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TWA Flight 800: Searching For Truth

TWA Flight 899 and its 230 dead. A new documentary asks again what really brought it down.

In this 2001 photo, the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 sit in a hangar in Calverton, N.Y. The seats of the plane are pictured in the foreground. The plane crashed off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., on July 17, 1996, killing 230 people. (Ed Betz/AP)

In this 2001 photo, the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 sit in a hangar in Calverton, N.Y. The seats of the plane are pictured in the foreground. The plane crashed off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., on July 17, 1996, killing 230 people. (Ed Betz/AP)

July 17, 1996, twelve minutes after takeoff from New York’s JFK airport, TWA Flight 800 blew up and went down in a shower of flame just off the shore of Long Island. All on board, 230 lives, lost. And the nation, completely bewildered at how it could happen, in a moment, in a clear, calm evening sky.

A four-year government investigation concluded that the jet’s central fuel tank exploded, but couldn’t say why. Many, many eye witnesses said they saw something like a missile attack the plane. A new documentary says they were right.

This hour On Point: revisiting a tragedy in the air.

– Tom Ashbrook


Hank Hughes, senior accident investigator at the National Transportation Safety Board. He laid out the matrix for the reconstruction of the aircraft and was chairman of the Airplane Interior Documentation Group that reconstructed TWA 800′s interior.

Tom Stalcup, co-producer of the documentary “TWA Flight 800″ and co-founder of Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization.

John Goglia, served on the board of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from August 1995 to June 2004 and worked closely on the investigation of the TWA 800 crash. Now a writer for Aviation International News.


From Tom’s Reading List

CNN: Filmmaker Asserts New Evidence On Crash Of TWA Flight 800 — “A documentary on the 1996 explosion that brought down TWA Flight 800 offers ‘solid proof that there was an external detonation,’ its co-producer said Wednesday.”

USA Today: NTSB Urged To Reopen Review Of TWA Flight 800 Crash — “Former investigators from the NTSB, TWA and Air Line Pilots Association suggest in a documentary that missiles caused the plane to explode near Long Island and kill 230 people aboard. The plane was flying from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Paris.”

ABC News: TWA Flight 800 Cover-Up Theorists Under Fire — “The missile theory was one of several proposed in the months following the mysterious crash — along with a bomb-on-the-plane theory and the meteor strike theory — before the National Transportation Safety Board concluded after a four-year investigation that an accidental electrical spark had likely set a fuel tank on fire inside the plane.”

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  • http://bluestatesman.myopenid.com/ bluestatesman

    such stupidity is sickening… so someone launches a missile and no one on the ground sees it?  we live in a stupid country and the stupidity has infested every corner of our collective (insane) mind. anyone who understands about the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound knows what did (and did not) happen.

    • arydberg

      Many people saw it.    When interviewed many became irate  and a common retort was ” I know what i saw”   

      • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

        When investigators, be they criminal or journalists have an agenda other than find the truth, they behave stupidly.

    • Shag_Wevera

      We are collectively very stupid.  In this you are spot-on.

      • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

        We are witnessing the dawn of the dark ages re-duh!

    • AlaskanAthlete

      It seems to me that the difference in the speed of sound and the speed of light would greatly increase the likelihood that eyewitnesses would see the downward motion of debris as opposed to the upward motion of a ‘streak of light’. Bear in mind these streaks of light would not be accompanied by sound but followed by sound, and the sound of the explosion would cause people to look up after the explosion. I don’t see how your comment lessens stupidity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.m.cogswell John M Cogswell Jr

    They SHOULD re-open the investigation on this and make what they can public.  I know not all of the conspiracy theorists will believe the findings, but it will go a long way in settling the matter for the rest of us.

  • arydberg

    People who follow this know the NY times reported the fuel tank was in “pristine” condition and that Cal Tech spent 3 years trying to get jet fuel to explode without success.    Also if a radar missile targeted the plane it would head for the center of the 4 jet engine intakes.  That spot is the door to the front landing gear.   That door was one of the first things to fall off the plane as the  wreckage on the ocean floor shows.   

