TWA Flight 800 Missile Theory

Circumstantial Evidence

by Ian Williams Goddard

Eyewitness reports of a missile streaking toward TWA Flight 800 should be seen in a larger context containing the surrounding area and other crashes. Examining other air-disasters finds that federal officials have determined probable cause based only on witness testimony without supporting physical evidence. Yet as we shall see, officials applied a different standard to the Flight 800 crash. But let us first examine events occurring in the area surrounding the Flight 800 crash.

Military Activity Around the Flight 800 Crash

Officials deny that military exercises or assets were offshore except for three submarines and a P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft. [1] Yet an early media report cited the United States Coast Guard as reporting that a military "pyrotechnic exercise" was taking place off the Long Island coast when Flight 800 suddenly exploded. [2] FBI witness reports corroborate that early report:

FBI Witness 279 "saw large fireball in the sky ... called the United States Coast Guard ... The USCG responded stating the military was conducting pyrotechnic exercises and would this have been what they saw?" [3]

FBI Witness 313 saw an explosion and her boyfriend "called the Coast Guard and was informed that the Air National Guard were testing bombs in the area." [4]

FBI Witness 525b and her husband were in a boat offshore when she saw a glowing ball that rose and fell "before hitting the plane." They immediately contacted the US Coast Guard, and, according to the FBI report: "the Coast Guard reported that routine military exercises involving pyrotechnics were being performed and that a response was not necessary." [5]

Those reports reveal that the first official word was that military activities were taking place and most significantly that those with the most knowledge about ongoing activities believed the fiery events offshore were reasonably attributable to those concurrent military activities -- a view that would quickly become taboo.

Corroborating early Coast Guard reports, the New York Air National Guard initially said they were involved in offshore exercises. [6] However, the NYANG then changed their story saying they were wrong and in fact they actually had no assets offshore. [7] However, FBI witnesses corroborate the first story with reports of the same aircraft -- Apache helicopters and C-130s -- the ANG initially said were offshore.

Flight 800 Witness Reports Suggesting Military Activity

FBI Witness 59, before seeing the crash "observed a National Guard aircraft flying ... going from west to east about three miles out [to sea]." [8]

FBI Witness 525b saw two C-130s during the crash while she was on a boat offshore. The C-130s were east of her location, which would also be offshore. [9]

FBI Witness 117, before observing the crash "noticed a twin engine aircraft, she believed to be an Apache, pass overhead heading in a westerly direction following the shoreline." [10]

FBI Witness 248 reported: "At about the same time the pieces [of Flight 800] were falling from the sky there was a helicopter hovering over the ocean about five miles from where the pieces had fallen ... described the helicopter as being like the 'big green Army ones.'" [11]

FBI Witness 378, before seeing the crash "observed a gray military aircraft flying overhead South towards the water." [12]

FBI Witness 33, before seeing the crash saw two jets flying unusually close and toward each other, then one jet began to climb, spewing out white exhaust. Her report notes: "[Witness] thinks it is unusual that she has heard nothing about the other planes in the media." [13]

FBI Witness 340 reported: "At approximately the same time [Flight 800 exploded] she observed two (2) dark green helicopters ...[that] appeared to be flying in a circular pattern." [14]

Only the initial claims of officials match the observations of witnesses on the scene. To believe that the NYANG was not offshore during the crash we must believe that (a) the Coast Guard was wrong, (b) the NYANG itself was initially wrong, and (c) eyewitnesses were wrong. The preponderance of evidence clearly suggests that the NYANG was offshore and that military activity was taking place there.

