August 27, 1999
Witnesses From Above
Did a Passenger Aboard Plane
Above Flight 800 See Possible
By Jerry Cimisi
As twilight settled over the waters immediately
south of Moriches on the night of July 17,
1996, moments before TWA Flight 800 would
hurtle flaming down into the Atlantic, Navy
Chief Petty Officer Dwight Brumley was on US
Air Flight 217 from Charlotte, North Carolina
to Providence, Rhode Island. Brumley, an
electronic warfare technican was headed to the
naval base at Newport.
"I was seated on the right side of the plane," he
said in a phone interview from Pensacola,
Florida. "Then my attention was caught by a
small plane that seemed close below us -- I
could see the flashing lights; I guessed it was
about 500 feet below. I thought it was a private
plane and I thought it was pretty close."
Radar data from the National Transportation's
Safety Board's public exhibit on TWA Flight
800, shows that this "small plane" Brumley
spotted was a Navy P-3, a single prop aircraft
used to hunt for submarines. U.S. Air Flight
217, on a course south to north by northeast
would fly over the track of the P-3, which was
coming from the northeast, going southwest.
The P-3 was one of the military craft within 10
to 12 miles offshore that night, engaged in, the
FBI later said, classified maneuvers.
Brumley, who served in the Navy from
1972-1998, now a teacher in Pensacola, said
his first assessment that the plane with the
blinking lights was a private plane, made him
judge its distance as closer than it must have
been. He was looking at a larger plane at a
greater distance; that perspective made the
span of the plane, as marked by the lights at the
edges of each wing, seem small.
But it was what Brumley saw after noting the
P-3 that was startling.
"About 10 seconds later, off to my right, I saw
what appeared to be a flare, rising, below us.
That's what it looked like, a flare, an emergency
At this point the US Air flight was at
approximately 21,700 feet and descending. The
P-3 was at about 20,00 feet. And, coming from
the southwest, headed east by northeast, was
Flight 800, climbing at 13,750 feet.
"It looked like it was arching upward," said
Brumley of the "flare." Again, Brumley was
seated on the right side of the plane. Flight 800,
coming from the northwest, was not
immediately in Brumley's field of vision.
The streak moved from the right side (south) of
Brumley's field of vision to his left (north) --
travelling faster than Flight 217, which was now
descending, at about 420 knots per hour.
"With what I know now, it seems it was not a
flare," said Brumley.
A book published this summer on the Flight
800 investigation, In the Blink of An Eye, by
AP reporter Pat Milton, recounted Brumley's
testimony, but Milton did not interview
Brumley; apparently she got his testimony
through the FBI. The grapevine has it that she is
a personal friend of former FBI agent James
Kallstrom, who at that time was in charge of the
Bureau's Flight 800 investigation.
While saying that Brumley's testimony seemed
to indicate a missile sighting at the time, Milton's
book in so many words appears to conclude
that Brumley's "flare" was Flight 800 after it
exploded, even though at the time Brumley first
saw the flare it was definitely southward, while
Flight 800 was north of Flight 217
"I guess I saw it a couple of seconds," said
Brumley. "It arched upward, then it began to
descend." As the streak of light moves across
Brumley's field of vision, heading northward
past him, again faster than his own plane, "it
became a ball of fire," he said, and then "in a
couple of seconds a larger ball of fire, that
appeared to be heading downward."
Brumley added that the spectacle was strictly
visual. He heard nothing, nor could he feel any
reverberation through the air.
He turned to the passenger behind him, James
Nugent, who was headed home to Providence,
and asked, "Did you see that?"
Nugent said he had indeed seen an explosion.
In a phone interview, Nugent said that, like
Brumley, he had neither heard anything or felt
anything. Which is probably why no other
passengers on the plane noted anything amiss in
Nugent said, "It was getting dark, so how many
people look out the window into the dark?"
Brumley also remarked on the increasing dark.
Although it was only about ten minutes after
sunset, Nugent and Brumley were looking to
the eastward sky, the portion of the sky the light
first leaves. "It was definitely dark enough so
you couldn't see the water," said Brumley.
Unlike Brumley, Nugent had not seen the streak
of light heading northward through the sky; but
apparently he had fixed upon Flight 800, up
ahead. "I could see the cabin lights of a plane. I
was watching it for 45 seconds, maybe a full
At this point Flight 217 was about 8,000 feet
above Flight 800.
Nugent added that the plane he was watching,
which was going eastward and away from
Flight 217, then seemed to swing, in a slow,
wide arc westward; it then returned, to its
eastward course. He said he did not think it
was a trick of perspective caused by the
different courses of the two craft.