  • Ed75

    A few weeks ago a flight to Houston was cancelled because ‘a man refused to get off his cell phone before take-off’. What really happened apparently was that 12 Muslims disrupted the flight, but it wasn’t reported. This is still going on.

    • jefe68

      You need to get professional help.

  • 1Brett1

    When the FBI is sloppy and conducts itself with hubris by merely making summaries of eyewitness accounts instead of actually recording and making transparent those accounts, it stands to reason there would linger mistrust and speculation. When investigation findings are what amounts to inconclusive professional guesses, it stands to reason there is going to be a lack of closure. And, of course, all of this gives rise to conspiracies. 

  • Shag_Wevera

    Conspiracy theories are just plain fun.  It is hard to believe that the course of human events isn’t steered by someone or something.  How have the tiny number of super rich and powerful (1% or less) managed to stay on top for @ 7000 years without being devoured by the impoverished masses?  It defies logic.  There is not enough military and police in the world to save the 1% if the 99% decided it was over for them, yet it never happens (almost never/French and Cuban revolutions).  I’m sure I won’t be the one to unravel the mystery. 

    • sickofthechit

       They keep just enough of us, just content enough to not do anything substantive which might risk what little we do have.

  • Greg Hood

    I find it funny that people in the FBI and CIA are the most critical of the conspiracies that surround this story.  If they hadn’t been so secrative and sloppy and had disclosed several of the controversial pieces of evidence that have magically “disappeared”, then there would be no reason for a conspiracy.  These agencies have just fueled the conspiracy. 

  • geraldfnord

    All sides:
    0.) ‘You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts, ‘ is certainly true, but distinguishing the two is in practice non-trivial, as…
    1.) Fact is not opinion, but opinion can vary as to how strongly the (never complete or completely trustworthy) evidence support a given fact; this can be the result of differing experiences and underlying attitudes, and should not necessarily be seen as a sign of bad faith…
    2.) Sane, decent, people can be wrong.

    Please remember these points; now let the flame-war between the Tin-Foil Hatters and the Illuminati Stooges resume.

  • brettearle

    At the time, everyone thought Pierre Salinger was a twerp.

    He might have been correct all the time.

    The US didn’t want to blame the Mujahideen?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    Scuttlebut heard from a fisherman who was just south of Block Island that evening has it that a missile was definitely launched at the jet.  He saw it go up, wiggle around, then hit the airliner. Possibly two times. This is unconfirmed, of course.

  • monicaroland

    My late father was an aeronautical engineer and pilot for the US Marine Corps for 20 years.  After WWII and Korea, he flew experimental jets for the Corps.  He also designed missile systems.  After retiring, he had several other engineering careers.  I distinctly remember Dad’s response to this tragedy. The day the plane crashed, he gave his opinion — and it was exactly what the NTSB came up with months later.  

    It’s good to re-examine issues, but sometimes the simplest answer — Occam’s Razor — is the best.  

    • brettearle

      Are you certain–or are you simply assuming–that your father heard the eyewitness testimony, at the time?

      I certainly heard the testimony, back then, what is being aired, today.

      Do you think that the FBI didn’t actually threaten the eyewitness as we heard, this morning?

      Do you believe that we should apply Occam’s Razor to Oswald and the Tsarnaevs?

  • brettearle

    If not the Mujahideen, was it a Friendly Fire mistake?

  • nj_v2

    Thanks for program re-examining this event. Why stop here, though?

    As opposed to the hack job last year hosted by Ms Clayson, wouldn’t it be great if OnPoint decided to do a serious examination of the unanswered questions, contradictions and omissions in the “official” stories, etc. of the events of 9/11/01, given the role and consequences of that event?

    • Steve__T

       I wonder, if they are still investigating this from 1996. What happened to the planes from 9/11? I know that they took all the scrap from the world trade center and shipped it to China to be destroyed.(We never destroy forensic evidence from a murder or a single death)  I know that conspiracy theory’s abound, but you have to admit Its strange no body found the planes parts except from flight 77 & 99 that struck the Pentagon and crashed at Shanksville. but who has them?  

