Was there a government cover-up? 
Former naval officer says airliner brought down by missile 

By David M. Bresnahan
© 1999 

This is the second of a two-part series on the downing
of TWA Flight 800. Part one describes efforts by the
federal government to stop independent investigators
from exposing evidence found in the crash for TWA
flight 800. 

A former naval officer says TWA flight 800 was
downed by a shoulder-fired missile three years
ago. He claims the federal government is doing all
it can to cover up what really happened -- and
stop his investigation. 

Retired Navy Cmdr. William S. Donaldson, III is
an aviation mishap analyst and former naval
crash investigator with extensive experience. He
has been investigating the crash for over two years
with other concerned, retired aviation
professionals. Their organization, Associated
Retired Aviation Professionals, has issued a report
to congress on the evidence they found. 

That report was recently updated with additional
information which Cmdr. Donaldson claims
proves the government has something to hide. The
new evidence clearly shows that the FBI, National
Transportation Safety Board, the Department of
Justice, and the Clinton administration knew
within hours of the crash that the plane was
brought down by a missile. 

Cmdr. Donaldson just returned from a Long
Island courtroom where he was a consultant in a
case he says shows how desperate the government
is to cover up the crash evidence. 

Journalist James Sanders, 53, and his wife,
Elizabeth, 52, investigated the crash of TWA Flight
800 and presented a theory of government
cover-up in a book, news articles and in
interviews. The two were convicted last week of
conspiring to steal evidence from the wreckage of
the controversial flight. 

The couple claims they were given the evidence by
a TWA pilot for independent testing. The test they
paid for determined a piece of cloth from the
wreckage had the ingredients of missile fuel on it.
The government would not permit any discussion
of the crash, evidence of a missile, or any other
topic outside the charge of theft of the piece of
wreckage during the manipulated trial, according
to Cmdr. Donaldson. 

The Sanderses were denied the opportunity to
present their case in court, and they are now free
on bail while they await sentencing in July. They
could spend up to 10 years in a federal prison. 

Cmdr. Donaldson has challenged the official
NTSB position on the cause of the crash. Over the
past two years, he has been working with other
retired aviation professionals, including some
previous crash investigators as well as persons
inside the NTSB investigation itself. 

They have uncovered significant new information
that appears to show that Flight 800 was shot
down by one or more shoulder-fired missiles, and
that the FBI, the Justice Department and the
Administration knew this from the beginning and
are trying to cover up what really happened. 

During preparation for the Sanders trial, Cmdr.
Donaldson contacted the NTSB with questions
about crash evidence. He says they did all they
could to intimidate him and the Sanders' attorney.

"They went into a d--- panic mode," he told
WorldNetDaily by phone. He had asked for a
report on the edge analysis of the portion of the
plane he believes was hit by a missile. The tests he
expected to have been performed by the NTSB
with an electron microscope were done with a
jeweler's eyepiece. 

"If they move on to the final report and they don't
have an edge analysis on that side body wall, then
you can use that thing for toilet paper. It's not
going to be worth a d---. I told him three of four
more anomalies but I was wasting my time -- he's
a lawyer," he explained. 

His request for information not only revealed
inadequacy in the official investigation, it also
pointed to efforts to derail the court case. 

"They jumped all over Maffeo (Sanders' attorney)
saying, 'We're going to file motions to deny your
access to discovery and everything else based on
the fact that Donaldson has looked at some
close-up pictures of the left-side body wall.' 

"They just can't stand to see the truth in the light
of day. This is not rocket science. Mostly it's
common sense. There are huge anomalies that
have never been seen in a domestic crash before,"
he explained. 

James Hall, director of the NTSB and head of the
crash investigation, told the New York Times
shortly after the crash that the plane came down
as the result of an explosion in the fuel tank
located in the left wing. Cmdr. Donaldson wrote
to him and asked him to resign. 

"It may have been overkill in the tactic category,
but it was based on essential premises of a safety
investigation," he explained to WorldNetDaily.
"You don't have the leader of the investigation and
the agency that runs the investigation making
proclamations in a New York newspaper that it
wasn't a missile and the cause was a center wing
tank explosion when they only had about 80
percent of the airplane out of the water. 

