Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

Agence France Presse

Tuesday, August 22 5:29 AM SGT

Independent panel criticizes TWA Flight 800 crash report


An independent panel of experts on Monday lambasted the results of an official investigation into the 1996 fatal TWA Flight 800 crash, and maintained its theory the plane was downed by a missile.

According to the Flight 800 Independent Research Organization (FIRO), the official investigators had concealed crucial pieces of information from a final report to be presented Tuesday and Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report is expected to argue that the crash which killed 230 people off Long Island, New York, was most likely caused by an explosion in the plane's central fuel tank.

Many former investigators, military experts, and airline pilots continue to insist the Boeing was shot down by a missile.

"Thirteen witnesses have seen an object strike the plane," FIRO president Tom Stalcup said in a press conference here.

Stalcup also argued against the investigators' theory that the plane had gained altitude following an initial explosion.

"The magic climb theory contradicts the laws of physics, the radar data which recorded the flight path, and the witnesses accounts," he said.

Moreover, Stalcup continued, there were numerous ships within five kilometers (3.6 miles) of the area, but only one that had never been identified and which continued on its path as if nothing had happened.

Aviation consultant engineer Glen Schulze, who analyzed the so-called "black boxes," also claimed that information was missing.

"Four seconds of data has been removed from the Flight Data Recorder when the FBI was in charge of the investigation," he said.

Lending his weight to the argument of possible foul play, retired United Airlines pilot Richard Russell claimed he had received a copy of radar data showing a small object flying next to the plane that indicated a possible missile.

"An (air traffic) controller has identified the target as potentially being a missile," Russell said, declining to identify his source of information.

NTSB investigators have explained that bystanders may have been looking at an arc of fire in the sky that occurred after the airplane broke in two and a part of the fuselage was briefly
hurtled into the sky in flames.

The FBI initially tried to probe the missile theory, but later abandoned it and withdrew from the investigation altogether in the fall of 1997.

Six months after the catastrophe, the NTSB concluded that chemical analyses of metal from the fuselage showed no proof of damage caused by a bomb or missile.

Nevertheless, after four years of recovering debris from the ocean floor and partially reconstructing the plane in a huge hangar, investigators are preparing to close this most mysterious
chapter in aviation history -- but without giving a definitive answer.

"It's a mystery, but a manufactured mystery," insisted Graeme Sephton, a projects engineer at the University of Massachusetts office of Information Technologies.

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