WITNESS GROUP FACTUAL REPORT
TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD
OCTOBER 16, 1997
GROUP CHAIRMAN'S FACTUAL REPORT OF INVESTIGATION
B. WITNESS GROUP
The group met at Calverton, New York, on November 12, 1996 through April 6, 1997. The following group members participated in the investigation.
On July 17, 1996, at 2031 EDT, a Boeing 747-131, N93119, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, about 8 miles south of East Moriches, New York, after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The airplane was being operated on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan under the provisions of Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 121, on a regularly scheduled flight plan to Charles De Gaule International Airport (CDG), Paris, France as Trans World Airlines (TWA Flight 800). The airplane was destroyed by explosion, fire, and impact forces with the ocean. All 230 people aboard were killed.
D. DETAILS OF THE INVESTIGATION
During the initial stage of the investigation, as part of the operations group functions, several visits to areas along the south shore of Long Island were made by the operations group chairman for the purpose of estimating the visibility environment. The visits were made at times when light and weather conditions were similar to the conditions present at the time of the accident. They were made on July 20, and July 21, 1996. Based on those observations, visibility was ascertained to be limited insofar as being able to see a transport category aircraft climbing out the departure corridor used by TWA flight 800. When an aircraft was visually tracked from shortly after departure from JFK, visual tracking was possible. When an aircraft was not visually tracked as explained above, visual acquisition was difficult.
On July 19, 1997, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator, Mr. Bruce Magladry formed a witness group which was to include representatives from TWA, ALPA, and FAA. The group was to have begun work on July 20, 1996.
Following this initial group formation, on July 19, 1996, FBI agent Robert Knapp, informed Mr. Magladry that the FBI was not prepared to share any information outside the NTSB, so parties could not be involved with this group. In addition, Mr. Magladry was informed that he would not be permitted to conduct any interviews because the FBI did not want conflicting information. The parties were notified and the formation of the witness group was not continued.
On July 21, 1996, at the NTSB evening progress meeting, Mr. Magladry, and Mr. Wiemeyer, the NTSB operations group chairman, met with assistant United States Attorney Valerie Caproni. In that meeting, Ms. Caproni reiterated that no interviews were to be conducted by the NTSB, but the NTSB could review FBI supplied documents provided no notes were taken and no copies made.
On July 22, 1996, an agreement was reached with the FBI, that interviews could be conducted by the NTSB, but would be done under the direction and in the company of the FBI, and all information would be kept private with no notes being taken by Mr. Magladry. According to Mr. Magladry, this caused him concern, because in his view, the NTSB is mandated to make information collected during an investigation part of the public record. The FBI has no such mandate.
On July 24, 1996, Mr. Magladry ended his witness information gathering efforts.
Following negotiations with the FBI by the NTSB Investigator In Charge, a witness group was formed on November 10, 1996, and convened on November 12, 1996, at the Grumman/Naval facilities located at Calverton, Long Island. Parties represented on the group were TWA, ALPA, IFFA, IAM, Boeing, and the FAA. At that time, the FBI supplied sanitized (minus identifying information) witness documents for review. These consisted of ground witnesses, airborne witnesses, service crew, maintenance personnel, cargo service personnel and ground service personnel from JFK and Athens, Greece.
Following review of the documents, a copy of those documents the witness group determined needed further clarification for the purpose of the accident investigation, were returned to the FBI for detailed information so the necessary persons could be contacted. Following procedural discussion with the FBI concerning this cumbersome method, the FBI delivered unsanitized documents to the Safety Board Witness Group on November 14, 1996. Some information was clarified by phone and interviews were conducted with others including TWA mechanics, Ogden fuel personnel, TWA ramp service personnel TWA ramp management, a TWA Boeing 747 check engineer, and TWA baggage handlers.
Summaries were made of all pertinent witness information and the interviews were recorded by a stenographer. Interview summaries were made and a transcript of each interview completed by the stenographic service.
On December 10, 1996, the FBI delivered additional unsanitized witness related documents. The documents were reviewed and summaries made of pertinent documents. This procedure carried out with all pertinent FBI documents, preserved the information for Safety Board records since once they were returned to the FBI no record of content would be in the Safety Board files concerning the events and people involved.
Between January 11, and 15, 1997, the witness group interviewed pertinent New York Air National Guard (NYANG) personnel who were on duty during the time period in which the TWA 800 accident occurred. The interviews were with a C-130 crew, HH-60 crew, and other NYANG personnel who viewed events concerning the loss of TWA 800. The interviews were recorded and transcripts and summaries prepared.
On January 17, 1997, the FBI provided the witness group with a copy of an infrared tape made by a Navy P-3 crew following the loss of TWA 800. The tape provided no additional information pertinent to the investigation.
On March 10, 1997, the FBI provided approximately 2,700 additional documents to the witness group. (This was in addition to several thousand documents already supplied.) A review of the documents was conducted. From these documents and the previous information, additional summaries were generated, and a matrix was developed to provide an overview of witness information.
