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FBI ends TWA Flight 800 criminal probe

Kallstrom November 13, 1997
Web posted at: 10:17 a.m. EST (1517 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The FBI confirmed Thursday that it has formally closed its 16-month-old criminal probe into the TWA Flight 800 disaster, saying it found "absolutely no evidence" that the crash was the result of a criminal act.

The news came ahead of an official announcement scheduled for next Tuesday. The FBI's top investigator in the crash, Assistant Director James Kallstrom, said he sent a letter to the families of the 230 people killed in the crash so that they would not be surprised by the announcement.

In the letter, Kallstrom wrote, "Our investigation has found absolutely no evidence to cause us to believe that the TWA Flight 800 tragedy was the result of a criminal act."

A L S O :

Text of FBI letter to TWA Flight 800 families

Kallstrom would give no other details about the FBI's announcement, saying that until the official news conference, "It's between the families and me."

However, in his letter, Kallstrom wrote that the FBI will continue to be involved in the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of the July 1996 crash.

FBI moved in to investigate quickly

The FBI stepped into the National Transportation Safety Board's crash investigation within an hour of the July 1996 crash, with the intent of determining whether criminal activity had brought down the Boeing 747.

The Paris-bound jumbo jet burst into a fireball minutes after its takeoff from Kennedy International Airport, killing everyone on board and scattering wreckage across a 5-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean, about 10 miles off Long Island.

In the early days of the investigation, three possibilities were consistently presented: a bomb, a missile, or airplane malfunction could have been responsible.


But as investigators continued their probe, the FBI repeatedly said it had no evidence that the Boeing 747 was downed by a bomb or missile, but had kept the investigation open to sift through dozens of eyewitness accounts.

FBI agents interviewed more than 7,000 people, including everyone who touched or had access to the aircraft at Kennedy Airport and in Athens, Greece, where the flight originated.

Several witnesses said they saw lights in the sky just before the plane exploded into a fireball over the Atlantic Ocean, just off New York.

"When it first happened, I thought bomb," said Joe Lychner of Houston, who lost his wife and two small daughters in the crash.

"But when I look at all the testing the FBI did and they found nothing, I am convinced this had to be mechanical."

Some families to seek grounding of 747s

CNN interviewed Christophe Delange, whose brother died in TWA 800
icon 2 min. 30 sec. VXtreme video

But the victims' families may still not get their long-awaited closure. The NTSB inquiry into possible mechanical failure will continue. Suspicion centers on a buildup of gases in the central fuel tank, but it is still not known what ignited the gases.

Meanwhile, several family members of people killed in the explosion say because of their lingering doubts about the safety of all Boeing 747s, they plan to wage a campaign to have all of the aircraft grounded.

Herve Schwartz lost his brother-in-law in the crash. He said his family has no sense of closure from the tragedy, "since we don't have any explanation yet. We need to know why it exploded." (icon 247K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Because the crash cause is still unknown, Schwartz has joined the campaign to ground the jets. "We've got a feeling that it's too dangerous to fly 747s," he said.

"This plane is obviously a dangerous plane," said Michel Breistroff of Paris, whose 25-year-old son was killed. "It took investigators all these months and all these millions of dollars to tell us that."


TWA Flight 800


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