Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

Terrorist Stool Pigeons latest participants in probe.

July 19, 1996

Associated Press 

New York – From the bottom of the continental shelf to the highest levels of Washington, Americans yesterday searched for evidence the nation’s second-deadliest aviation disaster was also its deadliest terrorist attack.

The FBI stopped short of declaring the crash of TWA Flight 800 a crime, though the bureau announced a “massive” investigation to find out what caused the huge explosion that brought down the 747.

“We have a lot of things that look like terrorism,” said James Kallstrum, head of the FBI’s New York office.

Assuming the disaster may have been deliberate, agents began contacting informants in the terrorist underworld, according to a federal investigator who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

“It would be foolish not to be out there seeking every bit of information we can, from any corner,” the source said.

 Unidentified sources quoted yesterday by ABC News said a federal agency received a claim of responsibility for the TWA explosion from a group tied to Ramzi Yousef.  He is now on federal trial in New York City, accused of plotting to blow up 12 West Coast-bound airliners in a single day in 1995.

The group said the TWA explosion was in retaliation for Yousef’s capture, ABC said.  An FBI spokesman refused to comment on the report.

Yousef, 29, who says he is innocent and is representing himself at the trial, is also accused of bombing a Philippines Airlines flight in December 1994, killing a Japanese passenger.  Authorities also believe Yousef was the mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. 

Kallstrom told reporters that the FBI would not take control of the TWA investigation from the National Transportation Safety Board unless more evidence in found.  He urged people to call a toll-free number with tips, and gave the Internet address for the FBI home page.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said the government has been strengthening security at U.S. airports since last summer and is prepared to upgrade it further is needed.

“The FAA’s security program will be modified as needed to ensure the safety of the traveling public, “ David Hinson said yesterday.

Rain, wind and fog hampered efforts to recover the wreckage that Kallstrom said might contain vital clues to what destroyed the plane Wednesday night and killed all 230 people aboard.

NTSB Vice Chairman Robert Francis said divers did not go into the water yesterday.  Seas were so choppy that some search vessel crew members were getting sick.  “Its though stuff out there,” he said.

Sonar detected a 15-foot spike on the ocean floor – possibly part of the plane, Francis said.  But the search had to be suspended for fear the sonar equipment, which trails on cables behind the ship, would be lost in the storm.

There was no sign of the plane’s “black boxes,” which record pilots’ conversations and the plane’s operations.

Suffolk County Medical Examiner Charles Wetli said that most of the victims suffered fatal injuries in the air and that while some may have been conscious when they hit the water, drowning was an unlikely cause of death.

“It looks like a great many of them died upon impact with the water,” he said.  “That is not to say that serious injury or death did not occur in the sky itself.”

Most suffered blunt injuries “like those in a super high-speed car crash,” he said.  One or two appeared to have inhaled water, but that was probably a reflex action, he said.

Flight 800’s 230 deaths ranked behind the 273 killed in an American Airlines DC-10 crash at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 1979.  The nation’s worst terrorist attack was last year’s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, where 168 died.


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  Robert E. Donaldson.  All rights reserved