Radar data also suggests offshore military activity, revealing a very high-speed aircraft that flies back and forth south of Flight 800 before, during, and after the crash. About this aircraft Aviation Week & Space Technology reported:

"Data from the FAA's radar site at Islip, N.Y., shows an aircraft flying back and forth at speeds of about 350 kt. [455 mph] over the Atlantic south of Long Island for at least 10 min. before and 35 min. after TWA 800 crashed ... the FBI has never provided any information on ... the high-speed aircraft ... NTSB officials said they have no plans to identify the high-speed aircraft and track down those on board." [15]

The easiest explanation for such unusual high-speed aircraft activity some 30 miles offshore is military maneuvers. [16] In fact, the aircraft was flying over a military zone about which Aerospace Daily reported: "FAA sources and the Navy acknowledged ... that the area known as Whiskey 105, or W-105, was activated at the time of the TWA accident." But allegedly nobody showed up to use W-105. [17] Yet radar data also reveals many large surface vessels in or headed toward that warning zone. [16] When Reed Irvine of Accuracy In Media asked James Kallstrom, who headed the FBI's investigation, about three of the radar-tracked vessels below Flight 800, Kallstrom said they were "Navy vessels that were on classified maneuvers." [18]

While commercial and private boats raced scene hoping to rescue survivors, many
large ships tracked on radar continued on their way to the active military-warning zone.

Unusual aircraft activity was widespread in the area before the Flight 800 crash. In addition to the previous examples of unusual high-speed aircraft maneuvers, FBI witnesses reported small aircraft before the crash (a) flying unusually low (witnesses 10, 29, 43, 92, 411-412, 422-23, 443, 631, and 641), (b) flying in circles (29 & 92), (c) flying erratically (422-23), and (d) flying back and forth (641). Witness 575 saw a large plane circling before the crash, and witness 340 (above) saw two dark-green helicopters circling as Flight 800 suddenly exploded. Why was there so much unusual aircraft activity in the area before the crash?

While witnesses were observing military aircraft flying all around and small aircraft flying in circles, Linda Kabot was photographing friends on the deck at Dockers restaurant within a few miles and minutes of the Flight 800 crash. Kabot later noticed a missile-like object in one of the photos. The Paris Match published her photograph, notice the long dark object in the sky. [19]

The FBI concluded that the object was something out there that was not a missile but appears to be an aircraft. [20] What makes this aircraft unusual is that it appears to have no wings and has only one light, on one end. Target drones are small self-propelled or towed "aircraft" used in missile exercises. Since tow-lines can be 43,000 feet long, a towing aircraft could be out of the photo. [21] Some target drones even have a light in their nose cone. [22] The Kabot-photo object seems to resemble a target drone more than any other aircraft.

Satellite imagery could reveal military activity, so the private group FIRO submitted a freedom of information request for satellite images of the crash. An early report in the London Times said: "A law enforcement official told the New York Post that the satellite pictures show an object racing up to the TWA jet ... and smashing into it." [23] Unfortunately the Defense Department denied FIRO's request, stating: "A security review of the records determined that disclosure of this information could potentially damage national security. Therefore, it must remain classified at this time." [24]

The evidence of military activity around Flight 800 based at least on official claims, witness accounts, and radar data clearly establishes prima facie evidence, if not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, of military activity in the surrounding area. And as we shall observe, witness accounts without supporting physical evidence have been sufficient to determine a probable cause in other official crash investigations.

Value of Eyewitness Evidence

Official believers argue that since witness accounts can be less than 100% accurate, witness reports of a projectile streaking toward Flight 800 are 0% accurate. As such, federal officials defined witness testimony as "not evidence" in the case of Flight 800. [25] Accordingly, witnesses were barred from all official public hearing on the crash. [26] Were this standard applied universally, witnesses would be barred from courts as a rule, however, this is not the case. Officials have therefore invented and applied nonstandard rules to the Flight 800 case -- verified by the fact that federal authorities continue to present eyewitness testimony as evidence in other cases.

Official report: "the probable cause of the TWA Flight 800 accident was an explosion of the center wing fuel tank (CWT)..." However: "neither the energy release mechanism nor the location of the ignition inside the CWT could be determined from the available evidence." [27]

Examination of previous federal air-crash investigations finds that officials treat Flight 800 witnesses in a unique fashion. In crashes determined to be caused by a lightning strike, witness testimony was pivotal. Moreover, when investigators found no physical evidence to explain why the planes exploded or suddenly fell, they defaulted to witness evidence in their search for a probable cause. The official Flight 800 investigation also reports finding no physical evidence to explain how a missile or mechanical fault ignited the fuel tank, yet instead of defaulting to witnesses as in other cases, witnesses were barred and framed as unreliable drunks. [28] The official Flight 800 investigation betrays a unprecedented need to discredit witnesses.