Then, said Nugent, there was a big explosion,
an orange fireball, followed by a second
explosion. "A second or two after that, we
were over it. It was under and past us."
In Milton's book, she wrote that Brumley had
seen the fireball hit the water. Brumley says that
this it not so. He and Nugent asserted that
Flight 217 left the plummeting Flight 800 behind
As was the case with Brumley, Nugent was not
interviewed directly for the book. Brumley said
that he found out about the destruction of Flight
800 as he listened on the radio of the rented car
he was driving from Providence to Newport. At
Newport he called a local TV station. The next
day he was interviewed by the Naval
Investigatory Service; on the same day, Nugent
was being interviewed by the FBI. Brumley was
not interviewed by the FBI until the following
week, at which time he was in Pensacola.
"They seemed to be asking me a set list of
questions," said Brumley. "I felt they were
leading me to say it was a missile. I could not
say to them I was certain it was a missile I had
Brumley added there was a "humorous" aspect
to the interview. "As it was concluding, the FBI
got a call. There was a bank robbery in
progress and they abruptly left."
After Brumley's first call to the Providence TV
station, he had had no further contact with the
media. This article is the first direct interview
with him, and with Nugent.
It is often asserted that Flight 800 was brought
down by a naval missile gone awry. Brumley
discussed the likelihood of this -- or rather, the
unlikelihood of this being covered up these
three years since the tragedy.
"If you have an AEGIS class cruiser with
several hundred people on it, you might take the
crew and threaten them on the point of death,
stress something about national security,
whatever, and that might work for a while, but
knowing human nature it's hard to believe that
someone would not have talked after all this
time. You're not talking about a military vessel
running over somebody's fishing apparatus;
you're talking about the destruction of a
"And if you try to impress on all these people
the necessity of security, I don't think a lot of
them would care about that. They wouldn't
know what a security clearance means and
what it means to get one. I had a security
clearance, I worked with a lot of classified
operations. The only way I could see it would
be possible for this to be a naval accident, and
have it continued to be contained would be if
you had, say, a half dozen SEALs out there,
testing something new and it all went wrong.
The SEALs live, eat and breath security. They
wouldn't talk. But other than that, I can't see it."
It was interesting that Brumley brought up the
SEALs, which are part of the Naval Warfare
Group. In March, 1997, President Clinton
signed an Executive Order taking away federal
whistleblower status from the Naval Warfare
Group. The reason: national security.
* * *
One of the groups of private citizens that is
conducting its own investigation into the tragedy
of Flight 800, is FIRO (Flight 800 Independent
Research Organization), which, along with the
Associated Retired Aviation Professionals
(ARAP) is holding a press conference on
August 27 in Washington. Thomas Stalcup, a
physics undergraduate, who founded FIRO, is
promising to reveal a new analysis of radar data
in regards to Flight 800 that will further point to
government complicity in the accident.
One fact he says this analysis shows is that the
radar hits of the breakup of Flight 800 show
two objects travelling at Mach 2. Mach 1, or
the speed of sound is 714 (at sea level) mph.
Before it exploded, Flight 800 was travelling at
380 knots per hour. A object travelling at Mach
2 might be... a missile?
And would having two such objects indicate
two missiles? In the summer of 1998, retired
Navy Commander William S. Donaldson, in
collaboration with ARAP, made public a long
paper on various aspects of the Flight 800
investigation. From eyewitness reports,
Donaldson concluded that two missiles brought
down Flight 800.
"These two Mach 2 objects agree with
Donaldson's triangulation," said Stalcup.
But even though these seem to affirm
Donaldson's hypothesis, the Commander
himself is cautious. "Unfortunately it's not
definite proof," he said. "There are only two
radar hits showing those objects; you need
more than that to be certain you're seeing
something genuine. And unfortunately, if you are
tracking missiles on radar, you're not going to
get many hits. For instance, a Stinger missile
would take about 11 seconds to reach its
maximum height. The Islip radar sweep is once
every 4.7 seconds. So if you got a hit just when
the missile was airborne and then at midpoint
and then at the end of its flight that would be the
best you could do -- three hits."
Stalcup had calculated the speed of the objects
by comparing the distance between radar hits
against the time elapsed. But, Donaldson,
stressed, it is possible the first hit might be an
object different from the second hit. "You could
be getting the mast of a ship, a seagull. It could
be a missile, but you can't say for certain."
At any rate, Stalcup promises he will detail
something very startling from the radar data on
August 27. The conference takes place at
12:30 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in