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TWA Flight 800Posted Friday, July 18, 2008, at 5:28 PM
On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 took off from Kennedy Airport in New York, with 230 people aboard, heading for Paris, France. Ten minutes into the flight, the Boeing 747 was climbing at about 400 miles per hour, 8 miles off the coast of Long Island.
At 13,800 feet, the airplane exploded in midair.
There were no survivors.
The FBI interviewed over 700 witnesses of the incident and 270 of them claimed to have seen a ball of light (similar to a missile) streak from the surface up into the sky, followed by the massive explosion of the aircraft.
Two Air National Guard helicopter pilots were on a training mission, over the ocean, heading back to their base on Long Island. A few thousand feet below Flight 800, heading directly toward it, they saw a red-orange flare-like object heading skyward. Then there was a small explosion, followed immediately by a large explosion.
A U.S. Navy electronic technician was traveling on a US Air Jet, gazing out the window, when he spotted a "flare" rising from below. Soon, there was a small midair explosion, followed by a much bigger explosion.
Hundreds of witnesses have given similar accounts of an object streaking skyward just prior to the explosion.
The timing of this incident on July 17, a special holiday in the Muslim world, is important.
Coincidentally, there was an El Al 747 (Israeli airlines) flight scheduled to take off out of Kennedy at about the same time as TWA Flight 800 but it was running late. It would be an obvious prime target for Muslim terrorists.
In June of 1996, members of several terrorist groups held a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Soon thereafter, three weeks before TWA Flight 800 was downed, the U.S. Air Force barracks (Khobar Towers) in Saudi Arabia were attacked by a truck bomb, killing 19 and wounding 372 military personnel. President Clinton immediately placed the military on the highest alert since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The 1996 Olympics opening ceremonies were about to get underway in Atlanta on July 19. The entire world was focused on the USA at the time.
Following the explosion, the Coast Guard issued an alert to all boats in the area to report their position, which they did. However, according to radar sightings, one boat was spotted heading away from the crash site at high speed. For months, the FBI denied the existence of this boat, but finally admitted it. It has never been identified.
Shortly after the incident, an amateur video of the surface-to-air missile attack was aired on MSNBC. It was only shown a couple of times before it was quickly seized by the FBI and has never been made public since.
Two days later, the London Times reported (quoting senior Iranian officials) that an Iranian terrorist group called the Islamic Change Movement took credit for the attack on TWA Flight 800.
Soon thereafter, Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff, held a press conference and stated that no one had taken credit for an act of terrorism.
In order to convince the public it was an accident, the CIA produced an animation video blaming fumes in the center fuel tank (which was empty) for the cause of the explosion on Flight 800, claiming that witnesses who believed they had observed a missile ascend into the sky had simply noticed a trail of burning jet fuel streaming downward.
Nearly every TWA pilot, Boeing engineer and independent aviation expert who has seen the video believes it could not have happened as portrayed.
But why would the Clinton Administration cover-up a missile attack?
Bill Clinton was up for reelection in November of 1996. If Americans had learned the country was vulnerable to terrorist attacks, there would have been dire political consequences.
A terrorist attack on America would have spoiled the Olympics about to get underway in Atlanta and created tons of negative publicity, making Clinton seem vulnerable and weak. Republicans are generally considered to be stronger in national defense than Democrats which would have had a direct impact on the upcoming presidential election just a few months away.
Complicating matters, there could be another possible explanation for a missile strike on TWA Flight 800.
A military zone off the coast of Long Island, called W-105, was "active" on July 17, 1996. The U.S. Navy had deployed a warship (Normandy) and three submarines (Trepang, Wyoming and Albuquerque) within the zone. It's possible, although unlikely, that an errant missile had been fired from a U.S. Navy vessel on maneuvers.
During that summer, there had been five live missile firings along the Atlantic seaboard. These missiles would have dummy warheads, the same size and weight of real warheads but which do not explode on impact. However, a heat-seeking dummy missile would ripe through an aircraft near the engines causing an explosion of the fuel tanks.
The Wyoming, a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, had just been sent out on sea trials during this military exercise. But something reportedly went wrong, delaying the commissioning of the Wyoming. The Wyoming's Captain and Executive officer were subsequently relieved of command.
Once again, if this had been a military snafu, the Clinton Administration would have been blamed for the incident, causing adverse publicity and popularity. Just as with a terrorist attack, a cover-up would be more advantageous than to announce to the world that we shot down one of our own passenger planes while goofing around playing war games.
Incidentally, there's never been a similar explosion of a 747, before or since.
If this "accident" had actually been an explosion in an empty center fuel tank, the FAA would have grounded and recalled every 747 in operation at the time, but they didn't.
Boeing Aircraft tried to duplicate the "accident" but failed to do so. Boeing engineers were unable to create a scenario where a plane would blow up under similar conditions, either through live testing or using their Cray Supercomputers to simulate the incident.
It simply couldn't have happened the way the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) claimed it had happened. And if it did, their actions afterward would have been much different.
On July 17, 2008, the twelfth anniversary of the tragedy, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced that all 747s will be required to undergo a retrofitting of a device that will prevent empty center fuel tanks from exploding in the future. The cost will be several hundred thousand dollars per plane for each of the 2, 730 aircraft affected. The total cost is estimated to be $1.2 billion. The industry has nine years to comply.
Once again, the lack of urgency to keep passenger airplanes from blowing up in midair due to a faulty fuel tank design, over the next nine years, is evidence that this was a smokescreen from the beginning.
It's always comforting to know our government is taking such good care of us. We'll just throw a billion bucks at it and everything will be back to normal. Unfortunately, when it comes to government policy, normal usually means crazy.
Denial is the first human response to a tragedy.
The next attack, if it was a terrorist attack, took place on Sept. 11, 2001. That one wasn't so easy to deny.
Quote for the Day -- "More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." Woody Allen
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Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist for The News (2001-2007) and author of four novels. He has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis and the middle of the Arizona desert. After a life of blood, sweat and tears in big cities, he has finally found peace in northern Arkansas where he grows tomatoes, watches sunsets and occasionally shares the Secrets of the Universe (and beyond) with the rest of the world.