|Witnesses push TWA-crash theory
Published in the Home News Tribune 7/18/00
By JOHN HANCHETTE
WASHINGTON -- TWA's Flight 800 plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island's southern shore four years ago yesterday, killing all 230 passengers and crew, and now some of the hundreds of people who watched the controversial and fiery crash have formed the TWA Eyewitness Alliance.
They seek a government forum to describe what they saw and to further their insistence the cause of the giant 747's demise was not internal, but the result of something fired from the ground, perhaps one or more missiles.
Joined by three independent crash researchers, they claimed the FBI only last winter released eyewitness interview notes that show the missile theory to be much more plausible than the federal government has claimed.
Thomas Stalcup, a Florida State University doctor of physics and chairman of the Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization, said 96 of 102 eyewitnesses interviewed by the FBI regarding point of origin of vertical streaks of light seen over the ocean during the incident -- 94 percent -- claim the streaks clearly rose from horizon to sky and intersected with TWA 800.
His group filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit in federal court yesterday, seeking release from the FBI two batches of investigative material: "Foreign metal material" that autopsy records show was removed from several of the victims and turned over immediately to the FBI. Radar data showing several mystery aircraft and ships in the area during the crash period. (Stalcup's previous request produced radar reports from 15 minutes before and after the deadly incident, but not the two hours on either side that he wants.)
The National Transportation Safety Board has theorized the plane's explosion was caused by some sort of ignition in the jet's center fuel tank, and the CIA prepared a widely televised cartoon video in 1997 that held the witnesses actually saw the light streaks from the plane climbing 3,000 feet after the jet started breaking up and the nose fell off.
That scenario was termed "aerodynamically impossible" by veteran aviation investigator William S. Donaldson, a retired Navy commander who's probing the accident for the Associated Retired Aviation Professionals -- a group of ex-pilots, support crews and former crash investigators, which includes Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"It also doesn't fit with available radar data, eyewitness reports or a simple ballistic trajectory from the last radar return," said Donaldson, who called the CIA video "clearly designed to try to explain away 96 eyewitnesses who saw a streak of light rising from the surface and intersect with Flight 800. Donaldson and other independent investigators believe the flight was downed with one or more missiles -- probably from terrorists or a Navy exercise gone awry.
One of the eyewitnesses present yesterday was Michael Wire, a Richboro, Pa., millwright who was working on a bridge in Westhampton, N.Y., on Long Island at the time. Wire says he saw what he first thought were pale white "cheap fireworks" streaking into the sky "up from the beach" -- then disappearing -- then a "big orange ball exploding."
It was so loud, he insists, "it shook the bridge." Wire says he was interviewed for about 90 minutes by federal agents and learned from recently released FBI documents that because he provided visual reference points, he was the main eyewitness relied upon by the CIA in preparing its video simulation -- which "didn't appear to be anything like I saw."
That is "incorrect," CIA spokesman Anya Guilsher told Gannett News Service yesterday, referring to the description of Wire as the main CIA witness. "There were many, many witness accounts taken into consideration."
The CIA video voice-over says "descriptions of an additional 200 eyewitnesses were factored in" and that most "saw flames only at the end of the aircraft's descent."
Another eyewitness, retired Navy Master Chief Dwight Brumley, was at the time a veteran with aircraft carrier experience stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. Brumley now teaches math and science in Pensacola, and said yesterday he was on USAir Flight 217 from Charlotte, N.C., to Providence, R.I., that night when his plane approached the south shore of Long Island. He looked out his right side window and saw:
First, a small plane "passing closely underneath the USAir flight" -- then "what appeared to be some kind of flare from my lower right to my left," then about two seconds later, a small explosion, then in another two seconds "another explosion and a much larger ball of flame" which fell into the ocean. Subsequent radar data showed the USAir flight was about 5,000 feet above the doomed TWA plane.
The man in the seat behind Brumley saw the same thing. Brumley said yesterday he was interviewed later in Pensacola by FBI agents asking "basic questions." But the agents broke off the interview to cover a bank robbery, and he was never asked about it again until the witness group was formed.
"Nobody with any aviation expertise at all ever contacted me," he said.
Some of the group complained they had intended to testify at a December 1997 hearing held by the NTSB in Baltimore, but their testimonies were canceled three days before the event. The NTSB later said the FBI asked it to eliminate the eyewitness testimony. The witnesses at the news conference yesterday said they will "demand" to be heard at an Aug. 22 "final hearing" in Washington by the NTSB.
NTSB spokesman Paul Schlamm told GNS yesterday, however, that "no participation by outsiders" will be allowed -- and that the five NTSB board members will hear investigative findings, receive the final report on the accident, rule on probable cause, and perhaps make safety recommendations.
Of the 230 dead, 52 victims were TWA employees, and the 1996 crash remains one of the most controversial in United States history.
On the Web:
www.twa800.com, Associated Retired Aviation Professionals.
www.flight800.org, Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization.
www.altered-evidence.com, author James D. Sanders' site.
www.cia.gov, official Central Intelligence Agency site.
www.ntsb.gov, official National Transportation Safety Board site.
© copyright 2000 Gannett News Service
from the Home News Tribune
Published: July 18, 2000