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Pilots find evidence of TWA 800 missile
by Onell R. Soto, The Press-Enterprise, 01-13-1998

Refusing to believe the government's explanation for the crash of TWA Flight 800, a group of retired aviators said Thursday they had found evidence that a missile exploded just 60 feet from the front of the Boeing 747. The last line of data from Flight 800's flight data recorder, information released during National Transportation Safety Board hearings in Baltimore last month, includes readings that prove an explosion took place outside the plane, said William S. Donaldson, a retired Navy commander who investigated crashes.

"It looks to me like there was a huge explosive warhead about 60 feet from the plane and blew the nose up and to the left," Donaldson said during a news conference sponsored by the Associated Retired Aviation Professionals and the conservative group Accuracy in Media. Responding to the Donaldson theory, government officials said there was no evidence of a missile, saying that information from the flight recorders was being misinterpreted. Also at the news conference were two men who witnessed the crash - a military helicopter pilot who was flying over Long Island at the time and a businessman who saw the disaster while eating dinner at a yacht club - said a CIA video recreation of the crash doesn't reflect what they saw. Flight 800 was heading from New York to Paris when it exploded off Long Island in July 1996. All 230 aboard died.

An NTSB spokeswoman repeated Thursday that the agency has discounted a missile theory. Federal investigators have concluded vapors in the plane's central fuel tank were ignited by an unknown mechanical malfunction. "We have absolutely no evidence that a missile struck the aircraft or that a fragment of a missile entered the aircraft," said spokeswoman Shelly Hazle. Donaldson vehemently disagreed, drawing his conclusions that a missile shot down the plane as a terrorist act from a printout of flight data produced by the NTSB. The flight data recorder tracks information such as altitude, speed, engine power, the direction in which flight controls are pointing and how directly the wind hits the plane. Before printing copies of the flight data for distribution in Baltimore, an NTSB official drew a line through the last set of numbers, writing by hand "END OF FLT 800 DATA."

An NTSB official said Thursday that the figures represent incorrect readings from earlier flights and are junk data. Flight data recorders use the same reel-to-reel tape several times, erasing it and writing over repeatedly. If the data are to believed, however, they indicate Flight 800's gauges recorded physically impossible conditions, such as dropping 3,645 feet and slowing to 100 knots from 298 knots in just one second. More likely, Donaldson said, the readings record the shock wave of an exploding missile as it ripped past sensors. Such a wave would increase the air pressure enough to skew the altitude and speed measurements, he said. It would also have rocked a device, not unlike a weather vane, which measures from which wind hits the aircraft. That reading went from 3 degrees to 106 degrees. The last reading, less than a second later, was again 3 degrees.

A shock wave would help explain how the plane's central fuel tank exploded, Donaldson said. Jet fuel, basically kerosene, does not burn easily, not even at the temperatures that the federal government says the central fuel tank reached, he said. Donaldson showed a video in which he repeatedly extinguishes a match in a can of jet fuel. The fuel does burn, however, when it is suspended in a mist, as he demonstrates by putting the fuel in a spray bottle and spritzing it at a candle. Donaldson theorized the shock wave from the outside explosion knocked what little fuel remained in the plane's central fuel tank into the air. That fuel was ignited by a fragment from the missile exploding, he said. Unlike other missile theories surrounding Flight 800, Donaldson said he does not believe a missile struck the plane, but that one exploded near it.

He said the government is trying to cover up evidence of the missile because it failed in its job of protecting airliners from terrorist attacks. Donaldson, a one-time fighter pilot, first said last year that he didn't think it was possible for jet fuel vapors in the central fuel tank to explode without first being sent into the air by a shock of some sort. And he doubts that the data that led to his conclusions were left over from an earlier flight and were therefore incorrect. "A lot of the data recovered," he said, such as the angle of attack measurement. "It all fits with what I described." Others speaking at the news conference included Fred Meyer, a retired Air National Guard major who was flying a helicopter practice mission around Long Island.

He said FBI investigators talked to him briefly, but were not too interested in his account of a streak of light arcing through the sky and ending in what looked to him as a military explosion. "I've seen ordnance explosions," said Meyer, a Vietnam veteran. "This was military ordnance." Another witness, Richard Goss, a carpenter and businessman, said he was having dinner when he saw an ascending streak of light over the Atlantic Ocean, ending in an explosion. He said he twice talked with FBI investigators, but they didn't follow up with him. They were joined at the news conference by Mark Hill, a retired Navy rear admiral, and Howard Mann, a former TWA 747 pilot, who first picked up on the cross-out line in the flight recorder data while looking over documents he picked up during the Baltimore hearings.

TWA800 Eyewitness Meyer Speaks to the Granada Forum

When you fly a helicopter at 120 knots over North Vietnam in the iron triangle - in the most heavily defended airspace in the history of warfare - you see a lot of missiles - you see a lot of flak - and I did - I saw a bunch of it - I know what it looks like. My purpose in being here tonight is to tell you that what I saw explode in the sky on July 17, 1996 was military ordnance... We're here is to say it's no accident - somebody shot this aircraft down.
Major Fred Meyer
March 12, 1998