The US Navy headed the TWA 800 recovery effort
Key evidence, confirmed recovered, now missing
July 14, 2004
Documents recently obtained under ongoing FOIA litigation describe how the FBI had a policy of withholding "suspicious" physical evidence from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). And today, a key piece of evidence recovered by the Navy is still missing.
The NTSB said a spark in a fuel tank caused the crash, and that they had "no physical evidence" of a missile engagement. But did the FBI's evidence-withholding policy effectively keep physical evidence from the NTSB?
Perhaps, but what is certain is that the very first piece of wreckage that left the plane (FAA radar recorded it flying off the plane at apparent supersonic speeds1 just as Flight 800 explodes) is now missing. It's listed "confirmed recovered" on Navy charts, but is nowhere to be found on the NTSB's.
This piece of wreckage may very well be the key to the crash. But its trajectory, speed, and recovery location all contradict the official theory. It was blown out perpendicular to the flight path and landed more than 1/4 mile too close to JFK airport to fit within the official "spark" scenario. Rather than explaining what accelerated it, why it landed so close to JFK, or how it vanished from the reconstruction hangar, the Safety Board remained, and continues to remain conspicuously silent.
Click to enlarge.
A little history
Prior to 9/11, TWA Flight 800 was perhaps the most watched airliner disaster in history. More than 700 witnesses provided the FBI with their accounts.
Many said an object rose off the ocean surface and collided with Flight 800. But without corroborating physical evidence, the Feds didn't believe them. Some investigators, however, thought they had supporting evidence. But they complained that it disappeared into the FBI's "black hole" of a crime lab in Washington, according to a New York Times article published a month after the crash.
The final word, as far as the government was concerned, came in August 2000 during a so-called "sunshine hearing." The NTSB said a spark in a fuel tank caused the crash. Case closed. But for those following the case, the hearing was far from illuminating.
Absent from the hearing was any explanation of the crucial, high-speed wreckage described above. Usually quite valuable to investigators, wreckage that separates early during a plane crash sometimes holds the key to solving the accident. But this time, the NTSB seemed disinterested. They didn't even seem concerned that it disappeared.
A little mystery
Some time after Navy divers recovered it from the ocean floor, the wreckage vanished. It's listed in the Navy's salvage map, but not in the NTSB's. And just as inexplicable as its disappearance, the NTSB turned a blind eye to its radar-recorded trajectory. Fortunately however, not everyone was towing the NTSB line.
A radar consultant hired by the FBI during the investigation concluded that "some portion or component of the aircraft kicked out to the right nearly immediately after the loss of the transponder signal." When he couldn't locate any such wreckage pattern in official debris field maps, the consultant wrote, "I became quite curious as to what portions of the aircraft these could be."
But the NTSB was apparently less curious. They never mentioned the wreckage at the sunshine hearing, didn't show it on their debris field map, and didn't make a single reference to it in their final report. Some concerned experts sent in a petition, requesting an explanation for this fast, radar-tracked wreckage. The NTSB wrote back about a year later saying they covered it in the final report.
They didn't. The final report devotes more space to false radar returns and nearby ships than to the abundant and telling radar returns from the aircraft itself. Nothing on the wreckage described above.
So where did the wreckage go, and why was it ignored?
Documents obtained recently during ongoing FOIA litigation describe how the FBI screened all recovered wreckage before handing it over to the NTSB. According to one such document, the FBI withheld over 300 suspicious wreckage items from the NTSB for "further investigation." The earliest wreckage may have been withheld in this manner and sent to the FBI lab in Washington--the one investigators described as a "black hole".
Perhaps the corresponding radar evidence was ignored simply because it conflicted with the NTSB's spark scenario. Like the tell-tale explosion signature recorded by a black box, explosive residues in the cargo compartment, witnesses who swear they saw a missile, and other evidence, the NTSB repeatedly dismissed evidence that didn't fit within their theory.
The NTSB's Metallurgy/Structures Sequencing Group all but admitted this practice in their factual report, which explained how they "strove to fit a proposed scenario to all relevant observations ... [and] had to accept that some feature(s) either could not be explained by the proposed scenario or might even be in conflict with the proposed scenario."
This meant that at least one NTSB group "strove" to fit the spark theory to their observations, while feeling they "had to" accept that some feature(s) may conflict with this theory. I wonder if the NTSB Radar Group felt the same way when they noticed wreckage flying out the right side of the aircraft at apparent super-sonic speeds1.
Until the Feds open up and truly shed light onto the key pieces of evidence, the public can only guess what happened to Flight 800. But for many of the witnesses, what happened is no mystery. The neglected evidence doesn't conflict with their observations. Rather, it corroborates their accounts of a missile engagement.2
 NTSB Exhibit 4A, Witness Group Factual Report, available at www.ntsb.gov
 THE NEW YORK TIMES: Behind a Calm Facade Investigation Embodied Chaos, Distrust, Stress. Joe Sexton, 08/23/96.
 NTSB Exhibit 13A, available at www.ntsb.gov
 FBI Report by Radar Consultant Michael O'Rourke, FIRO Petition, Attachment II, available at http://Flight800.org/FIRO_pet_attach.pdf
 FIRO Petition and NTSB Response to Petition, available at http://Flight800.org/probable_cause.htm
 NTSB Final Report on Flight 800, available at www.ntsb.gov
 FBI Report on Bomb Tech Activities, recently obtained during ongoing FOIA litigation (Sephton vs. FBI, 01-2502). Available upon request.
1FAA radar recorded this wreckage traveling at an average speed of approximately 500 mph over four seconds. Because wreckage exiting an aircraft rapidly decreases its speed due to the extreme force of air resistance, this piece of wreckage most likely had an initial velocity far greater than the speed of sound, which, at Flight 800's altitude was approximately 700 mph.
2Witnesses on Long Island reported seeing a fast moving, flare-like object in near-level flight approach Flight 800 from the aircraft's left (north-facing) side. Such an intercept is consistent with wreckage immediately exiting Flight 800's right side, and not the left, as radar data indicates. Witness 649 (name redacted and numbered by the NTSB) is a good example of such a witness. Read his account at the NTSB's website, here: Exhibit 4A, Appendix H.