Anomalies within the Official Crash Investigation of TWA Flight 800
Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization
Chair: Thomas F. Stalcup, 1269 E. Orange Ave., Tallahassee FL 32301
May 3, 1999
Many anomalies and inconsistencies remain within the official investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800 (F800). The failure of the FBI to identify the closest vehicle (a surface vessel) to the plane at the time of the crash, the questionable conclusions drawn from explosive residues found in the wreckage, and the secrecy of eyewitness testimony are among the items discussed in this report. A pattern of concealment and/or disregard of crucial pieces of evidence not supporting a ‘preferred’ theory of mechanical malfunction is identified. These anomalies are relevant to the House Subcommittee on Aviation’s goal of the NTSB's re-authorization and should prompt an independent investigation into the crash of F800
Ships in the Vicinity
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) radar analysts have identified the tracks of four surface vessels within a six mile radius of F800 at the time of the accident. These tracks, confirmed by the FBI as surface vessels, were detected by the radar site closest to the crash in Islip, NY. The surface vessel nearest to the tragedy maintained a 30 knot heading away from the falling debris and thereby has been named the 30 knot track.
The 30 knot track is a radar tracked surface vessel recorded on the Islip, Long Island radar.
In a July 27, 1998 Letter from Lewis D. Schiliro, Acting Assistant Director in Charge, FBI, responded to an April letter to the FBI from Congressman James A Traficant, (D) Ohio.
"… Question 2: In its analysis of radar tapes, has the FBI been able to positively identify every single aircraft and surface vessel that was in the proximity of TWA Flight 800 at the time of the accident?
FBI Answer: No…in January, 1997 the FBI first noted the presence of a surface vessel…between 25 and 35 knots… Despite extensive efforts, the FBI has been unable to identify this vessel."
The NTSB allowed the FBI, with little or no experience in airline safety, to independently follow leads and conduct interviews with strained inter-agency relations throughout the investigation. Claiming to have "left no stone unturned..[and]..during the 24-Hour period: 371 vessels identified," the FBI failed to identify the closest surface vessel to the crash. The identities of the remaining three vessels have not been released to the public.
Explosive Evidence in Wreckage
PETN and RDX
The explosives PETN and RDX were detected and confirmed to exist by the FBI between rows 15 and 25. Later, however, the FBI stated that these traces were consistent with explosives allegedly spilled during a canine training exercise a few weeks before the crash.
This explosives "spill" was not reported until after the detection of PETN and RDX within the wreckage of F800, and the area of the spill was inconsistent with the explosive traces detected in the wreckage. Officer Burnette of the St. Louis Police Department, carrying out the bomb sniffing exercise, failed to record the tail number of the wide body plane in question, while two such TWA planes existed in close proximity during the exercise. Burnette testified that he neither saw nor heard any individuals aboard the plane during the exercise which ended no earlier than 12:15 PM. The wide body plane which later flew as TWA Flight 800 left its St. Louis gate for Honolulu at 12:35 PM, fully catered, with all of its passengers and crew aboard.
Could officer Burnette neither see nor hear any passengers, crew, or caterers 20 minutes before the plane left its gate? Did Burnette conduct his exercise on a nearby, nearly identical TWA 747 which left its gate at 1:30 PM? Compounding this investigative error, if Burnette did conduct his explosive training exercise on the 747 which later flew as TWA Flight 800, why did the locations of the alleged spills conflict with the traces detected with the F800 wreckage? The questions raised by these lapses must be answered before any investigating agency can attribute the PETN and RDX traces found within the F800 wreckage to the above mentioned spill.
As it stands we are left with a glaringly well documented trail of explosive residue throughout the body of the 747. Worse, the NTSB inexplicably accepted the inadequate attempts by the FBI to explain away this trail.
The Red Residue
After noticing a red residue on several (rows 17-19) passenger seats within the rows in which PETN and RDX were detected, lead TWA Investigator and Head Pilot Terrel Stacey brought the residue to the attention of FBI investigators. Weeks later, the FBI refused to share its laboratory results on the residue, citing evidence in a criminal investigation, prompting Stacey to remove samples of this residue, giving them to James Sanders (author/journalist) who in turn had the residue tested at West Coast Analytical Services (WCAS) in Sante Fe Springs, CA. The results of this test showed high concentrations of elements used in missile fuel and pyrotechnics. The publication of these results in the Press Enterprise newspaper of Riverside, California received national press coverage, prompting the FBI to make a series of public statements[5, 14-16] concerning the residue and their dissatisfaction with Stacey's and Sanders' actions.
The media attention over the WCAS results influenced the NTSB to have the residue tested independently at NASA’s Materials Science Division. Based on the NASA results, Dr. Merrit Birky (Lead Investigator, Fire and Explosions Group, NTSB) stated that the residue was consistent with the contact adhesive named in  (report 97-IC0154) as Scotch Grip 1357 Contact Adhesive. Upon further inquiry however, it was found that the NTSB never tested the WCAS samples. Separate samples were lifted from the wreckage, and most surprising, no attempt was made by the NTSB to determine by chemical analysis if these samples were consistent with those removed by Captain Stacey. Furthermore, FBI chemist Steve Burmeister, has stated that the red residue was not consistent with the 3M adhesive tested at NASA.
