Video: Whistleblowers claim cover-up in mysterious TWA 800 crash

posted at 1:21 pm on June 19, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 prompted a lot of speculation at the time about terrorism, and not irrationally, either. Libyan intelligence took part in the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988, for instance, and the Iranians were threatening retaliation after the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air 655 by mistake the same year. Later, the TWA 800 flight appeared to fit within the context of al-Qaeda operations against the US, although no claim of responsibility was made for it as a terrorist attack. The NTSB eventually ruled that it was a defect in the fuel tank that sparked the explosion, a ruling that witnesses and families of victims have resisted ever since.

Now, a new documentary argues that the US covered up the real cause of the explosion — and his case is bolstered by a number of whistleblowers who worked in the original investigation:

TWA Flight 800 exploded in mid-air on July 17, 1996 about 11 minutes after taking off from New York’s JFK airport on its way to Paris. Though theories abounded as to what happened to the plane — from a bomb on the aircraft to it being struck by a missile or even a meteorite — the National Transportation Safety Board concluded after a four-year investigation that the probable cause of the crash was an accidental fuel tank explosion. The NTSB said it could not be sure what exactly ignited the blast, but “of the sources evaluated by the investigation, the most likely was a short circuit outside of the [fuel tank] that allowed excessive voltage to enter it through electrical wiring…”

But according to the new documentary, named TWA Flight 800 and premiering on Epix next month, six former members of the official crash investigation have stepped forward to refute the NTSB’s findings, saying the crash report was purposefully falsified, and to claim the investigation was “systematically undermined” by federal authorities.

“We didn’t find any part of the airplane that indicated a mechanical failure,” one of the whistleblowers says in a trailer for the film. The former officials allege the explosion came from outside the plane, though they don’t speculate any further on the original source.

Another of the whistleblowers, former senior accident investigator with the NTSB Hank Hughes, said in a preview of the documentary that FBI agents were spotted on surveillance cameras going through the hanger where the crash evidence was kept “in the wee hours of the morning… for purposes unknown.”

What does all this mean? Not even the whistleblowers want to jump to a conclusion; they just want the investigation re-opened, and the original investigation reviewed.  The NTSB, for its part, says that if presented with enough evidence it will reopen the probe, but that they stand by the results of their four-year investigation.  But with whistleblowers suddenly popping up all over the place in more recent contexts, it seems like open season on government efforts these days.  Expect to see a lot more about TWA 800 aired all over again, especially given the number and expertise of the whistleblowers.

Still, I think a healthy skepticism is the order of the day here.  A cover-up of the scale suggested by the whistleblowers would be, as the two ABC reporters note, one of the largest in American history, involving several agencies and scores of people.  It’s not impossible, but it’s not likely, either.

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The 747 disaster in Kabul isn’t a direct corollary since it’s COG likely shifted with the nose still intact. Still, it stalled immediately and fell to the ground like a sack of rocks. It beggars belief that a 747 that had just suffered a catastrophic explosion in the CWT area (assuming nothing happened to the wing spar structure) could possibly continue flying upward for 2000 feet before stalling. Not a pilot but some of my pilot friends were highly skeptical.

A.C. McCloud on June 20, 2013 at 7:59 PM

I used to live in Connecticut and I saw on TV a guy from Long Island who is a commercial fisherman and was out that night on Long Island Sound and he swears he saw what looked like a missle trail that night. IIRC he wasn’t the only one who said they saw it either.

Johnnyreb on June 19, 2013 at 1:31 PM

That night I was watching tv, continuously. They interviewed people who were fishing on boats and saw a plume go up from the ground, after which was the flash. One fisherman made a video of the plume shooting up. I saw it. It was obviously a rocket trail

The video was pulled. People were putting out requests on the internet for anyone who had made a video of the presentations. I had not.

The agent in charge of the coverup FAA investigation insisted the plume was debris falling down, which creates an illusion of a missile shooting up. BS. It was a classic gas plume from a rocket

Perhaps a year later, CSPAN covered a meeting of people who had studied Flight 800 and argued the official story was a cover up. It included a young physicist who was very convincing. A retired military who had been in charge of investigating all missile hits on military planes in his branch of service. The information about the altitude of the plane at the supposed time of impact, according to them was misrepresented, and that a plane in ascent could have been hit by even certain shoulder fired missile.One of the group had been allowed to examine the wreckage and said it matched missile hits. There were also military ships in the area at that time which the physicist plotted.
Strangely, I couldnt find the popular program in CSPAN archives. However, I still remember James Kallstrom (who headed the FBI investigation of the crash) when he slipped up:

The fuel-tank theory of the crash was also disavowed by James Kallstrom, who headed the FBI investigation. He said on CNN on September 11 that the attack that day was “the first act of terrorism in the U.S. since TWA 800.”

