June 20, 2013 — June 20, 2013 -- Former federal officials and some of the families of the 230 people who died when TWA Flight 800 exploded in mid-air over the East Coast have angrily challenged renewed claims that the flight was taken down by a missile and that the federal government orchestrated a massive cover up to hide that fact.
"It's just outrageous and preposterous," said James Kallstrom, who headed up the investigation into the 1996 crash for the FBI. "It has absolutely no connection to the truth, and... will not stand the test of time and will not stand the test of experts."
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.
The idea that the plane was shot down has been given new life recently, however, in a documentary from Epix called TWA Flight 800 premiering next month. The documentary features six former crash investigators, including one senior investigator from the NTSB, who say there was an active effort within the federal government to make the crash look like an accident despite evidence of an external explosion.
"It was either a terrorist attack, that they wanted to ignore, or an accident as a result of a military operation that went wrong," said Hank Hughes, the former NTSB investigator.
Hughes has reportedly been trying for years to get his theory wider attention and says that while it's hard to imagine the government would be capable of such a cover up, he told ABC News, "governments are capable of doing some terrible things."
In addition to Kallstrom's protests over the claim, Tom Haueter, former director of Aviation Safety at the NTSB, said he found Hughes' claims "ridiculous."
"Everything I've heard so far is just a rehashing of old speculations, if you will, that don't match the facts of the investigation," he said.
Matt Zimkiewicz, who lost his sister on Flight 800, said in a letter to other families Wednesday that the renewed claims were "nauseating."
"This is really hurtful to people that are involved and intimately involved and lost a loved one," he said.
The NTSB said Wednesday it received a petition from the former officials in the documentary along with some other families of the victims urging them to reopen the case. The petition claims there is "new and material evidence and analysis that refute the NTSB's original findings."
In a statement Wednesday, the NTSB said that "while the NTSB rarely re-investigates issues that have already been examined, our investigations are never closed and we can review any new information not previously considered by the Board."
In the same statement, the federal agency defended its original conclusions.
"The TWA Flight 800 investigation lasted four years and remains one of the NTSB's most detailed investigations. Investigators took great care reviewing, documenting and analyzing facts and data and held a five-day hearing to gather additional facts before determining the probable cause of the accident during a two-day Board meeting," it said.