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CNN Today

NTSB Releases Report on TWA Flight 800

Aired March 21, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Almost four years after the catastrophic explosion of TWA Flight 800, the National Transportation Safety Board releases two reports on one phase of the investigation.

CNN's Carl Rochelle has been looking into that, joins us now from Washington.

Carl, what's the story?

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the National Transportation Safety Board is working towards bringing this TWA 800 investigation to a close, and that's going to be sometime down the road, but today they did release the findings of its witness groups, two reports, a factual report and a study report, and this is the review by the witness group of testimony that was conducted by the FBI.

Now, the FBI interviewed a number of witnesses, and this is the summary of what they learned from the witness, not the actual witness interviews that concluded that the FBI witnesses represented the best, most recent, most complete record of eyewitness accounts gathered as quickly as possible after the accident occurred. But it is critical of the handling of the documents, saying that they were not received in any useful order, that could be discerned from a review of the package. They had to go through and organize them themselves.

And it also noted that the FBI accounts were more along the lines of questions that would be asked for a criminal investigation and they concluded that they were poorly suited for the purposes of an accident investigation. So, it is a bit critical of the FBI, in the way they handled those interviews.

Now, having said that, there is some interesting information there. Among the significant observations, 258 of the witnesses that were interviewed saw a streak of light described as frequently, as a flare or fireworks, 210 of that number also saw a ball of fire. And the group concluded that the streak of light may have been TWA 800 during some stage of flight before the fireball developed.

What you are seeing here is the wreckage of the aircraft as it was laid out as they were work on this investigation. The witnesses described a streak of light rising up or nearly so. The group concluded that 38 witnesses accounts who saw that seem to be inconsistent with the calculated flight path of the airplane. Now the significance of that is most of the missile attack theories were based on individual witnesses reporting that they had seen a streak of light go from the ground up toward the aircraft. The finding of the witness group, based on the review of the interviews, seems to support the earlier conclusions that it likely was not a missile that brought the plane down. They are leaning in the direction of a problem with the center fuel tank, an explosion, still trying to determine the actual cause of that, Lou.

WATERS: Carl, the question I would have is, any practical effect of a report like this by the NTSB critical of the FBI, whether or not we know all there is to know about this TWA 800 tragedy.

ROCHELLE: Lou, I don't think they know all they would like to know about it. This does give them some information along the lines of that, but everything that is in there is consistent with what we already know, that they believe that the plane came down as a result of an explosion in the center fuel tank, that they do not believe there was a missile involved or a bomb involved. That is all that is covered in that right now at the moment. So not a lot of new ground in there but at least a review of what they saw, Lou.

WATERS: All right, Carl Rochelle in Washington.

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