Witness Evidence In Previous Air-Crash Investigations

Flight 19 (1940) U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board accident report: "The testimony of witnesses ... clearly indicates that a flash of lightning occurred in the vicinity of the aircraft ... [Yet] there were none of the recognized indications that lightning had struck the airplane ... [I]n view of the absence of persuasive evidence indicating any other probable cause of the accident, we are greatly impressed by the evidence of the coincidence of the lightning flash seen to be in close proximity to the airplane and the immediate descent of the airplane. ... [W]e find that the probable cause of the accident ... was the disabling of the pilot by a severe lightning discharge..." [29]

TWA Flight 891 (1959) Civil Aeronautics Board accident report: "No traces or signs of structural damage of any significance due to lightning were found ... No signs of lightning strikes were found on the static discharges ... [or] fuel tank vent outlets." In fact, no causal hypothesis listed was supported by physical evidence. However, the report says the lightning hypothesis "appears to be, indirectly, in agreement with almost all the statements made by the witnesses ... in these statements the crash of the plane is closely associated with a lightning strike." The Board then concluded: "Explosion set off by static electricity discharges (streamer corona) [lightning] as the probable cause of the accident." [30]

PanAm Flight 214 (1963) Civil Aeronautics Board report: "Although much effort was expended, the physical evidence failed to disclose the precise mechanism of ignition which triggered the explosion in the left reserve fuel tank. However, witnesses, some particularly well qualified, observed a cloud to earth lightning discharge, described as being of exceptionally great magnitude, in the immediate location from which, moments later, the burning aircraft emerged. ... The Board determines the probable cause of this accident was lightning-induced ignition of the fuel/air mixture in the No. 1 reserve fuel tank with resultant explosive disintegration..." [31]

Flight ULF48 (1976): In this report the National Transportation Safety Board defines eyewitness accounts as "evidence" (yet for Flight 800, witness accounts are "not evidence"). The leading causal theory indicated in the Flight ULF48 report is a lightning- induced spark at a motor-driven fuel valve that ignited fuel vapors. However, the motor was never recovered and thus causal physical evidence was never found. The report states: "At least two witnesses reported seeing lightning strike the aircraft." It is clear that without those two accounts, lightning would not have been the leading theory. At least two eyewitness accounts were sufficient to establish a probable cause in this crash investigation. [32]

Anyone who tells you that a crash investigation cannot establish probable cause based on witness accounts is just wrong. I acquired the crash reports above from the NTSB to examine lightning effects. Based on what I had been led to believe it was a surprise to discover that in every case eyewitness testimony, not physical evidence, played the pivotal role.
TRADITIONAL RULE: Fail to find cause of fuel-vapor ignition, default to eyewitness accounts indicating a cause.

FLIGHT 800 RULE: Fail to find cause of fuel-vapor ignition, reject eyewitness accounts indicating a cause.

Counter Argument: It's considered possible in theory that lightning could produce a spark in a fuel tank without leaving any trace of the spark or the strike itself. Therefore, physical evidence is not necessary for a lightning- strike determination. However, one would assume that a missile that ignites a fuel tank would invariably leave a trace. Therefore, defaulting to witness evidence without physical evidence is possible in the case of a lightning, but not a missile, determination.

Rebuttle: The counter argument fails for these reasons:

1: NTSB Exhibit 15B cites small holes in center wing tank parts of Flight 800. Most warheads explode outside an aircraft leaving small fragment holes in the target. The means officials used to define small holes in Flight 800 as "not missile evidence" was based on a false assumption about missile-fragment velocity. There may therefore be missile evidence right before our eyes. (See Physical Evidence)

2: Most, but not all, of Flight 800's center wing tank was recovered, and thus the existence of other holes in unfound parts cannot be ruled out. Therefore, no physical evidence of a conventional warhead detonation could be the case in a witness-based missile finding if less than all of the aircraft was recovered, as is the case.

