- The hearing into TWA Flight 800 focused
Thursday on aging aircraft and making fuel less flammable as ways of preventing
repeats of the July 17, 1996 disaster. National Transportation Safety Board
investigators suspect an electrical fault ignited fuel and air fumes in
the center tank, breaking the plane up and sending 230 people to their
deaths. At the hearing, witnesses described numerous problems Wednesday
with cracked and corroded wiring on older planes that may give a clue to
the TWA Flight 800 explosion. One idea is to put electrical systems of
older aircraft to the same inspections applied to older airframes.
- Here is the missile evidence from numerous
- A retired U.S. Navy pilot, Commander
William Donaldson, claims he has done his own investigation of TWA Flight
800 and feels certain the crash was caused by a terrorist missile. On Sunday,
December 7, 1997, he was the key speaker on the C-Span, "Accuracy
in Media" television show. He claims that radar tapes reviewed by
FAA and Navy personnel show a missile hitting the aircraft. He further
claims the reason for the denials by government were Whitehouse orders
to prevent public knowledge of terrorist operations prior to the election.
The President issued Executive Order 13039 on March 11, 1997, that rescinded
all Whistle Blower laws concerning this case. The order was released just
prior to the "Paris Magazine" article also claiming that a missile
caused the tragedy.
- Commander Donaldson personally interviewed
several witnesses who saw a missile like object leave the ocean surface,
ascend to altitude make a left turn and explode near Flight 800. He provided
taped testimony of Richard Gauss a witness to the tragedy. Gauss stated
he heard the sound of thunder twice and a few seconds later saw an orange
flare like object ascend towards West Hampton. As the flare climbed higher
and glowed in the sky, he commented to his friend, "It looks like
a UFO," The object penetrated a cloud layer and he saw a huge glowing
brightness in the sky. Tom Daugherty another witness was on the porch of
the Hampton Yacht Club when he and a group of friends saw a missile like
object launch. All saw the fireworks bright pink launch . The unidentified
object climbed straight up then veered sharply towards an aircraft and
exploded. A few seconds later a larger secondary explosion occurred and
the smoky wreckage started tumbling into the sea. Several witnesses also
complained of having strange men guard their house for a year after the
- Donaldson also interviewed Major Mier,
an ANG pilot who had won a Distinguished Flying Cross in Vietnam. Major
Mier was flying near Flight 800 at the time and insisted the initial explosion
was caused by ordinance outside the craft such as a missile. He had observed
missiles in Vietnam. The initial explosion was outside rather than from
inside the aircraft's center wing fuel tank. All investigators agree that
the center fuel tank exploded. The disagreement concerns what caused the
center tank to explode. Government experts claim they have not determined
the cause, but rule out a missile. Donaldson conducted some experiments
on TV showing that Jet A fuel used by virtually all commercial aircraft
is very difficult to explode and would have needed an outside source such
as a missile. He measured the temperature on the center fuel tanks on similar
747 aircraft under similar conditions and found the that comparatively
low temperatures could not have caused an explosion.
- His most convincing evidence had to do
with damage to the aircraft. He claims Flight 800's nose wheel doors were
blown inward by the impact from an explosion outside the aircraft. Parts
of the wing were also blown apart as from a missile, rather than from an
internal explosion. These key parts of the aircraft damaged in the initial
missile explosion landed first several thousand feet prior to the other
parts of the aircraft. Tracking the damage caused by the secondary fuel
tank explosion would not reach either to the outer wings or to the nose
wheel panels. A top secret hangar allegedly houses 40 key aircraft parts
of the aircraft showing damage from the impact of explosion outside the
aircraft. Although this evidence and other evidence has been presented
to the news media they have been reluctant to tell the story to the public.
The full true story of Flight 800 has yet to be told.
- THE FOLLOWING APPEARED IN THE OCTOBER,
1996 ISSUE OF THE "CALIFORNIA SUN" PUBLISHED IN OJAI, CALIFORNIA.
- FROM THE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR SECTION:
- Dear Editor:
- I witnessed the crash of TWA flight 800.
