|From Aviation Week May 17, 1999
NTSB Re-interviews Flight
James T. McKenna/Washington
Safety investigators are wrapping up their review of hundreds
accounts of the July 17, 1996, crash of TWA Flight 800, several
close to the investigation said, including the re-interviewing
who were in the best positions that night to see whether a missile
The wrap-up work by the Witness Group for that accident investigation
as the key federal agencies continued arguing over the conduct
of the probe
into Flight 800's crash into the Atlantic off East Moriches,
N.Y. The crash
killed all 230 on board.
At a Senate hearing May 10, present and former government employees
testified that FBI officials seemed determined to conclude that
was downed by a bomb, that they hindered and mistreated officials
agencies who argued that a problem on the aircraft was more likely,
the FBI violated basic precepts of forensic science and criminal
investigating the crash.
"The leadership of the FBI was a disaster," Sen. Charles Grassley
who chaired the hearing, said.
The Witness Group's reexamination of the eyewitness accounts of
the crash is
one of the last major tasks yet to be completed in the safety
800 crash investigation. NTSB officials hope to conclude the
year-end, a step that most likely will be taken without identifying
specific cause for the explosion of the center fuel tank that
believe ripped the 747 apart in midair.
The Witness Group includes one representative each from the FAA,
Air Line Pilots Assn., TWA and the International Assn. of Machinists,
represents the airline's mechanics. For the last year, the members
group have been going over more than 2,500 documents containing
FBI interviews of people who claim to have seen the crash on
the evening of
July 17, 1996.
Their main goal, NTSB and other officials said, has been to sort
documents, categorize the information in them and assemble them
verified database that can be searched easily for common threads
eyewitness accounts. But they have re-interviewed some eyewitnesses
appear to have been in the best position to have observed Flight
sequence in real time and to provide a credible account of it.
The Witness Group, for instance, has re-interviewed a number of
the air that night who might have seen Flight 800. On Mar. 26,
traveled to Charlotte, N.C., to re-interview the captain of an
Airlines 737 that was passing over Long Island at the moment
exploded. The 737 was just above Flight 800's altitude of 13,800
slightly behind the 747 at the time.
Group members also met with CIA officials Apr. 30 to get briefed
agency's analysis, done for the FBI, that concluded that most
could not have seen the initial explosion of Flight 800, only
aftermath. The most surprising information from the briefing,
individuals said, was the CIA officials' contention that they
told the FBI
as early as December 1996 that there appeared to be no evidence
missile struck Flight 800.
Much of the group's work has been rudimentary. The FBI turned
over more than
2,500 individual documents, called FD-302s, for the bureau form
record the notes of an eyewitness interview. The notes are not
statements of each eyewitness' account but the interviewer's
version of that
account. The FBI fielded more than 1,000 agents to canvas the
New York area
for clues to what might have happened, but interviewers also
law enforcement personnel who turned over notes to the FBI.
Some of the interviews in the days immediately following the crash,
were done by FBI agents in league with analysts from the Defense
Intelligence Agency's Missile and Space Intelligence Center,
who were "among
the U.S. government's foremost experts on shoulder-launched surface-to-air
missiles," Lewis Schiliro testified at the hearing. He is the
director in charge of the FBI's New York office.
Safety board officials said the organization of the documents
Individual documents, for instance, do not identify whether they
interview of a new witness or the follow-up questioning of one
interviewed. The Witness Group has tried to sort the documents,
accounts of witnesses who actually saw the 747 during the crash
from those who most likely saw just the aftermath on the surface
To a limited extent, officials close to the probe said, group
attempted to verify the positions of the eyewitnesses on the
night of the
crash to assess whether they had a clear view of Flight 800.