He didn’t say that again.

The problem with the coverup, they could not claim the video was fake. There were hundreds of live witnesses to the incident. So they went with the lie and the MSM obliged. Since then the Ruskies have lost a few passenger planes to similar events. Normally on ascent or descent. So obvious

entagor on June 20, 2013 at 8:20 PM

Happy Nomad on June 19, 2013 at 2:30 PM

A Ship’s Commander without any staff? Since when??


S. D. on June 20, 2013 at 9:26 PM

I have a couple of question for you blink.

Have you been to the Calverton hangar where TWA 800 is?
Have you seen any of the wreckage up close and personally touched any of it?

D-fusit on June 20, 2013 at 9:45 PM

Okay then.

D-fusit on June 20, 2013 at 9:48 PM

Nothing to see here move along, move along, no massive conspiracies of government agencies have ever been found to exist, no one is spying on and manipulating citizens. It’s all made up. Always and everywhere. Even that thing with the IRS. And the who Fast and Furious thing. And the bit where the EPA zaps folks who donate to the wrong candidate. Move along folks…

ANV on June 20, 2013 at 10:08 PM

Of course it can. Why would an aircraft need a nose in order to fly ballistically (without needing aerodynamic effect)?

The wings would probably stall, assuming the wings were structurally intact very long. It’s not a missile.

What? This was the NTSB explanation from the beginning of their release. It was explained on the day of their press conference – which I watched live.

Sorry, no. The initial CIA cartoon said the aircraft went to 17,000 feet. The NTSB final report estimates 15,000 to 16,000. They estimated because they didn’t know? Others say it barely got to 14,000. NTSB’s explanation of the streaks was NOT the aircraft itself as the cartoon said, rather burning fuel flowing off the crippled aircraft.

The rest of your questions are like 9/11 Truther stuff

The rest of my questions were about explosive traces found on the aircraft, the existence of a video, and the strange statements made by officials on 9/11. Based on your jackrabbit responses in this thread it’s not surprising you’d compare those to a truther.

The initial explanation for the PETN/RDX was a ‘dog training exercise’. The final report blames the actual people salvaging the aircraft, since they said all traces would be eliminated by sea water after 2 days. As to the video, it’s a legitimate question–is there a video? On the officials, all someone has to do is ask George what he meant. He probably got it confused with Pan Am 103, but just ask.

A.C. McCloud on June 20, 2013 at 10:36 PM

Blink, you might have seen something on TV but you obviously haven’t read the NTSB final report and their analysis and conclusions.

The wings will stall if the angle of attack changes enough. That’s what Ray Lahr and others have said. There are a lot of unknowns about the condition of the remaining end of the aircraft after the explosion. NTSB claims there was a little explosion first which separated the nose, then the airplane flew upwards a few thousand feet intact, then there was a massive fireball. The Eastwind pilot saw nothing but a fireball, then fire falling into the sea, which really doesn’t comport with the Cashill or NTSB theories.

And glad to see you’re not calling the RDX and PETN some kind of truther talk, since it’s one of the things that aroused suspicion for a lot of people on this incident, and something that hasn’t been wrapped up very tight after all these years.

A.C. McCloud on June 20, 2013 at 11:07 PM

Have I demonstrated what? I didn’t definitively claim that a lower voltage system can ignite jet fuel. I simply stated that the fact that a jet engine utilizes a high voltage doesn’t mean that lower voltage couldn’t.

Lower voltage can’t with current jetfuel used.

Are you definitively claiming that a lower voltage system couldn’t ignite jet fuel? Are you definitively claiming that a short circuited 28 volt system couldn’t ignite a container with jet fuel and jet fuel vapor?

Jetfuel has a high BTU rate per gallon vs gasoline. It also provides lubrication properties for engine fuel systems as I said before. This is preferred to other fuels because the energy extracted out of jetfuel vs. other fuels. The disadvantage is it’s harder to ignite. That being said, a very powerful ignition system is required to successfully ignite jetfuel. Hard to believe that a miniscule spark in the main wing fuel tank ignited the fuel/vapor.

