Dan's Papers

August 27, 1999 

Witnesses From Above 

     Did a Passenger Aboard Plane
     Above Flight 800 See Possible
            Missile Streak? 

  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
  the sky. 

  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
  commercial airliner. 

  "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
  Washington, D.C.€