In essence, the NTSB only proved that TWA used seat adhesive on its seats, not that the WCAS residue was adhesive. This fact spurred the independent testing of the 3M adhesive named in the NTSB report at Florida State University (FSU). Results from these tests were inconsistent with the WCAS results and brought to the attention of NTSB Vice Chairman Francis, who forwarded them to Dr. Birky. The following excerpt is from a phone conversation with Dr. Birky addressing this issue.
8/27/98 phone conversation (TS designates Thomas Stalcup, Florida State University, MB designates Dr. Merrit Birky, NTSB):
TS: "And I think, ah, it would have been good if you did an elemental analysis, not to prove whether it was adhesive or not, but to prove if it's the same stuff, to make sure that you and Sanders had the same stuff, therefore you say the red residue is adhesive, you mean that it's the same residue Sanders is talking about."
MB: "… to try to prove that we have the same samples as Sanders, I'm not sure it gets us very far. Supposing you come out differently, then what are going to say? Well, you’re not going to put the thing to bed."
The necessary tests to determine consistency between the NTSB and WCAS residue have yet to be performed, and whether or not they "come out differently" should be of no consequence. If the NTSB carried out appropriate tests to determine that their samples were consistent with the WCAS results, the claim that adhesive was the source of the WCAS residue would have been scientifically valid. However, the NTSB put science aside in order "to put the thing to bed," and any claim that the WCAS residue is adhesive has no scientific basis. The FSU tests exclude the 3M adhesive as a possible source, which leaves the question of the residue's origin an item for debate two years after the crash.
A piece of the aircraft's center wing tank (labeled CW-504 during reconstruction) was sent to NASA for chemical analysis by the NTSB. On it was a strange residue in a "splatter" pattern. Test results concluded the presence of nitrates in this residue, alarming NASA scientist Charles W. Bassett, as nitrates may indicate the presence of explosives. Ammonium-Nitrate (the explosive used in the Oklahoma City bomb), for example, is one of the many nitrate based explosives.
To chemists, nitrates are known as ‘anions,’ and when combined with ‘cations,’ the resultant molecule is explosive. If Ammonia (a cation) was detected in the splatter pattern, a strong case could be made for Ammonium-nitrate as the origin of the nitrates. Therefore, when investigators determine the presence of an anion, the next step is to look for a cation within the same material.
Bassett reported the nitrate (anion) presence in CW-504 to Dr. Merrit Birky and concluded in report 97-1C0063:
"An attempt to determine the origin of the anions present in both samples was not conducted at this time but is of concern and is under further investigation."
However, instead of requesting that Bassett determine the nitrate's possible explosive identity, Birky sent other aircraft parts for testing which lacked the questionable residue. No further testing of CW-504 was requested, the source of the nitrates was not determined, and Bassett's report, quoted above, was never released to the public.
The materials sent to Bassett after the nitrate report were parts from the plane’s air conditioning units. Dr. Birky instructed Bassett to determine whether these parts could have possibly been the source of the splatter pattern on CW-504. Bassett concluded in report 97-1C0089 that:
"there is no indication that any of the reference materials examined in these analyses, served as the source of the surfactant coated polyester which was discussed in report 97-1C0064…nor is there evidence to indicate any of the reference materials served as the source of the nitrate presence in [CW-504]."
Less than a month prior, a seemingly redundant report comparing air conditioning materials to the CW-504 splatter pattern by the FBI appears to conflict with Bassett’s conclusion, and makes no mention of any nitrate presence. Here, in a vague summary, the FBI concludes:
"Based upon the comparison examinations conducted, specimens [CWT splatter material] are consistent with having originated from the sources represented by [foam air duct material], or a similar source."
The FBI’s failure to identify the nitrate presence within the CW-504 spatter pattern is disturbing given that two of the three theories for the crash included the possibility of a nitrate-related explosion. The NTSB’s detection of nitrates on CW-504 should have prompted further testing of the splatter pattern. Chemical tests available for determining a possible explosive source of the material were never utilized. Instead, other parts of the aircraft were tested in apparent disregard to the possibility that the spatter pattern may have been evidence of an explosive material. Most incredible was the NTSB's choice to withhold a report which expressed concern over the nitrate presence, while publishing another, failing to even detect it.
The NTSB and CIA Animations
In November 1997, the FBI suspended their investigation into F800 in a nationally televised press conference, wherein a dramatic CIA produced animation simulating the official crash sequence was shown to explain the alleged missile sightings. A similar animation was produced by the NTSB and shown during the Baltimore hearings in December of 1998. Unprecedented in the history of NTSB public hearings, the eyewitnesses were banned less than a week before they began. Nor were they even allowed to testify as to the apparent level of accuracy of the animations’ depiction of the observations of the tragedy. Most remarkably, no official effort was ever made by the producers of either official accident animation to get feedback or corroboration from the hundreds of eyewitnesses, whose testimony they claimed to be portraying.
