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NTSB: "No physical evidence" missile brought down TWA 800


FBI seizes tape purportedly showing object speeding toward jet

March 11, 1997
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT)

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal investigators on Tuesday said there is "no physical evidence" to support the claim that a missile brought down TWA Flight 800.

NTSB urges pilot training for 737 rudder problem

The statements come a day after the FBI seized a videotape that purportedly shows an object speeding toward the jet seconds before it exploded.

The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into two people who claim they have government materials and crime scene evidence showing that a missile was responsible for the explosion, a top law enforcement source told CNN.


As before, federal investigators Tuesday did not rule out the missile theory entirely.

Testifying before a House subcommittee, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman James Hall said three theories of how the plane crashed -- a missile, a bomb or a mechanical failure -- are still "on the table."

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In an interview with CNN Tuesday, FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom said reports and rumors of a missile attack "are not fact, are not real."


"(These reports) are distracting the investigators from the 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job of finding out what caused this tremendous tragedy," Kallstrom said."I think it's a real shame that this type of thing, misstatements, inaccurate information, inaccurate analysis, half-truths, no truths ... continue to be perpetrated on the American people."

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The July 17 crash into the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island, New York, killed all 230 people aboard.

Pilot conducting own probe

In Florida, retired United Airlines pilot Richard Russell says FBI agents came to his Daytona Beach home Monday and seized a videotape. Russell claims the video is a copy of a Federal Aviation Administration radar tape showing a missile speeding toward the Boeing 747 aircraft minutes before the plane exploded.

Russell, who is conducting his own investigation into the disaster, will not say how he obtained the tape.

TWA flight 800 plane being reconstructed

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Possession of such a tape would be a crime because the crash itself is the subject of a criminal investigation. The seizure resulted from a subpoena issued on Monday night by the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York.

"They took my property away, but that's the way they operate. I knew that they would be doing this. It's a cover-up," Russell said in a telephone interview. "I'm offended by it."

Authenticity of tape debated


FBI agents in Florida who have reviewed Russell's tape "don't believe it is authentic," the law enforcement source said.

"I assure you, it is the real thing," Russell said in a message on his answering machine.

The tape, according to the source, shows a radar blip clearly marked "TWA 800," but FAA tapes only identify planes by their transponder codes, not commercial carrier names.

Russell also says he is the author of a document posted on the Internet that asserted there is evidence a Navy missile brought down TWA Flight 800.

Last November , former White House press secretary Pierre Salinger cited that document as proof of a missile shootdown. Government agencies deny that a Navy missile brought the plane down.

In addition to Russell, the source says, the FBI hopes to question James Sanders, an author and retired police officer from California who claims to have acquired a piece of the doomed plane's seating material.

"The FBI is investigating this because people are claiming to have government property," the source said, "and if they do have this property it is a crime, obstruction of justice."

Report: Grand jury to review tape

Russell's tape is to be reviewed by a federal grand jury, possibly as early as Wednesday, a California newspaper reported.

The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, also said that chemical residue found in reddish stains on the plane's seats "points to a missile" as the cause of the explosion.

The newspaper said the stains contained chemicals consistent with solid-fuel propellant.


But Dr. Bernard Loeb, an NTSB member who also testified before the House panel, said there was no evidence that a missile brought down the plane.

"There is no further evidence that a missile of any size hit this airplane, coming through from the right side as (the newspaper article says) and going out ... the left side of the airplane."

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Hall testified that the FBI collected samples of the residue last fall but had not tested it because it believed the residue to be an adhesive material. He said the FBI is conducting tests of the residue now.

The NTSB knows that an explosion in the center fuel tank caused the plane to crash, but investigators do not know what caused the explosion.

Loeb said one theory being studied is the possibility that a missile fragment hit the plane, causing fumes in the plane's center fuel tank to explode.


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