- I work in a county office in California.
My wife and I were on vacation in New York. We were on the beach when it
happened. We talked to many other witnesses who saw the same thing that
we did. A very bright fiery light heading upward toward the jet. Then an
- We told what we had seen to some investigators.
We told them that we were on our vacation and about to continue on to Florida.
They asked us to stay a while longer and said that they would pay our hotel
bill until our statements as to what we saw could be taken by other investigators.
- It turned out however to be more than
just our statements taken. They took our social security numbers, drivers
license and license plate numbers. They wanted to know my place of employment
and the names and addresses of our children and relatives. They questioned
us in separate rooms and made us feel like criminals. They said that what
we must have seen was a shooting star or some fireworks being shot from
a boat. I told them that it was not anything like that at all. I said that
it was definitely a flare type rocket heading toward the aircraft, then
- It was then suggested that we did not
see anything at all and that we were going along with what other people
said they saw. Just for the excitement of it. I told them, "no way,
I know what I saw."
- After the questioning we were asked to
go back to the hotel and stay there until we were cleared to leave. About
three hours later two other men we had not seen before came to the hotel.
They gave us some money and told us "never to mention anything to
anyone about being witnesses to the crash again."
- They scared the hell out of us. It was
a lot of money and we accepted it out of fear.
- If it was a missile that brought down
the jet, then I could understand that they would not want people to panic.
But the way they are handling it is shocking and inexcusable.
- My wife and I are outraged and we want
people to know how we were treated.
- This letter is not signed out of concern
for ourselves and our family.
- Eyewitness: Ordnance Blast
Downed TWA 800
- By David E. Hendrix The Press-Enterprise
- A military eyewitness to the TWA Flight
800 disaster who was the first rescuer on the scene says the jetliner and
230 people aboard were knocked out of the sky by an explosive projectile,
probably a military warhead, and not by some internal mechanical catastrophe.
- Frederick C. Meyer, one of two Air National
Guard helicopter pilots who witnessed the jetliner's breakup, said he was
not sure what the projectile was and did not know its source. A Jane's
military expert said Meyer's description of the incident matched that of
a missile detonating.
- Meyer said he cannot say the object that
struck the Boeing 747 was a missile, but is convinced he saw an ``ordnance
explosion'' burst near the plane just before it blossomed into a deadly
- Although the ex-Navy officer and Vietnam
War helicopter pilot previously had described what he saw to investigators
and to the media, he said he was breaking his self-imposed silence on his
conclusions about what occurred. He said the reason he was speaking out
now was because of FBI and National Transportation Safety Board statements
that a mechanical spark most likely touched off fuel tank fumes and caused
the July 17, 1996, air disaster. He also noted that investigators had treated
him perfunctorily and did not ask him many questions or anything about
his conclusions when they talked.
- ``I'm not a professor with a Ph.D. in
explosion-watching, I'm an eyewitness,'' Meyer, an attorney, said. ``I
know what I saw. I saw an ordnance explosion. And whatever I saw, the explosion
of the fuel was not the initiator of the event. It was one of the results.
Something happened before that which was the initiator of the disaster.
Everyone involved in the FBI and NTSB are intelligent enough to know that.''
- NTSB officials confirmed that Meyer's
conclusions were new to them and that he had not previously offered his
beliefs to investigators. An FBI spokesman said the agency does not comment
about statements of an individual witness. NTSB and FBI official s said
there was no physical evidence a bomb or missile downed the plane. The
FBI has said it expects to withdraw from the probe soon because it has
no physical evidence that would indicate there was a criminal cause.
- There have been other eyewitness reports
about missile-like streaks followed by an explosion but these have been
primarily from people on land or in boats. The FBI and the NTSB have said
they believe that the central gas tank explosion was most likel y touched
off by an internal event. They have not shut the door entirely on other
prevailing theories -- that a bomb or missile caused the disaster --but
they have belittled them.