However, separate interviews were conducted with dozens of eyewitnesses concerning the accuracy official crash sequence shown in these animations. After watching the CIA produced animation, eyewitnesses responded to the claims that they did not see a separate object, but only the plane itself.
(12/3/97 phone interview): "That's total fabrication."
(12/4/97 phone interview): "Yeah right, coming off the water."
(12/6/97 phone interview): "Would fuel burn from the [ocean] surface going up, or from the plane coming down….What I saw was going up from the surface…like a rising flare."
Major Fred Meyers:
(11/24/97 radio interview): "Well that's pure fabrication...What's going on in the FBI, I don't know."
(11/24/97 radio interview): "I can't see that's possible at all…[the CIA animation] was a joke."
The major question in the heads of the family members, news media, and concerned citizens about the crash of F800 is what the eyewitnesses saw. Many were reported to have seen an object streak toward the aircraft before any explosions[27-51]. However, no eyewitness was interviewed during the production of either animation and of the over 100 individuals who witnessed the streaking object, an overwhelming majority disagree with the official crash sequence and both animations.
Note: Independent triangulation of eyewitness accounts has determined the origin of at least one high speed projectile to be over two miles lower in altitude and nearly seven miles north of F800. This object's trajectory, according to eyewitnesses, ended at the aircraft with a brilliant white flash.
A Preferred Theory
Within the NTSB's investigation into the loss of TWA Flight 800 a pattern of evidence interpretation, disregard, incomplete analysis, and outright concealment was established as policy. This policy heavily favored a preferred theory of mechanical malfunction--a type of malfunction that has not been corroborated by physical evidence or prior incidents. More striking is the fact that the NTSB has been unable to duplicate a similar malfunction, even with access to the world's best laboratories and research facilities. The incomplete analysis of crucial pieces of evidence and failure to re-enact the theorized malfunction left the NTSB with little evidence to support their conclusions. Ironically, they chose to further neglect their most overwhelming body of evidence by agreeing with the FBI to ban eyewitness testimony and reports from a hearing meant to explain the incident, observed by at least 244 individuals. The FBI letter, which objected to the eyewitness testimony, did however, permit the use of certain eyewitnesses and reports, providing their testimony supported the mechanical malfunction theory.
In a December 3, 1998 (five days before the Baltimore hearings) letter , then FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom wrote to NTSB Chairman Jim Hall:
"..we do not object to the use of and inclusion in the public docket of summaries prepared by NTSB of FBI interviews of other individuals to the extent their information may relate to mechanical or similar issues.."
The above quotation represents well, the policy adhered to by the NTSB which maintained, analyzed, and touted evidence in support of the mechanical malfunction theory, while banning, disregarding or concealing evidence in support of other theories. In clear violation of their charter, they submitted their investigation to undue influence and unwarranted objections from the FBI. Lacking eyewitnesses and their respective reports, what hundreds of individuals witnessed had to be re-created in their absence and without their input. The NTSB conclusions remained hollow, as public scrutiny and peer review of key segments of the investigation were avoided by their concealment from the hearings and the public.
The NTSB and FBI conducted incomplete testing of crucial pieces of evidence, and are guilty of a high level of complacency about the contradictory results determined by the different agencies. Both agencies have failed to identify the nearest surface vessel to the tragedy. Eyewitness reports have been inaccurately portrayed by NTSB and FBI officials in at least two animations depicting the official crash sequence. At least one senior NTSB official finds it more important to "put the thing to bed" than to conduct a scientifically sound investigation. The cause of the crash of F800 is still unresolved. Other independent investigators and some journalists and writers claim to have discovered many other anomalies, gaps, failings and non-rigorous aspects of the official investigation. It now appears that any objective and close scrutiny of the more accessible facts in this closely held investigation leads to only one indisputable certainty. That is, that the most expensive inquiry ever, of the greatest disaster in US aviation history has produced an inexplicably flawed and inconclusive official investigation.
1. That Congress should authorize and appoint a committee of independent experts adequately empowered across all agencies involved to thoroughly review the official F800 investigation, to:
2. That the NTSB, the FBI, the FAA, and the BATF be immediately ordered by Congress to release all the presently withheld records and evidence being sought under FOI laws concerning the F800 incident. The present denial pretext is that the evidence might be used in some eventual criminal prosecution, despite the fact that the investigation has already officially concluded "...no criminal act.."
3. A list of the investigation’s omissions discussed within this report, that should be remedied and overseen by some impartial and credible independent committee is:
4. That the NTSB, FBI and CIA release all data (including the complete eyewitness data) used in the production of any and all animations describing F800’s final minute of flight.
5. That an NTSB public hearing is scheduled which contains the release of all eyewitness reports and allows the testimony of the eyewitnesses. This hearing should also release and discuss all explosives related test results and documents related to the tragedy.
6. That the NTSB conduct independent interviews with the eyewitnesses to gain bearing line data to all objects observed.
7. That the NTSB gain access to and release the identities of the three surface vessels closest to the crash and list the vessels’ reason(s) for not assisting in search and rescue.
8. That the NTSB allow independent testing of all explosives related wreckage.
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