This is obvious, but this has nothing to do with the issue of igniting jet fuel via a spark or short circuit from a low voltage powered system.

Starting a jet engine requires consistent repeated ignitions at a high rate. This isn’t possible from a 9 volt battery taser since it requires time to build up to arc voltage via a waterfall-like series of capacitors.

But again, this has nothing to do with simply causing a single ignition of jet fuel or jet fuel vapors within a sealed container.

The Official NTSB report declared a spark occurred in the main wing fuel tank. Something hard to grasp for those of us who work on aircraft for a living. The standard voltage use on aircraft is 28 volts typically because the use of smaller wires that can be used which is weight savings. 747’s have thousands of miles of wiring in them.

Great. This is the answer. Nobody is claiming that a 28 volt electrical system started a jet engine.

blink on June 20, 2013 at 10:48 AM

No, I was saying it ignited the fuel/vapor in the main wing tank as the NTSB claims.

b1jetmech on June 21, 2013 at 12:33 AM

And the sun rises in the east. Why is this important?

Well jeez, you brought up the whole 9 volt battery/taser scenario and immediately declared it can be as powerful to ignite jet fuel then the standard high powered ignition system.

Just because a very powerful ignition system is used to start a jet engine doesn’t mean that a “very powerful” system is needed to ignite jet fuel/vapor.

And you know this because….

They may not have been being precise about a spark or burning short circuit. Any confusion about the two would certainly be understandable for non-electrical types.

Which I done my part but you?

b1jetmech on June 21, 2013 at 9:13 AM

Angle of attack is in reference to the airfoil. You are splitting hairs. Nobody knows precisely what the attitude of the crippled, nose-less aircraft was after the initial separation because the FDR wasn’t recording anymore, so they speculated. Your ridiculous contention that the aircraft itself was responsible for the upward flares, based on the Richard Clarke inspired CIA cartoon was not fully supported in the NTSB’s final report. You failed to address this, just like you are wildly dismissing the traces of explosives as a truthery non story. Methinks you doth protest too much. Personally I’m happy to see this inquiry because for most skeptics it should finally remove all doubt that many of us have had all these years. Maybe the NTSB’s conclusion was spot on — not completely dismissing outright, but let’s see where this goes. We will find out why these former investigators are putting their reps on the line, and hopefully it can all be closed out in some fashion.

A.C. McCloud on June 21, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Blink, again you resort to childish attacks instead of actually addressing things like why they were explaining away the explosive traces as a “dog training exercise”, only to be replaced with the conclusion the the salvage crew was responsible in the final report, which I’m still not sure you’ve read. Your replies on this thread are interesting– I’m relatively confident you are not just some armchair observer here.
As to the skepticism on this in general, read the Flying Magazine blog’s latest piece on it. Meanwhile, you might want to answer the question of why you think these guys are doing this. Is Hank Hughes a “truther”?

A.C. McCloud on June 21, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Ha ha. I’m quite sure I’ve researched this better than you. The only info out there about crew interviews is conspiracy junk.

Like I said, if you have something other than conspiracy stuff to present, than pony up. Otherwise, it’s completely safe for me to assume that you were merely suckered by something that isn’t credible.

blink on June 20, 2013 at 8:57 PM

theres a pretty good chance I have poured over and input into records much more faa/ntsb/manufacturer info then you.
I’ve directly dealt with a lot of paperwork generated by aircraft accidents and have had my work product go to faa/ntsb/nasa (they are part of self reporting process) and know how the system works.
I’ve also seen statements I entered not show up later.
I am not saying the “official” explanation is wrong, I am saying there are things that bother me that also bother many others.
my mind is open, yours is closed.
I do notice I have been fairly polite to you while you have been fairly insulting to me so I will not bother conversing with you anymore.

dmacleo on June 21, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Blink, you think Hughes is a nut or has an agenda, why don’t you elaborate. And if you have insider knowledge why do you keep ignoring anything about the explosive traces and propagating the initial zoom-clomb theory that even NTSB backed off from in their final report? Those are fairly significant reasons for the skepticism, including from many 747 captains and old TWA people. It’s not every domestic aviation investigation that contains a CIA component.

BTW, I thought First Strike’s conclusion was ridiculous and do not believe everything I read on the net, nor would it bother me to have these former investigators shot down if their data is junk. You would do well to not broadbrush everyone who challenges your opinion.

