Mystery of Flight 800 Won't Go Away

By Philip Weiss. 
Philip Weiss is a columnist at The New York Observer.

July 28, 1999

    THE THIRD anniversary of the crash of TWA 800 was chiefly noted this
year for the coincidence of John Kennedy Jr.'s plane being reported
missing on the same date, July 17. The government has concluded that
mechanical failure caused the TWA crash, and the National Transportation
Safety Board is to produce a final report by early next year. If the
agency aims to be convincing, it must explain two matters that tend to
support the missile theory of the crash: the eyewitnesses and "the
30-knot track." In the seconds before the plane exploded in a fireball
over Long Island Sound, scores of eyewitnesses observed a
Roman-candle-like object streaking up from the surface of the water into
the sky near the plane.

    So far, the government has treated the eyewitnesses with contempt.
At the only hearings it held into the cause of the crash, the NTSB
specifically excluded eyewitness testimony. Imagine that: public
hearings from which witnesses are barred! Meantime, the CIA produced an
animated video of the crash coolly asserting that the fireworks the
witnesses saw were actually the crippled TWA plane -after the explosion,
without its nose -climbing nearly 3,000 feet in under a minute. The CIA
made this video without talking to a single eyewitness, but using FBI

    Eyewitnesses whom I have talked to feel insulted by the video. It
misrepresents what they saw. The NTSB knows this is a problem. Recently,
Peter Goelz, the agency's managing director, said that the NTSB has
"reconvened" the investigators who spoke with eyewitnesses in an effort
to render a full report.

    The NTSB should go further. It should invite all eyewitnesses to
testify openly about what they saw (including Frederick Meyer, a
Hamptons attorney who was piloting an Air National Guard helicopter at
the time about 10 miles from the explosion).

    Equally murky is the NTSB's discussion of the "30-knot track." That
is the official radar designation of the boat that was closest to the
plane when it crashed -three to four miles away in the Atlantic Ocean.
After the crash, this boat behaved bizarrely. At a time when many
mariners saw the fireball in the sky and rushed to give assistance, this
boat went straight out to sea at a fast clip even as debris fell behind
it. According to the last known radar reading, the boat reached speeds
of more than 40 miles per hour, on a south-southwest course, into the

    The government has tried to will this boat away. When the FBI closed
its criminal investigation into the crash, two years ago, then-assistant
director James Kallstrom said repeatedly that it had left no stone
unturned. Of greatest concern, he said, were boats near the crash.

    "Who is there in the water? Who could be escaping in any direction?"
he said at a press conference on national television. He indicated that
everyone who had been on a boat in the area had been interviewed.

    Weeks later the radar data were released, in a mountain of documents
-and noted only by critics of the investigation. Months after
Kallstrom's press conference, the FBI conceded in a letter to Rep. James
Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) that the 30-knot track remained unidentified.

    One critic says this boat was a "getaway car." "It's really weird
that there are no eyewitnesses reporting from that vessel," says Graeme
Sephton, a member of an Internet group called Flight 800 Independent
Researchers' Organization. "These are the people who are pulling out
from under the flaming debris, and none of them calls the 800 number
that is set up by the FBI." The NTSB's explanation of the radar track
has been lame. Goelz of the NTSB told me it is reasonable to conclude
that no one on the vessel was aware of the crash because it happened
behind them, over their right shoulder. But the explosion in the sky
rattled windows in Center Moriches, 10 miles away. It would have thumped
a boat three miles distant and caused a sun-like radiance in the
twilight sky.

    You will find almost no discussion in the mainstream media of the
eyewitness reports or the 30-knot track (or several other discrepancies
in the findings).

    This is because dignifying these questions means accepting the
possibility that the government may have lied to us about a very
important matter. Almost everyone in the important media (my description
of the mainstream) finds this impossible to accept. A cover-up of such
proportions would not be possible, they say. Our government is not so
debased, and anyone who credits such beliefs is a conspiracist.

    Such attacks are narrow-minded and smug. The Clinton administration
has shown that it will lie rather than face accountability in many
areas. The FBI has shown that it is corruptible (notably at Ruby Ridge,
Idaho, in 1992). The TWA crash took place in a presidential election
year, and just days before the Olympics were to start in Atlanta. I can
only guess at the pressures that came to bear on the investigation.

    But the eyewitnesses and the 30-knot radar track are not guesswork.
They are facts. So far these facts have been discussed where minds are
freest to inquire -on the Internet. There, intelligent critics of the
investigation want to believe in their government. But they know that in
a democracy, authority must be earned.

TWA800 Home Page