TWA Flight 800 Missile Theory

Witness Sketches Contradict Officials

by Ian Williams Goddard

Trans World Airlines Flight 800 exploded on July 17, 1996 off Long Island killing all 230 passengers. Within days media reports said over one hundred witnesses indicate a missile hit the jet. [1, 2] However, officials concluded: "The witness reports and the streak of light are consistent with them having observed Flight 800 in crippled flight. They're not consistent with a missile." [3] Is that official conclusion consistent with the witness accounts?

All witness sketches of the "streak of light" found in the official report contradict the official conclusion just quoted. [4] As demonstrated by physicist Thomas Stalcup, the witness sketches show a projectile heading to the crash in the opposite direction of that flown by Flight 800 in their fields of vision. [5]

Eyewitness Sketches of The Flight 800 Crash

The first graphic below shows the sketch of FBI witness 649 transition into an exacting animation of that detailed account. Foreground contents and their relationship to aerial events exactly replicate the view of witness 649 thanks to a comprehensive analysis by Thomas Shoemaker. [6] The resulting animation is like the downloaded memory of witness 649 (downloading may be slow).

If an animation in this report stops, hit "reload."

According to his FBI report, witness 649 observed a red-pink projectile leaving a whitish smoke trail like a firework ascending into the sky from behind the tree line. It slowly rose straight up and then turned to the right, accelerating and wiggling as it flew away in a southwest direction. It became smaller, almost disappearing as it ascended and approached another object (Flight 800). It looked like it would slightly miss the other object, then there was a white flash and puff of smoke. The firework took about 6 to 7 seconds to travel from the tree line to the other object. Two smoke trails arched up out of the puff of smoke and eventually became an expanding ball of fire that descended behind the tree line. [7] Flight 800 comes into view above slowly in order to reflect the witness's stated non-awareness of it until the projectile was closing in.

Witness 649 was facing south and the projectile crossed his field of vision from left to right, the opposite direction of Flight 800's course as he would see it. This opposition is the case in every eyewitness sketch in this report. The next two graphics are animated sketches from FBI witness 530 (left) and Donald Eick (right), whose account and sketch this author found in the reading-room computer at the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) headquarters. [8]

Witness 530 (left) was west of 649 and her FBI report says she saw a red ball of fire rising from the surface followed by an explosion. [9] Her sketch shows a trajectory roughly the same as 649. The next sketch is by witness Donald Eick, a meteorologist later employed by the NTSB. His line of sight is roughly identical to 530's (see map below). He saw a reddish-orange dot like a firework that followed a course matching that of 649 and 530. Also matching 649's account Eick states that the rising projectile "zig zagged in the sky, as though it was purposely changing or adjusting its course." [8] A clear description of a target-seeking guided missile.

Red arrow superimposed to indicate described projectile direction.

Witness 224 (left), a medical doctor sitting on his second-story balcony, believed he saw something ascending from left to right and then an explosion. His sketch also matches 649's. On the next sketch is by witness 174, a retired Naval Officer from the Judge Advocates Office. Witness 174 saw a "skyrocket" streak up into the sky from behind Sheffield Island, followed by an explosion. [11] Northwest of 649, his sketch also depicts a matching trajectory.

The next sketch is by eyewitness Naneen Levine, who drew it during a CNN interview. [12] She was interviewed by the FBI on the night of the crash and is FBI witness 541. Her FBI report says she also drew a sketch for the FBI, however, it's not found in the NTSB report.

This sketch by witness 541 drawn on television matches the other sketches above. Witness 541, Naneen Levine, told the FBI and CNN that she saw a red dot rise upwards very fast left to right from behind the dunes at the beech. She thought it was a firework. Then she saw an explosion. [13] The numbers 1 through 3 superimposed on her sketch to indicate the sequential progress of her illustration: the red dot traveled from the lower left (1) up to the upper right (2), where there was an explosion that showered downward (3). Her sketch matches and corroborates the other witness sketches above. For all these witnesses Flight 800 traveled right to left in their fields of vision while the projectile traveled left to right. Therefore, contrary to the official analysis the path of the reported projectile was not consistent with the path of Flight 800 .

The next graphic places the witnesses above on a regional map showing their relationship to the flight paths of TWA 800 and the projectile that each of these witnesses reported. All of these separate accounts map onto a projectile heading toward Flight 800 from a position northeast of the jet.