  • MarkVII88

    My questions is: Who was on the passenger list on TWA800 such that any organization might want to shoot down this aircraft?  Have any of the dead passengers subsequently been determined to be a false ID?  Someone traveling under-cover?

  • jgeigerphoto

    If there was something to cover up there were people paid to stay silent. “Follow the money” theory.  If that comes up cold, it’s just a tragedy.

    • brettearle

      Government intimidation can operate without Hush Money.

  • sickofthechit

    Where was Cheney?

    • brettearle

      You didn’t see the AP photo, at the time, of some runty, bespectacled guy, in a Hampton swamp, with a shoulder-to-air missile that he was harnessing?

      • sickofthechit

         No, I missed that.  Thanks for clearing it up.  I knew he would be involved somewhere…

        • brettearle

          It’s what triggered his first Heart Murmur.

          Get with the program.

    • lifobryan

      Cheney was at his hunting lodge at the time … and fired a missile at the airplane, possibly mistaking it for a quail. 

      • brettearle

        Er,…. I think you’ve got that….only slightly wrong:

        should be,

        “possibly mistaking it for a dan Quayle”.

  • Alvin Case

    It seemed to me at the time that the flight was possibly brought down in retaliation for Iran Air Flight 655 , a civilian jet airliner shot down by U.S. missiles on 3 July 1988. 
    If this was the case then it would be in the interest of the government to not acknowledge that Iranian operatives or hired contractors penetrated the US coastline long enough to use a surface to air missile.
    As crazy as that may sound let’s consider that the idea of bringing down the WTC with two aircraft was also beyond the scope of domestic law enforcement’s imagination before the fact. 
    It is particularly frustrating to me that so many citizens appear surprised that a government would even consider a cover-up of this kind of event. For those of us who had a proper civics education in public schools we are aware that there is no one government. THere are three branches and within those three branches several vines. Which is why the 1947 National Security Act was even possible to be passed by congress even as it effectively bent our Constitution by allowing for the operations of government activity outside of the three branches.
     Whether by the cynical coverup of something potentially embarrassing to our intelligence agencies, or the exposure to higher risk provided by those in congress who felt the airlines needed less scrutiny of their safety procedures, the TWA tragedy illustrates the limits of our form of open-ended and security obsessed government.

    • brettearle

      Not a day goes by when more and more people in this country, aren’t having discussions with themselves, and with others, about Government Cover-ups of all kinds.

      Some of these cover-ups are likely false and some of them, true.

      But this is the age of `Conspiracy Theory’ is it not?

      It is difficult for me to believe your conclusion, in this regard–about how people are surprised at Government cover-ups–to be anything other than fatuous….especially on the heels of the Snowden case….

      • Alvin Case

        Thoughts of conspiracy take root in a public that chooses to be distant from its government. Those thoughts often become realized because of this indifference, i.e. The Patriot Act.
        The limits of our form of government are illustrated in how laws and acts form a film rather than a foundation for government behavior. It what allows change in our system to operate slowly and cool, rather than have a revolution every three years. But it also allows for the questionable idea of having redundant agencies that compete against one another. Wouldn’t it be better to open intelligence to market forces like Admiral Poindexter wanted? If that’s the kind of country we want?
         The government (at least since 1947) has placed more layers between itself and the public giving it a free reign to many of its questionable calls–be it assasinations, deals with dictators, etc. Granted, this wasn’t without necessity during the atomic scares with the USSR. But our constitution is malleable and so it should be no surprise that the its easier for the government to expand than it is to contract when national security is at stake and our basic rule of law amended for the sake of the intelligence agencies.
        The feared outcome is close to fruition (and I think this relates to Snowden): that government agencies, given faster and more nubile tools to use, will find a way to use them. Even if that use is unwarranted and simply an enhancement of current procedures. 