"It was a theory they were going on that was
totally contravened by very serious anomalies. So
here you have the leadership saying, 'OK folks, I'm
going to listen to anything you have to tell me
about a center wing tank explosion, but let's not
waste our time looking for any other facts.' 

"That's not the way these things work. You're
supposed to put your experts in the field and look
at everything. There's a process where you find
things that are not in a normal crash situation and
you highlight it," complained the former naval
crash investigator who has seen what military
planes look like when they are shot down. 

There are essentially three theories about the cause
of the crash. The NTSB has claimed it was an
explosion of the center wing tank, most likely from
an electrical failure. The FBI has accepted the
theory of the wing tank explosion, but they think
the explosion was caused by a bomb. 

Both agencies have not been willing to look at any
evidence that does not specifically contribute to
their particular theories, according to Cmdr.
Donaldson. He says the third theory, the missile
theory, is getting no consideration from officials
and anyone promoting the theory is being

The FBI agent in charge of the investigation, James
K. Kallstrom had a friend who died on the flight
and presented a flag found in the debris to the
surviving family. Cmdr. Donaldson says that
while the nation watched the presentation on
national television, something far different was
going on behind the scenes. 

"At the same time he was doing that, they were
preferring charges against Sanders, TWA pilot
Terrell Stacey, and people that actually did lose a
lot of people they were close to. Terrell Stacey
knew just about all of those 53 TWA people that
died on the airplane. He was a senior guy with
TWA," explained Cmdr. Donaldson. 

"Liz Sanders knew quite a few of the flight
attendants," he continued. "She was a supervisor
of training there. And the FBI put pressure on Lee
Taylor. Threatened her with obstruction of justice.
They scared her to death because she allowed Jim
Sanders to use her apartment in Kansas City to
write his book. She thought she was going to go to
jail for that, so she testified as a government
witness. In her case she lost a hell of a lot of
friends on that plane. 

"So here's Kallstrom weeping elephant tears on
national television handing a flag to somebody
who happened to be the survivor of a passenger
on board. At the same time he's beating the
(expletive) out of the TWA people that really did
suffer on this -- psychologically and every other

Cmdr. Donaldson's investigation discovered that
the one ship equipped with the best equipment for
detecting crash debris under water was diverted
into collecting surface debris delaying them from
performing the task they were best suited for, and
no other ship could duplicate. 

He also reports that it only took that ship 10 hours
to completely map out three different debris fields
which would enable recovery to begin the
morning of the second day after the crash.
Recovery was delayed several more days, a fact
not understood at the time by the press. 

The very best recovery equipment in the world
was immediately made available by Weeks
Marine, Inc. and was on the scene ready to go to
work. Instead orders came from the White House
to wait for the Navy to send equipment from
Norfolk, Virginia to conduct the salvage operation.

"What I'm telling you is, by the 19th in the
morning (the crash took place on the 17th), with
divers on board they could have started extracting
major sub-sea debris. Putting it on deck on the
Weeks Marine barge. Instead, the White House, I
believe, made a deal where the Navy was going to
do the salvage. That decision, the media never saw
through this. They never realized that the five-day
wait caused by waiting for the Navy to respond
from Norfolk (Virginia) and other places to bring
their salvage equipment to bear, those bodies were
exposed to the elements down there for an
additional five days, at least. They didn't start
doing anything until the 23rd." 

When families of crash victims call the NTSB to
ask about Cmdr. Donaldson they are given
information apparently intended to discredit him. 

"They told me he doesn't know what he's talking
about. They said he has no experience and that
he's one of those extremists who sees a conspiracy
under every rock. They said his witnesses have
been contacted by the FBI and they saw the plane
on fire, not a missile," said one family member
contacted by WorldNetDaily who did not want to
be identified, or contacted again. 

Cmdr. Donaldson has no plans to give up his
battle. He plans to continue to investigate the
evidence and search for more. 

David M. Bresnahan, a contributing editor for, is the author of "Cover Up: The
Art and Science of Political Deception," and offers a
monthly newsletter "Talk USA Investigative
Reports." He may be reached through email and also
maintains a website.