- More specifically, NTSB spokeswoman Shelly
Hazle said the possibility that an outside object, such as a missile fragment
or meteor, struck the plane is among the six crash theories receiving most
official attention. Four of the theories center on a spark or static electricity
setting off center fuel tank vapors and another looks at a small bomb with
a shaped charge under a passenger seat detonating over the center tank.
- Meyer, in a series of interviews with
The Press-Enterprise from his Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, N.Y., office,
said he had not offered his opinions during several brief meetings with
FBI and NTSB investigators because he wanted to present facts, not conclusions.
However, he chided FBI and NTSB examiners for not asking him any questions
during individual sessions, the first two of which he initiated.
- Capt. Chris Baur, his co-pilot that night,
could not be reached for comment and has declined interviews, reportedly
under orders, since shortly after the disaster. But published reports quote
investigators as saying Baur thinks he saw a missile.
- Meyer said he saw a streak from the west
of the spot where the TWA exploded seconds later. Baur said he saw a streak
from the east.
- Meyer said the accounts are not contradictory
if there were two projectiles, such as two missiles or a drone target and
a missile, approaching from opposite directions. Meyer said he believes
there were two projectiles but said he could only testify about the one
he saw. He vigorously rejected efforts to discuss Baur's reported comments,
saying that would be inappropriate and would detract from the substance
of each account.
- Meyer, 57, tells this story:
- He, Baur and flight engineer Denis Richardson
were practicing instrument landings for Baur around Francis S. Gabreski
Airport, a former Air Force Base on eastern Long Island, at about 8:30
p.m. on the Wednesday evening TWA 800 crashed. Meyer was watching forward,
southwest, for possible conflicting aircraft. Baur, his head down, was
reading instruments. Richardson was facing the side from the left gunner's
position to watch for aircraft.
- At 200 feet above the ground, Meyer could
see the top of the sun as it dipped below the horizon. It was still daylight
at their elevation. That's when he saw the streak of light.
- ''Right in front of me, slightly to the
left of centerline, at a distance that I then estimated as 10 miles and
an altitude that I estimated at approximately 10,000 feet, I saw a streak
- The light, he said, was reddish-orange
and ``had a trajectory of a shooting star: virtually horizontal, with a
gradual descending curve.'' The streak lasted three to five seconds and
- ``About a second, and then further to
my left, along the same trajectory as the streak, I see a violent explosion,
which resembles a flak explosion, and I've seen those. It's yellowish-orange
and red in color and it generates a little black cloud of s moke, and the
smoke generally congeals above the explosion and above the light. It is
a high-velocity explosion.''
- Flak is antiaircraft cannon fire that
explodes near its target and fragments into shrapnel. Meyer described a
high-velocity explosion as ``now you don't see it, now you do.''
- ``A second or maybe a second and a half
later, at an altitude that looked like the trajectory was bent downward
a little, I saw a brilliant white explosion. I don't know what it was.
It looked somewhat like a white phosphorus round, but not exactly. It was
a separate, distinct explosion. They were not concentric. They were two
different explosions, the second to the left of the first.''
- Next came a low-velocity explosion, a
fireball that grew in size and continued moving to the left, or east. The
third explosion could either have been two separate ones that merged or
just one large event, Meyer said. The entire sequence took 12 to 15 seconds
from the initial sighting of the streak to the fireball, Meyer said.
- Baur said in interviews shortly after
the accident that he saw a streak moving from left to right, or east to
west, before the first explosion. That first burst was a ``hard white light,''he
was quoted saying in a March 10 story in Aviation Week and Space Technology.
The magazine attributed its account to unnamed crash investigators who
- ``I was trying to figure out what it
was,'' the story quotes Baur as saying. ``It was the wrong color for flares.
It struck an object coming from the right and made it explode.''
- But Baur's head was down when Meyer first
saw a streak. Meyer said his view to the left was partially blocked by
Baur's body and the cockpit's structure.
- ``I'm just in total awe and saying (to
myself) `What in hell is that?''' Meyer recalled. ``I, I, just don't know
what it is,'' he said, still stammering and groping for words a year later.