        • brettearle

          I believe that I understand your points [in a way, at least].  I’m not sure that I totally agree with them.

          You used atomic scares, above, to justify why the government sometimes has to place more layers–between itself and the public.

          If we follow that thinking, for a moment, then I would argue–in this day of post-modern technology where there is greater possibility for WMD portability and greater possibility of individual cells working towards violent subversion–that there would be even greater layers placed, than ever before, between government secrecy and the public.

          What’s more, with regard to Poindexter’s proposal:

          I would also argue that if Intelligence were subjected to private enterprise, we would ultimately be seeing the same, and worse, corporate dysfunction that we see today–whereby industrial espionage would be even greater and more destructive than it is today….and, likely, therefore, security safety would likely be worse off than if the Government were still in charge.

          Who’s going to be the Overseers? 

          Duh.  The Government?

          I don’t buy it.

          But neither of us really know if that method would be better, in any case.

  • John_in_VT

    Here’s the why of the incident and the cover-up – it was an errant US missile.  Either it was a test that launched onto the wrong target or it was an inadvertent firing. No one in the government wanted to deal with the aftermath of that. So, an intimidation and disinformation campaign was mounted instead.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1533378781 Neil Vigliotta

    My father-in-law was a member of the 106th Rescue Wing of the NYANG out of Westhampton Beach. He also happened to fly for TWA and flight 800 was his route until his retirement in June of 1996, a mere 3 weeks prior to this accident.  Having retired from the Guard in 1988, his friends from the ANG were practicing touch and goes at Westhampton the evening of the crash.  These are not untrained people who witnessed the events of flight 800 (not that all of the witnesses could be wrong), but people who are trained to rescue/recover people who are lost at sea (this is the same rescue wing that was involved in “The Perfect Storm”).  Search and Rescue is the name of the unit…  Trained searchers.  One of his friends saw the “accident” and let me assure you, it was no accident.  His friend saw the missile fly up into the plane that night.  Its documented on the internet. http://www.prouty.org/800.html

    In addition, (I am purposefully trying to hide some detail here) we have an acquaintance who was involved in the recovery of the victims of this horrific act. This individual has told me that this was no accident. As this person understands things, it was a missile, fired from a submarine by accident.

    There are too many loose ends. The missing video from NY Air Traffic Center, the eye witnesses, those involved in the rescue. It was a massive cover up and its all going to come out! Hurrah!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1533378781 Neil Vigliotta

    How about a missile fired from a submarine???!!!!

  • gemli

    We also have eye witnesses who have been abducted by aliens.  There are still people who think the CIA killed JFK.  There are those who swear that the government brought down the twin towers.  

    It’s not impossible that a missile struck Flight 800, but any theory that depends on a massive, well-coordinated cover-up that defies a reasonable alternative explanation is practically guaranteed to be an unfounded conspiracy theory.  The credentials and the sincerity of the accusers is irrelevant.  Every bogus theory has some number of sincere and seeming knowledgeable proponents who depend on eye witness descriptions and ambiguous evidence to justify their claims.  If you’re going to bet on the correct version of events, bet on the official, boring version.  You’ll win far more often than you’ll lose.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1533378781 Neil Vigliotta

      You should talk to the witnesses.  Those the recovered the bodies know.  And they were basically told to keep quiet.  Why is it so hard to believe that the Government pushed to cover this up?  Sure, there are conspiracy theories all the time and its true that sometimes, people’s accounts are mistaken.  This particular incident had 670 eyewitnesses.  We aren’t talking about a couple of people out in a field in the middle of Vermont who claimed they were abducted by aliens.  We are talking about people from all over Long Island, trained resucuers, retired pilots,  along with hundreds of average folks.

      And then, what about those at the NY Air Traffic Center who tell of the missing video that was whisked away from their possession?  The government is quite capable of such things.  And its only now that the truth is coming out.  And its coming out from the inside!!  The apple is rotten in the middle.  People don’t want to hold their tongue any longer.