For all these witnesses Flight 800 traveled from right to left in their field of vision. However, for all of these witnesses the projectile they saw streaking toward the crash traveled from left to right, opposite to the flight path of the doomed aircraft. It follows logically that the high-speed projectile they all saw could not have been Flight 800. By historical standards of legal evidence, the uniformity of these witness sketches in the official report constitutes compelling prima facie evidence if not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Flight 800 was struck by a missile. In fact, as we shall see, probable cause has been determined in previous air-crashes based on witness reports without corroborating physical evidence. [14] And yet as we shall also see, there may also be physical evidence of a missile strike that, like these sketches, is found in the official report. [15]

Sketches and Statements

The consistency with a missile strike can also be determined by analysis of witnesses statements. That was the determination of Colonel Lawrence Pence (USAF, retired), perhaps the only expert with a background in interviewing missile witnesses to review the Flight 800 witness reports. Pence states the following in an affidavit filed in a FOIA lawsuit against the government:

One of my duties in Vietnam was battle damage assessments of our aircraft in order to increase our understanding of enemy weapons. In performing these assessments, I interviewed numerous pilots and crew members who witnessed missile attacks, both ground-to-air and air-to-air. Their descriptions were quite consistent with the eyewitness descriptions given by those who saw the TWA 800 incident. Of particular note is the internal, sequential consistency of the TWA 800 eyewitnesses, i.e., a bright light rising erratically from ground level toward the aircraft, followed by an explosion and fireball. This description and sequence of events is substantively identical to that given by anyone who ever witnessed a surface-to-air missile attack in Vietnam. [16]

Additionally, while visiting the NTSB's public reading room this author discovered an official report in which the NTSB had conducted a study wherein witnesses observed and then described actual missile firings at various distances. Those known missile-witness accounts are virtually identical to Flight 800 witness accounts, as can be observed in this author's report on that study. [17]

CONCLUSION: Due to the incongruity of the depicted direction of the reported "flare" or "missile" and Flight 800, the witness sketches unequivocally contradict the official conclusion that "witness reports and the streak of light are consistent with them having observed Flight 800." Therefore, aside from the question of whether or not the jet was struck by a missile, it is manifestly inaccurate to assert that eyewitness accounts are not consistent with a surface-to-air missile strike.

Overview of FBI Witness Reports

[1] Washington Times (7/24/96) cites ABC News saying 100 witnesses support missile theory.

[2] The New York Post: TWA Probers: Missile Witnesses "Credible." Murry Weiss, (9/22/96).

[3] NTSB Board Meeting on TWA 800, 08/23/00, part 3.

[4] Of 756 witness reports in the official report I found sketches by 20 witnesses. 8 of those sketches depict the burning aircraft falling after the initial event, 2 depict suspicious boats, 8 show a projectile traveling toward the crash along a trajectory inconsistent with the course of Flight 800 -- 5 of which are included in this report -- and 2 supposedly indicate a projectile but are illegible. These are the 20 FBI witness reports with sketches found in NTSB report: 73, 93, 140, 174, 220, 222, 224, 268 & 145 are same sketch, 371, 527, 530, 551, 571, 587, 590, 648, 649, 669, 701, and Doanld Eick (for Eick's report and sketch call the NTSB at 800-877-6799 and request the "Witness Group Chairman's Factual Report Addendum" for case DCA96MA070).

[5] FIRO: Witness sketches get no sunlight at 'Sunshine Hearing.' Tom Stalcup.

[6] Lines of Sight, Witness 649 and the NTSB's Final Report. Tom Shoemaker, 2001.

[7] NTSB Exhibit 4A, Appendix H, pages 241-255.

[8] NTSB Witness Group Chairman's Factual Report Addendum, page 6. Not at NTSB website, see note on Eick account at end of reference 4.

[9] NTSB Exhibit 4A, Appendix G, page 150.

[10] Ibid., Appendix D, pages 57-8.

[11] Ibid., Appendix C, page 196.

[12] FIRO: Sketch located by independent researcher.

[13] NTSB Exhibit 4A, Appendix G, page 197.

[14] Goddard's Journal: The Crash of Flight 800: Circumstantial Evidence. Winter 2001.

[15] Goddard's Journal: The Crash of Flight 800: Physical Evidence. Winter 2001.

[16] Lehr versus NTSB: Affidavit of Lawrence E. Pence, Colonel, USAF (retired).

[17] Goddard's Journal: Official Witness Study Released. Ian Goddard. 01/25/01.