Associated Retired Aviation Professionals


Date: 11/1/03

Boston Appeals Court Overrules Lower Court TWA 800 Decision

Contact: Graeme Sephton 413-367-2253, 617-596-5607,

In light of an "eighteen-fold increase" in TWA 800 documents released by the FBI during settlement negotiations, the 1st circuit Appeals Court in Boston vacated a recent Springfield District Court ruling that favored the FBI. The case has been remanded back to the lower court to "resolve the FOIA issues raised by Sephton."

Graeme Sephton, an Engineer at U-Mass Amherst, filed the suit in 1998 as FOIA officer for Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization (FIRO). He requested from the FBI, data from forensic analyses of "foreign bodies" found during autopsy examinations of victims of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800.

Some of the documents unearthed by Sephton describe pellets consistent with those used in missile warheads. No less than twenty such pellets were recovered during victim autopsy exams. The FBI report describing the pellets was classified "Secret" and dated after the FBI officially suspended its investigation into the crash.

FBI whistleblower Frederick Whitehurst submitted a supporting affidavit, which named two FBI laboratory databases where responsive records would most likely be stored. None of three affidavits submitted by the FBI describing its search method mention searching any FBI Laboratory database.

The court’s opinion sent a clear signal to the district court when it sympathized with Sephton’s charge that the FBI's search for records was inadequate. It highlighted the fact that the FBI “produced five hundred additional pages of documents responsive to Sephton's FOIA request, after the FBI's insistence that the twenty-eight pages of documents released previously were the product of an adequate search fully compliant with the requirements of the FOIA.”

All quotations above were taken from the 10/24/03 Sephton v. FBI ruling of the Boston Appeals Court. The complete transcript can be found online:

Also see:


 Home - Last Updated: 
 © 2001, 2002 & 2003  Robert E. Donaldson.  All rights reserved