Jury at Conspiracy Trial Shown Flight 800 Seats
By JOHN T. McQUISTON
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The twisted remains of four passenger seats from the
wreckage of Trans World Airlines Flight 800, which exploded and crashed off
Long Island in 1996, were entered as evidence Wednesday in the trial of a
couple charged with conspiring to steal parts of the wreckage to prove their
theory that the jetliner was downed by an errant Navy missile.
"They look like seats from Flight 800," said Capt. Terrell Stacey, a former
T.W.A. pilot, as he stepped from the witness stand to take a closer look at
the shredded metal and foam.
Captain Stacey appeared as the chief Government witness against the
defendants, James Sanders, 53, and his wife, Elizabeth, 52, of Williamsburg,
Captain Stacey told the jury in Federal District Court here that he had
stolen the seating material from a Government hangar in Calverton, on Long
Island, at the repeated insistence of the Sanderses.
He said the Sanderses wanted the material because it contained a powdery
reddish-orange substance that they believed was evidence of a missile
explosion. The Government, which has rejected the missile theory, says its
tests proved that the powder was fabric glue.
The Sanderses are charged with conspiring with Captain Stacey and then
helping him to steal the pieces of wreckage. If found guilty, they face up to
10 years in prison.
They were charged under a law approved by Congress in 1996 that makes it a
Federal crime to steal pieces of a civil aircraft involved in a crash.
Captain Stacey, under his plea agreement, was charged with theft of
government property, a misdemeanor, and has been promised leniency when
Captain Stacey said that as an employee of T.W.A. for 33 years, he had come
to know most of the members of the crew of Flight 800, who were among the 230
people killed in the crash, and that like Mrs. Sanders, a flight-attendant
supervisor and training instructor, he was anxious to find the cause of the
He testified that he took part in the "conspiracy" because of his former
friendship with Mrs. Sanders, who was an employee of T.W.A. for 10 years.
"The parts that I took were dangling down off the seats," Captain Stacey
said, pointing to the wreckage on display in the middle of the courtroom.
Most of the fabric and cushioning was missing from the seats, torn away by
the explosion and crash. Some of the pieces were held together by wire and
set on a makeshift wood base. Tags attached to the bent armrests indicated
that the seats were from row 17.
The presence of the wreckage had a chilling effect on the courtroom and
held the gaze of the jurors until Judge Joanna Seybert asked that the the
pieces be taken away.