- The eerie scene played out in silence,
the explosive sounds muffled by the men's ear plugs and helmets and drowned
out by the HH 60 Blackhawk helicopter's engine and whirring blades.
- Baur broke the mesmerizing moment, asking
if the crew was watching ``pyro,'' short for pyrotechnics, a term used
for dropping flares. A C-130 crew from Meyer's 106th Air Rescue Wing was
to practice night air refueling with the helicopter and then drop flares
- Paul Beaver, a missile specialist for
Jane's, a British publishing house with expertise in military equipment
and research, called Meyer's account ``very compelling evidence of some
kind of projectile'' hitting TWA 800. Beaver of Jane's Information Group
said the description fit that of a longer-range missile warhead detonating
near a target.
- Beaver has been naval editor and aerospace
and defense editor for Jane's. He is a pilot, British army reserve officer
and has fired air-to-ground missiles.
- Beaver said during interviews Monday
that the first reddish-orange burst Meyer saw was consistent with an exploding
warhead. Some missiles explode near a target and send shrapnel hurling
into the aircraft to cause structural damage.
- The white explosion could be solid fuel
used to propel missiles, Beaver said, which he called just as dangerous
and destructive as a warhead. ``It has the right look,'' he said of the
- The British destroyer HMS Sheffield was
destroyed by the solid fuel propelling a French-made Exocet missile during
the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982, Beaver said. The anti-ship missile's
warhead did not explode when it struck the Sheffield but the propellant
did and caused fires that spread out of control. Twenty men were killed,
24 injured and 242 crew members saved.
- There are some tandem missiles but they
are used against tanks and not known to be antiaircraft weapons, Beaver
said. Tandem missiles have a warhead that first explodes near a hardened
target, and a second which then penetrates the weakened armament.
- Missiles do emit a reddish exhaust trail
but that normally is when the weapons first launch, Beaver said. Missiles
and drones can leave a trail of smoke if the solid fuel is not functioning
properly, he said.
- ``It sounds like a projectile,'' said
Beaver, who acknowledges the mechanical theory of TWA 800's destruction
has drawn his support to date.
- After seeing the explosions, Meyer and
his crew decided to investigate, radioed the tower, and accelerated almost
due south toward the fireball, which they saw hit the water.
- The helicopter crew was the first to
reach the disaster site, arriving while bodies and flaming aircraft parts
still rained from the sky into a growing lake of fire floating on the ocean.
The crew skirted 50-foot flames billowing from jet fuel while looking for
possible survivors but found none. They spotted a life raft but it was
- Meyer said it was several minutes before
the combination of the debris, number of bodies and radio report of a missing
jumbo jet brought to reality the scope of the disaster.
- Meyer was interviewed by media in the
first few days after and said he couldn't conclude he saw a missile, a
word he still avoids. ``I don't know,'' he said. ``It could have been.
But there is a big difference between could have been and `I saw a missile.'
- He is adamant, however, that what he
saw came toward the plane, not from it. The word he uses is ``ordnance'':
an explosive projectile.
- ``I saw ordnance explode,'' he said.
``A military warhead. Could I be wrong? Hey, I've been wrong before. But
I don't think so on this one.''
- A Navy ship gun's explosive round is
one example of ordnance, Meyer said. He saw it during gunnery practice
as an officer aboard a destroyer and was close to flak pulling an aerial
target for gunnery practice off the Philippines and while waiting to r
escue downed pilots over North Vietnam.
- The missiles he saw and had shot at him
had erratic paths, not the smooth trajectory he saw before the explosions
and death fall of TWA 800. That's why he did not conclude ``missile,''
- ``I have no idea what that streak of
light was,'' Meyer said. ``It could have been a number of things. It could
have been the tailpipe of a missile. But I know the explosions I saw were
ordnance. The first two I saw were ordnance. The third was petro- chemical.''
- Baur, who is a pilot for the Customs
Department, has been directed by government officials not to talk about
the crash, according to military sources.
