June 19, 2013

Former TWA Flight 800 investigators want new probe

The New York-to-Paris flight crashed in 1996 just minutes after take off, killing all 230 people aboard, and now some believe a missile brought it down.

The Associated Press

MINEOLA, N.Y. — Former investigators are pushing to reopen the probe into the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, saying new evidence points to the often-discounted theory that a missile strike may have downed the jumbo jet.

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In this Nov. 19, 1997 file photo, FBI agents and New York state police guard the reconstruction of TWA Flight 800 in Calverton, N.Y. Flight 800 exploded and crashed July 17, 1996 while flying from New York to Paris, killing all 230 people aboard. Former investigators on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 called on the National Transportation Safety Board to re-examine the cause, saying new evidence points to the often-discounted theory that a missile strike may have downed the jumbo jet. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

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This file graphic image, provided by the Central Intelligence Agency, Dec. 9, 1997, shows an animation of the disintegration of Paris-bound TWA Flight 800 as it explodes off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996. The video was used to explain eyewitness accounts of the explosion, which killed all 230 people aboard. Former investigators on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 called on the National Transportation Safety Board to re-examine the cause, saying new evidence points to the often-discounted theory that a missile strike may have downed the jumbo jet. (AP Photo/Central Intelligence Agency, File)

The New York-to-Paris flight crashed July 17, 1996, minutes after it took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 230 people aboard.

The effort to reopen the probe is being made in tandem with the release next month of a documentary that features the testimony of former investigators who raise doubts about the National Transportation Safety Board's conclusion that the crash was caused by a center fuel tank explosion, probably caused by a spark from a short-circuit in the wiring.

"We don't know who fired the missile," said Jim Speer, an accident investigator for the Air Line Pilots Association, one of those seeking a new review of the probe. "But we have a lot more confidence that it was a missile."

In a petition filed Wednesday seeking to reopen the probe, they say they have "reviewed the FAA radar evidence along with new evidence not available to the NTSB during the official investigation and contend that the NTSB's probable cause determination is erroneous and should be reconsidered and modified accordingly."

Those calling for a review of the investigation include former NTSB accident investigator Hank Hughes and Bob Young, a former senior accident investigator for the now-defunct TWA. Tom Stalcup, a physicist and co-founder of a group called Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization, also questions the NTSB's original findings and is featured prominently in the documentary, which is slated to air on the 17th anniversary of the crash next month.

The NTSB issued a statement Wednesday saying it was aware of the upcoming documentary.

"All petitions for reconsideration are thoroughly reviewed, and a determination is usually made within about 60 days," spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. "While the NTSB rarely re-investigates issues that have already been examined, our investigations are never closed and we can review any new information not previously considered by the board."

She noted the TWA Flight 800 investigation lasted four years.

"Investigators took great care reviewing, documenting and analyzing facts and data and held a five-day hearing to gather additional facts before determining the probable cause of the accident during a two-day board meeting."

Robert Francis, the former vice chairman of the NTSB who headed the investigation, declined to comment.

Former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who headed the criminal probe after the crash, denied claims of a cover-up by the government, saying investigators "took very seriously the idea that a missile could have shot down the plane."

Speaking on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper," Kallstrom said they "did an exhaustive investigation," recovering 97 percent of the airplane from the Atlantic Ocean.

"We used all the assets of the United States, all the missile experts in the military," he said. "So I'm very confident that we had enough of that airplane to make the judgment that no criminal intervention, to our knowledge, our knowledge at the time, our knowledge in 1996, wherever that science was, that did not bring down the aircraft."

The former investigators calling for a new probe say new evidence that a missile may have taken down the jet includes analysis of radar of the jetliner.

Speculation of a missile strike began almost immediately after the crash. Theories that an errant missile may have been fired from a U.S. military vessel were widely refuted, but conjecture about a shoulder-fired missile launched by terrorists in a small boat has never completely gone away.

(Continued on page 2)

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