A safety board official testifies that evidence in the crash of
TWA Flight 800 is consistent with that possibility.

By David E. Hendrix
and Stephen J. Siegel
The Press-Enterprise

March 12, 1997

The National Transportation Safety Board added a theory in the tangled investigation of the TWA Flight 800 crash Tuesday while the agency's investigators took their own samples from seats streaked with a red residue for testing independent of the FBI.

A "missile fragment" could have been the culprit, Dr. Bernard Loeb told a House subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C.

Loeb, director of the NTSB's office of aviation safety, told congressmen that evidence did not support a conclusion that either a bomb or a missile triggered the second-worst civilian air disaster. But he acknowledged the evidence was consistent with the plane being struck by a "missile fragment," introducing another theory in the nearly eight-month investigation.

Loeb did not elaborate on where a missile fragment might have come from and members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation did not press the issue.
Joe Valiquette, an FBI spokesman, said the fragment theory was part of the overall missile review. "We don't volunteer everything," he said.

NTSB Chairman Jim Hall went to Capitol Hill Tuesday seeking $20.1 million in supplemental funding to cover the cost of the TWA 800 investigation through the end of the fiscal year, July 1. Officials estimate the total cost of the nation's most extensive air crash investigation at $27 million.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the subcommittee, opened what otherwise would have been a routine congressional hearing by noting that "nagging" questions remain about the crash.
He made reference to articles in The Press-Enterprise, then asked NTSB officials to discuss the issues the story described.

The officials showed a videotape of efforts to reconstruct the Boeing 747, then took issue with some elements of the story and offered alternate explanations for some of its assertions.

The Press-Enterprise reported Monday that independent tests show some aircraft seats in the destroyed TWA jet contained a residue consistent with solid fuel propellant used in missiles.

The newspaper also reported that several independent analysts believe other evidence, including the way in which debris fell into the ocean east of Long Island, points to a missile attack.

Lawmakers said they would ensure NTSB gets the money it needs. "We want to give you what you need to do the job," Wolf said.

But the Virginia Republican also asked the investigators repeatedly to answer questions raised by The Press-Enterprise, lest the American people lose faith in the government or the investigation.

"The credibility of the United States government could be tarnished if this thing goes on much longer," he said.

"We are prepared to do anything else we need to do to ensure the credibility of what we're doing," Hall said.

Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., also questioned the safety officials at one point. He asked whether inferences about technical information contained in The Press-Enterprise article were accurate.

Loeb responded that the reporter "can't possibly know," because the relevant data has been in the hands of the NTSB since it was recovered.

But Olver was undeterred, and noted that the story contended that sources inside the investigation had provided some information to the newspaper.

Back on Long Island, the NTSB was moved toward an independent analysis of the fabric bearing the red residue mentioned in Press Enterprise articles Monday.

The NTSB went back to the wreckage debris in Calverton, N.Y., on Monday to take its own samples from the reconstruction scene and test in its own labs, NTSB spokesman Peter Goelz said Tuesday.

The investigation has been wracked by disputes between investigative agencies, and some crash investigators believe the FBI has not been forthcoming with all its information and tests.

"We are comfortable in saying our investigators reviewed the residue this fall in the field and that it likely came from adhesives used to manufacture the seat," Goelz said. "Those samples were turned over to the FBI.

"(Monday) we went up and retrieved more samples and we will examine them ourselves but there's nothing to indicate that this material is anything more than an adhesive," Goelz said. "My understanding is that the FBI has done its test."

The red residue contains elements consistent with solid fuel for missiles, but James Kallstrom, the FBI's assistant director in charge of the investigation, said the material was adhesive in the seats.

Loeb told the House subcommittee "There is a reddish orange substance that is on virtually all the seats in the forward part of the airplane, and for that matter, I am sure it is on virtually all of the seats in the airplane." FBI spokesman Valiquette said his agency was not disturbed by the NTSB's decision to test material on its own. Goelz said he did not know if the NTSB would publicly release the test results, including the elements found.

Jim Sanders, a retired policeman-turned-writer, told The Press Enterprise he acquired a sample of the seat from a source inside the investigation. He said the residue and reviews of crash debris show a clear path through TWA 800's fuselage.

The FBI and NTSB have said some of the facts and interpretations are in error in stories The Press-Enterprise published Monday. Officials have refused to state specifically what those facts and interpretations are but publicly have disagreed about whether Sanders' lab results point to solid fuel and whether there is a clear trail of red residue, as Kallstrom on Friday said there was.

TWA Flight 800 crashed off Long Island, N.Y., last July 17, killing all 230 people aboard in the second-most-deadly crash in U.S. aviation history.

Witnesses have reported seeing a missile-like object streaking toward the aircraft before it burst into flames and exploded, but officials have yet to indicate that the witnesses are correct.

This story appeared in The Press-
Enterprise Wednesday, March 12, 1997



  Evidence of a Missile

  Flight 800 Database

Flight 800

Poll Results

>1000 Respondents

  Missile-------- 80%


  Bomb --------  4%


  Fuel Tank --- 14%

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