Aviation and criminal experts probe TWA crash
July 19, 1996
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Two parallel investigations -- one aviation and the other criminal -- are under way into the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800. All 230 people aboard were killed.
The FBI will continue its probe into the Wednesday night crash until the possibility of criminal activity is ruled out as a cause, said Jim Kallstrom with the agency's Anti-terrorism Task Force.
Kallstrom, at a news conference Thursday night, would not discuss any findings by his agents, but he didn't rule out terrorism as the cause.
"We will get to the bottom of this, whatever the bottom is," he vowed. The Boeing 747 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, minutes after takeoff from New York's JFK International Airport.
National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis said the FBI joins crash investigations any time there is a possibility of criminal activity.
The CIA's Counter-terrorism Center also has begun a worldwide search for any clues that terrorism may have been involved in crash. But so far, a CIA official said, "We have nothing that points us in one direction or another."
A 30-foot-long section of wing is the largest piece recovered so far from the wreckage, Francis said. The Coast Guard, which has 400 people working on the scene, is in charge of the surface search for bodies and wreckage, while the U.S. Navy will conduct the underwater search.
Francis stressed that the investigation's top priority was to recover victims and debris. There were 212 passengers and 18 crew members on board, and at least 140 bodies had been found as of Thursday night and sent to the county medical examiner's office for identification. TWA released a list of those on board Flight 800 midnight Thursday.
A warning to the public
Kallstrom and Francis said they were overwhelmed by the generosity of New Yorkers who volunteered to help.
"So many people were trying to help that it was a question of how one was going to manage this," Francis said. "We've managed to get a lot done today."
He stressed the danger of picking up plane wreckage from the beach. "Biohazards are a major issue in the investigation," Francis said. If anybody on the beach finds wreckage, they should call local authorities, he added.
In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno said two calls claiming responsibility for the crash had been received after the plane went down, but she said there are "no indications" yet of terrorism. White House spokesman Mike McCurry also said there are "no credible claims of responsibility."
One of the calls mentioned by Reno was received at Tampa, Florida, television station WTSP from a man who identified himself as a member of a "Jihad," a station official said.
Jihad, meaning "holy war," is a word used by Islamic militant groups. The WTSP spokesman said the caller gave no name and offered no motive.
TWA denies poor response
Airline spokesman Mark Abels said Flight 800 left the departure gate at John F. Kennedy Airport at 8:02 p.m. Wednesday, took off at 8:19 p.m. and dropped from radar screens at 8:48 p.m.
He gave two reasons for a one-hour delay in the takeoff: a malfunctioning piece of baggage-loading equipment and the reloading of luggage belonging to a passenger who was late in boarding the plane.
Although the bag in question had been checked in, it was removed when the passenger did not immediately show up for the flight. When the passenger finally arrived, the bag was put back on board. Each of the delays took about 30 minutes.
In a telephone interview with CNN's Leon Harris, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani charged that an unnamed high-level TWA official in New York went home instead of attending to the needs of family members. (170K AIFF or WAV sound) However, he praised other TWA employees who came in to assist families.
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