After reviewing all documents supplied, reinterviewing people as necessary, and preparing applicable summaries, the witness group went into recess on April 6, 1997, with the understanding that if additional material became available, the group would be reconvened.
II. NAVY P-3 INFORMATION
A visit was made to Brunswick Naval Air Station by the group chairman. He was accompanied by an FBI agent. During the visit, the P-3 crew from the aircraft, which was flying over the area during the time of the loss of TWA 800, was interviewed by the NTSB, the aircraft was examined, copies of flight schedules for the period encompassing the TWA accident were obtained, and a review was conducted of the maintenance records pertaining to failure of the P-3 transponder which occurred during the in- transit flight on July 17, 1996. From this portion of the investigation, verification was established that the P-3 aircraft involved was a standard anti-submarine configured P-3C en route to a preplanned and scheduled exercise with a submarine off the Virginia coast and had over flown the accident site prior to the accident. The flight was several miles to the south when they heard of the accident via air traffic control radio communication. The aircraft commander turned the aircraft around and descended to offer assistance if needed. After about 15 minutes in the accident area, it was determined by others that the P-3 was not needed and the flight continued to the south to conduct the scheduled exercise.
The P-3 had suffered a transponder failure en rout prior to the TWA event and the on board technician attempted to affect repairs. He was unsuccessful and the unit was removed when the aircraft returned to Brunswick, and sent to depot level maintenance
It was also learned that the only ordinance (or what could be construed as ordinance) aboard the aircraft was deployable anti-submarine warfare sensors. No offensive, defensive or other types of weapons were carried.
III. 'DOCKERS' PHOTOGRAPH
A copy of a photograph taken by a witness, Linda Cabot, at Dockers Restaurant on Long Island was supplied by the FBI along with the other documents. The photograph had a light spot in one upper corner which was of interest as to its evidentiary significance. The witness group made a trip to Dockers, which was closed for the season, and verified that the photograph was taken at that location on a heading of approximately 030 degrees magnetic heading and that the TWA 800 accident site was approximately 200 degrees magnetic heading 10 miles from the restaurant. The photographer supplied the witness group with information that the photograph was taken between 2020 and 2040 EDT, July 17, 1996. The camera used was a Cannon EOS 7000, the film was Fuji 35MM ASA 400, and the lens was a telephoto 35-80 set at 35 wide angle. Further analysis of the photograph was attempted by Safety Board personnel and no determination as to content could be achieved, partly due to the material being a copy. A copy of the FBI analysis was requested on December 19, 1996, but has not been received.
IV. WITNESS MATRIX
A witness matrix work sheet was created for the purpose of charting witness information. The work sheet was divided into two parts. Part 'A' was documentation concerning light streaks and part 'B' was documentation concerning explosions. Each witness was assigned a location code for the purpose of translating their location to a grid map.
According to information provided by other NTSB investigative groups, the time between the initial onset of the accident sequence and the evolution of the fireball was approximately 50 seconds. A review of witness data provided information that the persons who observed streaks observed them in conjunction with the fireball. None of the witnesses, who saw streaks, said they observed the accident aircraft and were unaware of the origin of the "fireball" until after the accident.
The following is the information derived from the database:
* The database contains information concerning 458 witness interviews. * Based on the data, 183 witnesses said they saw a streak of light, 201 said they saw one or more explosions, 100 said they heard one or more explosions, and 339 said they saw a fireball. * Of the 183 who observed a streak of light, 102 gave information about the origin of the streak. Six said the streak originated from the air, and 96 said that it originated from the surface. Of the 96 who said it originated from the surface, 40 said it originated from the sea and 10 said it originated from land. * Of the 183 who said they saw a streak of light, 146 provided a description of the path taken by the streak. Seventy-seven said it was ascending, 11 said it was descending, 47 said it both ascended and descended, 9 described it as level, and 2 said it both ascended and was level. * Sixty-four witnesses reported a compass direction of travel or gave sufficient information so that a direction of travel could be resolved. It was not possible to refine direction due to variance in witness location. North 7 Southeast 12 West 18 Northeast 2 South 7 Northwest 3 East 12 Southwest 3 * Color of the streak. Forty-four said it was red, 33 said it was orange, 23 said it was orange/red, 24 said it was white, 2 said it was white/orange, 7 said it was yellow, 7 said it was yellow/orange, 2 said it was white/orange, and one said it was yellow/red. Finally, one witness said the streak of light was green. * One hundred twenty-eight witnesses reported an immediate end of the streak, 85 described it ending in an explosion, 32 said it ended in a fireball, and 11 said it ended in a flash. * Of the 201 witnesses who said they saw an explosion, 39 said they saw 2 or more explosions. Of the 39 who said they saw more than 1 explosion, 11 said they saw 2 