TWA Flight 800
On July 17, 1996, Flight 800 took off from Kennedy Airport in New York, with 230 people aboard, heading for Paris, France. At 8:31 p.m., 10 minutes into the flight, the TWA 747 was climbing at about 400 miles per hour, eight 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 is important. In June of 1996, members of several terrorist groups held a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Later that month, three weeks before 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 Olympics were about to get under way in Atlanta on July 19. The timing was ripe for another terrorist strike, just prior to the Olympic opening ceremony, especially on July 17, a special holiday in the Muslim world.
Coincidentally, there was an El Al 747 (Israeli airlines) flight scheduled to take off out of Kennedy at about the same time as Flight 800 but it was running late. It would be an obvious prime target for Muslim terrorists.
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 highly unlikely, that an errant missile had been fired from a U.S. Navy vessel on maneuvers.
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 shown only 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 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 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.
There's never been a similar explosion of a 747. Boeing tried to duplicate the "accident" but failed to do so.
Bill Clinton was up for reelection in November of 1996. If Americans had learned the USA was vulnerable to terrorist attacks, there would have been political consequences. Or perhaps the Clinton Administration didn't want to alarm the public or harm the airline industry. Or perhaps they didn't want to glorify the terrorists. Or whatever.
There are more factors involved, but in my opinion, which is generally meaningless, it was probably a missile attack and the official explanation stinks of coverup. I don't have all the answers but I've got plenty of questions.
Denial is the usual first response to a tragedy. The next attack, on Sept. 11, 2001, wasn't so easy to deny.
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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.