    • brettearle

      I would argue that sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories can be true.

      Sometimes conspiracies can be hatched, in a way to make them look implausible, when they are actually true.

      Obviously, only a small number.

      But if none of them were true, then why did the maxim, `Truth is Stranger than Fiction’, become so popular? 

      Not everyone uses that phrase, as if they are being, tongue-in-cheek, when they use it.

  • arydberg

    One question raised on the radio show was, what kind of  motive was there to cover up a terrorist attack (if that was what it was). 

    The answer is in the date of the crash July 17,1996.    On November 1996 there was a presidential election due and Clinton wanted to get re-elected.   There is the possibility that a terrorist attack could have hurt his chances to get re-elected.  

    Also there was an article in Newsday of Clinton meeting with a group of high school students on the morning of July 18.  He was reported as being very preoccupied and could not focus on the students.   

    Also if this was a terrorist attack and it was reported truthfully we may have been a little more diligent on 9/11 and may have been better prepared.   

    All this is speculation but it is part of the record.  

    • brettearle

      I think those are fair points–although, as you would agree, it is speculation.

      But when you consider the strong notion that after the WTC bombing of 1993–which we pretty much were blase about, when one obviously considers 9/11–this missile incident comes up in 1996, it does stimulate the imagination.

      Now, doesn’t it?

  • babieschewonbooks

    I think that the sheer number of eyewitnesses who reported seeing something moving towards the plane is really perplexing….BUT it just seems that covering up either a terrorist act or US NAVY mistake is extremely difficult, if not impossible. 

    At first blush, an errant missile from the Navy seems conceivable. But, if this were the case many people on board the ship and senior officers would need to be silent (dozens of people at the least). Even with the threat of prison (or worse) someone would have said something in the ensuing years. There isn’t one credible (or incredible) witness who has reported working for the Navy or any other gov agency who purports to have insiders’ knowledge. 

    The terrorist attack option is also tough to believe given that nobody took responsibility and that a cover-up would require many people be tight-lipped. It just doesn’t happen in this day and age….

  • madnomad554

    If this plane was taken down on purpose…by our government, then might there have been a person or persons, aboard Flight 800 that the government didn’t want to make it across the big pond?

    Was there a whistle blower aboard? Has anybody thoroughly investigated who was on the plane?


    • brettearle

      It also could have been taken down by some other agent or group who was privy to the passenger list.

      This matter, generally, was brought up on the show.

  • Les Fredette

    I lost a cousin and his wife on flight 800. As a scientist, engineer, and mathematician, the physical evidence has always lead me to the same conclusion – an external explosion. Everyone close to the actual incident  or has ever analyzed the evidence knows the truth. The argument that the “truth” is impossible to hide is a straw man argument and devoid of any serious consideration of numerous historical examples. The fact that the underlying circumstances (Navy, terrorist, etc) can’t be identified without a full investigation does not discredit the factual evidence that an external explosion (and not the center fuel tank) was the source of the initial event. Anyone that doubts that the center fuel tank was NOT the initiating event only needs to open their eyes to two VERY BASIC observations: 1) the center fuel tank debris is in the latter debris field – the first debris fields contain elements from just before the wings. 2) the reconstruction (which I walked through personally) shows the areas from the forward portion (noted in #1) of the plane devoid of fire damage on the exterior paint, while the section immediately behind shows extensive fire damage (from the center fuel tank explosion).  The ONLY way this could happen is if the front of the plane was separated PRIOR to the center fuel tank explosion. These are just two elementary points that are completely inconsistent with the NTSB/CIA/FBI center fuel tank hypothesis. As a family member, I desperately want the real facts to be accepted.