explosions, and one saw 3 explosions. * Of the witnesses who said they saw an explosion, 38 reported it was orange, 17 said it was red, 16 said it was orange/red, 7 said white, 7 said yellow/orange, 2 said yellow, 2 said yellow/red, 1 said orange/red, and one said it was white/yellow/orange. * Of the witnesses who said they saw a second explosion, 5 said it was orange, 3 said it was orange/red, 3 said white, 3 said yellow, 2 said red, and 1 yellow/orange. * One hundred witnesses said they heard an explosion. Of these, 23 heard 1 explosion, 13 heard two explosions, 12 heard 3, 2 heard 4 explosions, and 3 said they heard 5. One additional witness said he/she heard 3 or 4 explosions, and another heard 5 or 6 explosions. * Three hundred thirty-nine people said they saw a fireball. Of that number, 78 said it was orange in color, 30 said it was red, 43 said it was orange/red, 5 said yellow, 14 yellow/orange, and 4 said the color was white. * Of the 339 people who said they saw a fireball, 80 said they saw a water impact and 69 said they did not view a water impact. Translation of the matrix data into percentages provided the following view of the data: * 39.95% of the witnesses said they saw a streak of light. * 43.88% of the witnesses said they saw on or more explosions. * 21.83% of the witnesses said they heard one or more explosions. * 74.01% of the witnesses said they saw a fireball. Of the 183 witnesses who observed a streak of light, * 55.73% gave information about the origin of the streak. Of the 102 witnesses who gave information about the streak, * 05.88% said it originated from the air. * 94.11% said it originated from the surface. Of the 96 witnesses who said it originated from the surface, * 41.66% said it originated from the sea. * 10.41% said it originated from the land. Of the 183 witnesses who said they saw a streak of light, * 79.78% provided a description of the path taken by the streak * 52.73% said it was ascending. * 07.53% said it was descending. * 32/19% said it was both ascending and descending. * 06.16% said it was level. * 01.36% said it was both level and ascending. Of the 69 witnesses (37.70%) who reported a compass direction of travel, * 10.14% indicated north. * 02.89% indicated northeast. * 17.39% indicated east. * 10.14% indicated south. * 04.34% indicated southwest. * 26.08% indicated west. * 04.34% indicated northwest. Of the 144 witnesses (78.68%) who reported a color of the streak, * 30.55% said it was red. * 22.91% said it was orange. * 15.97% said it was orange/red. * 16.66% said it was white. * 01.38% said it was white/orange. * 04.86% said it was yellow. * 04.86% said it was yellow/orange. * 00.69% said it was yellow/red. * 00.69% said it was green. An immediate end to the streak was reported by 128 witnesses (69.94%). * 66.40% described it as ending in an explosion. * 25.00% described it as ending in a fireball. * 08.93% described it as ending in a flash. Of the 201 witness who said they saw an explosion, * 19.40% said they saw more than 1 explosion. * 28.20% said they saw 2 explosions. * 02.56% said they saw 3 explosions. Of the 201 witness who said they saw an explosion, * 18.90% said it was orange. * 08.45% said it was red. * 07.96% said it was orange/red. * 03.48% said it was white. * 03.48% said it was yellow/orange. * 00.99% said it was orange/red. * 00.99% said it was white/yellow/orange. Of the witnesses who said they saw a second explosion, * 1.282% said it was orange. * 07.69% said it was orange/red. * 07.69% said it was white. * 07.69% said it was yellow. * 05.21% said it was red. * 02.56% said it was yellow/orange. Of the 100 witnesses who said they heard an explosion, * 23.00% heard 1 explosion. * 13.00% heard 2 explosions. * 12.00% heard d3 explosions. Of the 339 witnesses who said they saw a fireball, * 23.00% said it was orange. * 08.84% said it was red. * 12.68% said it was orange/red. * 01.47% said it was yellow. * 04.12% said it was yellow/orange. * 01.17% said it was white. * 23.59% said they saw water impact. * 20.05% said they did not view water impact. V. AIRBORNE WITNESS MATRIX There were several airborne witnesses. Their observations are recorded on the chart below. Except for summaries 070-29,30, and 52, which was the Air National Guard helicopter crew, no airborne witness observed streaks.
During interviews with persons who fueled the aircraft, it was learned that one of the fuelers had observed what he thought was a fuel leak on this aircraft on a previous refueling. This was reported to TWA maintenance in accordance with normal procedures. During interviews with TWA maintenance personnel, it was learned that the aircraft had been examined following the report of a fuel leak and a fitting had been tightened. No further evidence of a leak could be found following that corrective action.
Maintenance persons from TWA said that following a long flight, the wings are super cooled from being exposed to cold temperatures for a number of hours. Because of this, condensation builds up on the wings after the aircraft arrives and they often drip. It is not unusual for the drips to smell like fuel because of venting from the engines.
According to information obtained from the United States Navy, undersea Surveillance, the TWA accident site is not within their coverage capability, except for large seismic events.
The National Marine Fisheries Service provided a listing of all fishing vessels at sea during the time period encompassing the accident. No evidence was derived from this source which was pertinent to the aircraft accident.
The United States Department of Transportation provided surface vessel location and movement data for the period from June 30 through July 17, 1996. No information was derived from this data which was pertinent to the investigation.