITS
At the time of CNN's attack on me in 1997 very few citizens were proponents of the friendly-fire theory.
There was James Sanders, who was being arrested and tried for acquiring evidence from the crash investigation;
who mysteriously disappeared days after a radio interview and acquiring something of importance related to the
crash; and Pierre Salinger and myself who were being torn apart by the media.
Since that time a number of courageous citizen investigators including scientists, journalists, aviation
professionals, and former government officials have entered the scene to question the official investigation
of the crash of TWA Flight 800. Here are links to two groups that they formed along with a couple other private efforts:
Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization (FIRO)
The Associated Retired Aviation Professionals
Emmy-award winning journalist Jack Cashill
THE IMPOSSIBLE ZOOM-CLIMB
Accuracy In Media's Video
Freedom of Information