A.C. McCloud on June 21, 2013 at 12:47 PM

I didn’t say that he’s a nut. I said that people often don’t like the way investigations are conducted. They think that certain aspects should have been handled differently. This was a high profile case with an excessive amount of speculation swirling around. This forced it to be handled in an atypical manner in some respect – not surprising.

Just wondered if you saw him and colleagues as truthers as you seem to see anyone here who disagrees with the final conclusion. Thanks.

Oh please. Three different types of trace materials found on three different pieces of the aircraft? Are you saying that it was hit by three different missiles? Also, I’ve never claimed that it wasn’t possible that a bomb was onboard.

Nope, wondering if it’s normal for aircraft to carry traces of explosives in general and why they blamed a dog training exercise initially then dropped it in the final conclusion, blaming military people or salvage ops. Sounds goofy that’s all.

“…after the separation of the nose portion, the remainder of the airplane…ascended from 13,800 to about 15,000 or 16,000 feet,” Final Report

Based largely on computer simulation and witness accounts. The CIA animation you point to said the crippled aircraft piece climbed to 17,000 feet (said also by Clarke in his book), blaming the streaks on the aircraft, whereas the final report chopped off 1000-1500 feet of climb and focused more on fuel spilling out of the wing tanks that caught fire causing the streaks. BTW, how many domestic crashes have ever had CIA involvement?

Hughes and company claim to have some evidence of an outside explosion, which is probably why pathologists are involved here because the final report said the victims did not display characteristics of being hit by ordnance. Guess we’ll see.

All the best,

A.C. McCloud on June 21, 2013 at 5:48 PM

1. It’s laughable that you would even try to claim that I declared that a 9 volt battery taser can be “as powerful” as anything else.

I was merely teaching you that low voltage systems can deliver a very high amount of power for a very brief period of time – which is why a 9 volt battery can deliver such a high voltage arc with a significant amount of current.

2. You are the one that keeps saying that jet engines require a high voltage ignition system as if that means something – as if that means that nothing else could ignite jet fuel.

Since so much of what I said went over your head I’ll try get a little more remedial.

The premise of explaining the importantance of high energy systems was give readers an ideal that jet fuel doesn’t combust from the smallest of sparks. It’s hard to ignite.

You butt in and start carelessly throwing what if’s of low voltage items that just as easily ignite jet fuel. I called you out on it because I worked with the stuff for years have you?

Your comments are almost incoherent, but it seems as if you’re asking how I know that the use of a high voltage ignition system to start jet engines does not automatically mean that a high voltage system is needed in order to ignite jet fuel/vapors at all.

Gee, it’s almost as if you think a high voltage is the only source of energy that can be used to ignite jet fuel. It’s almost as if you think that the World Trade Centers had high voltage ignition systems that ignited the jet fuel as soon as the aircraft struck them.

Guess what, a high voltage ignition system isn’t the only thing needed to make jet fuel burn.

go make a youtube video and demonstrate this to us. I’m only challenging NTSB’s conclusion. You seem to challenge me because you know my job better then I do just like you know more then everyone else here.

Now, go make your youtube video.

b1jetmech on June 21, 2013 at 10:11 PM

I have been skeptical about eyewitness accounts because the plane was 8 to 10 miles off the coast and nobody would even notice it at dusk. People looked when they heard the explosion. Due to the speed of sound at sea level, this would be 40 to 50 seconds after the explosion occurred.

Jasper61 on June 22, 2013 at 1:06 AM

this would be 40 to 50 seconds after the explosion occurred.

Jasper61 on June 22, 2013 at 1:06 AM

I think it would be closer to, or less than, half that.

blink on June 23, 2013 at 4:08 PM

Sound travels at about 3 seconds per kilometer which is about 5 seconds per mile, a decent rule of thumb. I use that to estimate how far away lightning is, since precise measurement is not required.

8 to 10 miles would equate to what time delay even ignoring the minor increment of a plane 2 or 3 miles up? Now if you think the plane was only 4 or 5 miles away from observers, then you should say so because then your presumption would fit to known physics.

As far as someone looking in the right direction, that is possible, but usually (excluding folks who like to watch high-flying aircraft) their focus would not be on the sliver of an airplane miles away. The flash of the explosion would likely be the first indicator that something has happened and the arrival of any blast sounds would be the second.

Russ808 on June 23, 2013 at 5:21 PM

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