- Meyer said he sought out FBI agents at
the East Moriches Coast Guard station the second day after the crash and
finally talked to two, who asked no questions. After a week of fitful dreams,
he said, he asked FBI agents to meet him at the home of a military colleague
and told the story again.
- That was his last FBI-only session, although
agents attended two other briefings he gave, he said. One of those sessions
was in January, when a four-member NTSB team talked to him for five minutes.
Another was when he briefed his Air National Guard un it's leaders.
- NTSB spokesman Peter Goelz said Meyer
was free at anytime to offer his conclusions, testimony or assessments
and that both the FBI and NTSB continued to ask witnesses for reports.
Goelz said he agreed with Meyer that Meyer was no explosives expert. Meyer
said he can't believe the NTSB believes what it is reporting.
- ``When the prestigious organization that
I have come to respect in 30 years of aviation, the NTSB, announces that
they have concluded that the center wing fuel tank was the cause of the
destruction of the aircraft, I just can't believe it.
- ``The conclusion that an explosion in
the . . . tank could have been caused by an overheating air conditioner
or a spark from a 12-volt fuel pump is ludicrous,'' he said.
- Meyer also criticized freelance journalist
and investigator James Sanders, whose book, ``The Downing of TWA Flight
800,'' concludes that Meyer was part of a U.S. military project guarding
a Navy missile test. Meyer called the allegation a ``lie,'' and said his
unit never had been involved in joint exercises with the Navy.
- Some people, including Sanders, believe
TWA 800 was downed in a ``friendly fire'' accident during a missile test
-- struck by an unarmed missile that went through the plane, somehow touching
off the gas tank explosion. The Navy, FBI and NTSB have said the Navy did
not shoot down the jetliner and did not have aircraft or ships with anti-aircraft
missiles close enough to do so.
- Sanders said he did not want to battle
with Meyer, but when putting together all the evidence of Navy, Coast Guard,
Air National Guard and other assets, Meyer's comment about no joint operations
``does not appear accurate.''
- Meyer did say that most military personnel
with whom he has talked believe TWA 800 was shot down by a missile. As
for whose missile, he said: ``There, you've really got the question. There's
no way I can give you a definitive answer.''
- Meyer no longer is in the Air National
Guard. He was retired mandatorily from military service in May when he
was passed overfor promotion to lieutenant colonel, two years short of
an automatic age-triggered end to his flying status.
- Lt. Col. Jim Finkle, spokesman for Meyer's
former unit, said the helicopter pilot was not promoted because he had
failed to complete a required Air Command and Staff College course. ``The
only reason I joined the unit was to fly,'' Meyer said. ``I had had offers
to go to staff and be promoted but I told them I was having too much fun
- Meyer said a superior officer suggested
that Meyer should not discuss what he saw about TWA 800 until after the
NTSB concluded what caused the accident. Meyer said he did not take the
suggestion as an order but imposed his own gag because of bad expe riences
with the media.
- For instance, he said, one TV program
used a clip of an interview to make it appear he thought a meteor might
have struck the jetliner, something he does not believe. ``I have never
seen a shooting star during daylight,'' he said.
- Meyer said he felt it necessary to share
his unique perspective with the public, given the investigation's apparent
course. ``I've been in the service for 25 years and have had access to
military secrets,'' he said. ``If they had a secret, they could call me
into a room and tell me what was happening in conformance with secrecy
standards and then tell me not to speak.
- ``But to say nothing and ignore me and
then to put out information that is false, is to make me ask questions
and conclude that something is wrong. What are they trying to cover up?
`They' is however high it goes.
- ``I got a moment of time that evidently
I don't share with any of the other 4 million people on Long Island on
that day. That's what I have to contribute to the truth of this incident.''
- NTSB officials say their investigation
may last another year,while the FBI has said that lack of physical evidence
of a bomb or missile may lead them to end their involvement in two or three
- The NTSB plans to hold a public hearing
in Baltimore in December to review evidence and take testimony. NTSB spokesman
Peter Goelz said he did not know if Meyer would be asked to testify because
witness lists were not complete.