Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Jan. 8 called for new congressional hearings into last July's crash of TWA Flight 800.
"It absolutely deserves more investigation -- a lot more," Moorer told Gannett News Service. "This time, I wouldn't let the FBI do it. I'd have the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) do it. I think Congress certainly should get more answers from the FBI."
Moorer and other retired Navy brass, at a news conference, expressed grave suspicion over the FBI's recently concluded 18-month investigation of the disaster, in which the plane disintegrated July 17, 1996, en route to Paris and plunged into the Atlantic near Long Island, killing 230. They said a military missile explosion just outside the 747's forward cabin seems the likely cause.
"All evidence would point to a missile," Moorer said. "All those witnesses who saw a streak that hit the airplane -- you have to assume it's a missile. In an investigation like this, you can't overlook anything."
Moorer, an expert on missile weaponry, attended the news conference convened by a media critic group that scoffs at the official NTSB and FBI findings unveiled a month ago. Joseph Valiquette, FBI spokesman in New York, said the agency is "comfortable" with its conclusions that "there's no evidence a criminal act was responsible."
"This is either a train wreck in the sky, or an explosive device -- mid-air, outside the plane," said retired Navy Cmdr. William Donaldson, who flew 89 combat missions over Vietnam and for five years was a top Naval aviation accident investigator.
Donaldson, who said he is not working for TWA or the passenger jet's manufacturer, Boeing, examined the mountain of material released in early December about the $100 million federal investigation. He particularly criticized one NTSB document reflecting flight-recorder data that was not discussed when the material was unveiled in Baltimore last month.
Donaldson noted a line drawn through readings of the last five seconds of the doomed jet's flight, with a handwritten margin note reading "End of Flt. 800 DATA" -- except there are more revealing readings below it.
He said he thinks this was an attempt to divert attention from the final readings on the flight recorder: "The only reason you put flight data recorders into an airplane at millions of dollars cost is to capture this last data line."
He said NTSB officials later tried to convince the Navy dissidents it merely was transcript from an earlier flight -- a conclusion former TWA pilot Howard Mann said is "not possible -- it's erased -- there's just no way."
The final readings show chaos in the sky -- with airspeed dropping instantly by almost 200 knots, the pitch angle jumping five degrees, altitude dropping 3,600 feet in about three seconds, the roll angle going from zero to 144 degrees (the plane almost inverted), and magnetic heading changing from 82 degrees to 163 degrees.
The small vane that measures wind angle striking the nose -- situated on the left forward fuselage -- goes from 3 degrees to 106 degrees back to 30 degrees.
Donaldson said all these indicate an extremely high-pressure wave coming from the lower left side of the plane's front. The measurements "indicate there was an explosion -- a big explosion -- outside the cockpit." Mann agreed with Donaldson's interpretations.
Donaldson also said:
* Divers found debris from the forward fuselage as much as 2,900 feet to the right of the extended flight path, suggesting it may have been propelled by an explosion from the plane's left.
* Fuselage doors from near the front of the craft, later recovered, were bent and dented inward.
* Subsequent tests Donaldson conducted showed fuel vapor in the empty center tank would not have been flammable enough to cause such an explosion, and there was nothing to ignite it.
* More damage occurred to the left wing than the right.
* The fuselage skin broke up in such a way as to suggest a pressure wave from the outside left front.
"What you're looking at is the product of an explosion in the sky that totally destroyed the aircraft's ability to fly anywhere," he said.
A digital animation computer rendering of the catastrophe -- prepared by the CIA for media use in early December -- sought to explain some of the physical forces on the flight data by showing the nose breaking off the huge aircraft and the body then climbing almost 3,000 feet before a huge petroleum explosion sends it fireballing into the sea.
"There couldn't have been an aviator at CIA who had anything to do with that," said Donaldson. "They were laughed out of town by pilots."
Goss said the FBI was interested and "very amazed," but later "there wasn't as much enthusiasm . . . I never heard from them again."
Meyer, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, was flying an Air National Guard helicopter on maneuvers when the disaster occurred in front of him: "I saw, what I swear to God, was military ordnance explode."
Meyer said, "The aircraft I saw came out of the air like a stone. Nobody saw that aircraft climb a foot after it was hit. The CIA cartoon bears no similarity to what I saw."
Meyer approached the FBI with his report, but said after two desultory interviews, agents never called back. He claims he knows several witnesses who called the FBI's 800 number with similar reports, but were not called back.
The FBI, Donaldson said, "is holding the lid on 92 witnesses who allege they saw something go and climb to the sky. Most of those people are scared to death right now."
Valiquette, the FBI spokesman, said, "We know there are always going to be people who will never accept our findings. And we're comfortable with that, too. . . . We went back and re-interviewed all those eyewitnesses. We plotted their positions, and there was a lot of analysis done. Today, we are comfortable with the results."
The retired officers speculated a missile could have come from either a submarine or a buoy device developed by the Navy years ago to float attack missiles into position for launch from miles away.
"One vital question we haven't attacked is the origin of that streak of light," Moorer said. "Where did it come from? Who fired it."
For its part, the NTSB insisted after the briefing that "We have no physical evidence that a missile impacted TWA 800, or a fragment of a missile penetrated the aircraft."
Navy Times, Jan. 19, 1998, Page 14
Posted here Jan. 15, 1998
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