From Aviation Week May 17, 1999

 NTSB Re-interviews Flight 800 Witnesses

 James T. McKenna/Washington

 Safety investigators are wrapping up their review of hundreds of eyewitness
 accounts of the July 17, 1996, crash of TWA Flight 800, several officials
 close to the investigation said, including the re-interviewing of witnesses
 who were in the best positions that night to see whether a missile struck
 the 747-100.

 The wrap-up work by the Witness Group for that accident investigation comes
 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 Flight 800
 was downed by a bomb, that they hindered and mistreated officials from other
 agencies who argued that a problem on the aircraft was more likely, and that
 the FBI violated basic precepts of forensic science and criminal science in
 investigating the crash.

 "The leadership of the FBI was a disaster," Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa),
 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 board's Flight
 800 crash investigation. NTSB officials hope to conclude the probe by
 year-end, a step that most likely will be taken without identifying a
 specific cause for the explosion of the center fuel tank that most officials
 believe ripped the 747 apart in midair.

 The Witness Group includes one representative each from the FAA, Boeing, the
 Air Line Pilots Assn., TWA and the International Assn. of Machinists, which
 represents the airline's mechanics. For the last year, the members of that
 group have been going over more than 2,500 documents containing notes from
 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 those
 documents, categorize the information in them and assemble them into a
 verified database that can be searched easily for common threads in
 eyewitness accounts. But they have re-interviewed some eyewitnesses who
 appear to have been in the best position to have observed Flight 800's crash
 sequence in real time and to provide a credible account of it.

 The Witness Group, for instance, has re-interviewed a number of pilots in
 the air that night who might have seen Flight 800. On Mar. 26, group members
 traveled to Charlotte, N.C., to re-interview the captain of an Eastwind
 Airlines 737 that was passing over Long Island at the moment the 747
 exploded. The 737 was just above Flight 800's altitude of 13,800 ft. and
 slightly behind the 747 at the time.

 Group members also met with CIA officials Apr. 30 to get briefed on that
 agency's analysis, done for the FBI, that concluded that most eyewitnesses
 could not have seen the initial explosion of Flight 800, only its immediate
 aftermath. The most surprising information from the briefing, several
 individuals said, was the CIA officials' contention that they told the FBI
 as early as December 1996 that there appeared to be no evidence that a
 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 used to
 record the notes of an eyewitness interview. The notes are not direct
 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 included local
 law enforcement personnel who turned over notes to the FBI.

 Some of the interviews in the days immediately following the crash, however,
 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 assistant
 director in charge of the FBI's New York office.

 Safety board officials said the organization of the documents was unclear.
 Individual documents, for instance, do not identify whether they record the
 interview of a new witness or the follow-up questioning of one previously
 interviewed. The Witness Group has tried to sort the documents, separating
 accounts of witnesses who actually saw the 747 during the crash sequence
 from those who most likely saw just the aftermath on the surface of the

 To a limited extent, officials close to the probe said, group members have
 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.