TWA 800: Remember the Missile Theory?

The CIA analysis is “conjecture, based on a lot of evidence,” Kallstrom says.

NTSB Finds No Evidence of Strike

NTSB officials, to date, have not announced any official conclusions as to what caused the center fuel tank to explode. They are expected to do so in August.

But as their investigation come to an end, officials say none of the substantial evidence they have gathered showed any signs of a missile strike.

“In the case of TWA, with 96 percent plus of the plane recovered, with extensive testing done on the recovered wreckage, with all sorts of other physical evidence, there simply was nothing, there was not one iota of evidence, to indicate the plane was struck by a missile,” explains Peter Goelz, former NTSB managing director who served during the investigation.

Goelz says the absence of such evidence does not rule out a missile strike. But he says that absence, and a number of other factors, make it highly improbable.

“If you are going to blow up a plane, if you are going to shoot down a plane, you can’t do it without leaving physical traces. And those are the physical traces that we looked for. And they were simply not present, they were not there,” he says.

The eyewitness accounts remained under consideration in the NTSB investigation, Goelz says. But because of the Board’s experience with the fallibility of memories, particularly during times of excitement, they are not a primary one, he says.

“The witness interviews are one part of the investigative puzzle, but they’re not dispositive on their own. Unlike a criminal investigation, the NTSB’s primary reliance is on the physical evidence,” he said. “We look at the tin.”

Theory Not Discarded

The NTSB Witness Group — a section of the investigation composed of representatives from NTSB, FAA, TWA, Boeing, a pilot’s association and an aerospace union — has not wholly rejected the missile theory.

It noted, for instance, that 38 eyewitness accounts of a streak of light appearing to rise straight up from the Earth, or nearly so, and noted that those did not correspond with the calculated flight path of the crippled aircraft.

But the panel called the FBI witness statements — which according to FBI procedure were not direct quotes but paraphrased summaries — “poorly suited for purposes of an aircraft accident investigation.” It also concluded some FBI interviewers may have disclosed a bias towards the missile theory, asking questions that tacitly supported it, such as, “how long did the missile fly?”

Ultimately, the Witness Group concluded the cause of the plane crash could not be determined through the eyewitness accounts alone but in light of the whole body of evidence uncovered.

NTSB officials continue to say they’ve found no evidence of a missile attack in the wreckage of the aircraft — which, again, doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility — but it doesn’t support the theory either.

“At this stage, we know that the center fuel tank exploded. The question is, what ignited that?” said NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz in a June interview.

Other Possible Causes

The NTSB has been examining a number of other possible causes such as faulty wiring, a malfunctioning fuel pump, a possible spark of static electricity, and sulfur deposits in fuel.

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