  • Les Fredette

    I lost a cousin and his wife on flight 800. As a scientist,
    engineer, and mathematician, the physical evidence has always lead me to the
    same conclusion – an external explosion. Everyone close to the actual incident or has ever analyzed the evidence knows the truth. The argument
    that the “truth” is impossible to hide is a straw man argument and
    devoid of any serious consideration of numerous historical examples. The fact
    that the underlying circumstances (Navy, terrorist, etc) can’t be identified
    without a full investigation does not discredit the factual evidence that an
    external explosion (and not the center fuel tank) was the source of the initial
    event. Anyone that doubts that the center fuel tank was NOT not the initiating
    event only needs to open their eyes to two VERY BASIC observations: 1) the
    center fuel tank debris is in the latter debris field – the first debris fields
    contain elements from just before the wings, forward. 2) the reconstruction
    (which I walked through personally) shows the areas from the forward
    portion(noted in #1) of the plane devoid of fire damage on the exterior paint,
    while the section immediately behind shows extensive fire damage (from the
    center fuel tank explosion).  The ONLY way this could happen is if the
    front of the plane was separated PRIOR to the center fuel tank explosion.  As a family member, I strongly desire the real truth to come out.

    • brettearle

      Thanks for your contribution, here.

      It’s too bad, you weren’t available, this morning, to speak on the air.

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    the question I have is if this is a missile attack who was on the plane who was important in some way or why was that plane chosen? who would be behind it? was it another false flag?

    • Tyranipocrit

       there was a whistle blower on the plane–probably with evidence that the US government was planning 911.

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        which one?

  • http://www.facebook.com/markjrodgers Mark Rodgers

    The guests certainly sound credible as is their evidence.  But I have 2 biases that make this difficult for me to accept, one is I am always leery of conspiracy theories and second, I think our country is remarkably bad at carrying out conspiracies, which maybe is a good thing!  Think of how many hundreds if not thousands of people involved in these investigations that would have had to keep this secret for all these years…  Strikes me as highly unlikely.

    • brettearle

      Hordes of eyewitnesses do not put this tragedy in the realm of conspiracy theory.

      It puts it, instead, in the realm of possibility–though not 100% actual reality.

      • dust truck

        hordes of witnesses heard Jesus’ sermon on the mount and yet there are millions of non-believers today.  It’s the problem with human communication, if one person witnesses an event, it’s up to others to believe that person or not.  

        Same goes for science. A scientist can observe phenomena and yet others have to believe him first before they can believe the phenomena.

        • Ze

          Hordes witnessed Jesus’ sermon? Really? According to whom? According to a poorly written book which has been edited and re-edited according to the political whims of power hungry individuals? Just because the bible said it happened doesn’t mean it actually did. The bible is not a first hand account fyi.

          • Doubting_Thomas12

            And yet the translated copies strewn all over the world before the edits and re-edits match up with what we’ve got now.

            … “The Bible” isn’t a firsthand account, but the books written by those who were there during the events of Jesus’ life are. Such as the apostles.

            Your bias is rather glaring, by use of descriptions such as “poorly written”. Poorly written by whose standards? Yours?

          • dust truck

            You missed my point completely. My point is that EVERYTHING humans assert are hearsay.  It’s just how our knowledge spreads,  but in the end you have to acknowledge that sometimes people will not trust the source no matter how “true” it is.

  • arydberg

    very poor explosion with a flame front speed of 3 miles per hour see:


  • Mosagra

    Benjamin Franklin had something germane to say regarding extensive conspiracies:

    “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” – Benjamin Franklin

    • Ze

      If only that were true, there would be no need for leaks and Snowden, Assange, and Manning would be unknown names to us.

  • SoundRelays

    I expect much more from OP than this. At the end of the day, you’re left with a “suggestion” that it might have been a missile and some vague potential motives.  As far as rabbit-hole conspiracy theories go, this one isn’t even particularly deep.  OP shouldn’t have even had these guests on UNLESS they had some evidence regarding potential motives.

    • arydberg

      So over 630 eyewitness are not enough for even a 2nd look at this crash.   

      • dust truck

        there are hundreds of witnesses who have seen UFOs and yet not many people believe them.  There are hundreds of climate scientists who assert anthropogenic global warming, and yet many don’t believe them either.

  • arydberg
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