3: Examination of the missile theory requires consideration of all types of missile. One type of missile warhead could exactly match the effects of lightning and thus induce a spark that ignites vapors without leaving a trace. Several years before the crash the US Navy began developing and test-firing a missile warhead designed to kill aerial vehicles like cruise missiles by delivering an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from an external detonation that induces a surge in the target's circuits. [33] The effects of EMP weapons naturally match the effects of lightning. [34] A distinction between lightning and missile effects cannot therefore be assumed to always be the case.

4: For most of us there are an unknown number of classified weapons with unknown effects. According to the Defense Budget Project, the US Navy spends 100 to 300 million per year on the procurement of classified weapons and around 1.5 billion per year on classified weapons research and development (1986-93). [35] There is no evidence that federal officials investigated the Navy's inventory of classified weapons. In fact, officials only claim to have investigated the effects of conventional shoulder-fired missiles.

For those reasons the comparison of Flight 800 and lightning-strike investigations is valid and clearly demonstrates that standards applied to Flight 800 witness evidence differ significantly from established precedent wherein probable cause has been determined based on witness evidence alone without supporting physical evidence. Yet in the case of Flight 800, no number of witness accounts are allowed to amount to more than zero evidence, even with otherwise inexplicable bullet-velocity fragment holes in the wreckage. (See Physical Evidence)

Based on established precedent in aviation accident investigation, the eyewitness evidence in the Flight 800 case is more than sufficient to determine "felled by missile" as the probable cause. Based on historical precedent, such a determination is especially indicated in light of the fact that no physical evidence explaining what caused the center fuel tank to ignited was allegedly found, the very same situation in the lightning- strike crashes where probable cause was then determined by eyewitness accounts.


Overview of FBI Witness Reports

[1] Newsday: TWA Probe: Submarines Off LI. R.E. Kessler, March 22, 1997.

ABC News NightLine, July 17, 1996.

NTSB Exhibit 4A, Appendix E, page 186.

Ibid., Appendix E, page 29.

Ibid., Appendix G, page 100.

Aviation Week & Space Technology: Terrorist Fears Deepen With 747ís Destruction. E. Phillips, P. Mann, July 22, 1996.

Aviation Week & Space Technology: ANG Eyewitnesses Reject Missile Theory. D. Fulghum, July 29, 1996.

NTSB Exhibit 4A, Appendix B, page 144.

Ibid., Appendix G, page 100.

Ibid., Appendix C, page 41.

Ibid., Appendix D, page 114.

Ibid., Appendix E, page 206.

Ibid., Appendix B, page 85.

Ibid., Appendix E, page 89.

Aviation Week & Space Technology: Aircraft Near TWA 800 Remains Unidentified. J.T. McKenna, September 6, 1999.

FIRO: FBI Failed to ID Closest Ship to Flight 800, Refuses to Release ID of Dozens More. T. Stalcup, August 1999.

Aerospace Daily: Military Area Near TWA 800 Crash Zone Was Active. Aviation Week Daily On-Line Briefing, August 28, 1996.

AIM Report: Navy Vessels on Classified Maneuvers. R. Irvine, September, 1999.

Paris Match. November 1996.

Attachment to the statement of Lewis D. Schiliro, U.S. Senate overview of FBI investigation of TWA Flight 800, May 10, 1999.

The RMK 19 Tow Reel Launcher System and specifications. This system is cited merely as an example of the length of tow lines.

Aerial Target Tow Services (see TGX-2 LIGHT AUGMENTED TOW TARGET). This system is cited merely as an example of target-drone lighting.

Times of London: Investigators look at new theory of missile fired from boat. July 22, 1996.

FIRO: FOIA Revelations about TWA 800 Satellite Data. Contact Graeme Sephton ( for details.

On WABC, Eyewitness News Conference, November 23, 1997, James Kallstrom said: "Eyewitness testimony is not evidence." Further, in the blanket official claim that there is "no evidence" of a missile, witness accounts are being defined as non-evidence, contrary to preexisting crash- investigation protocol.

FIRO: The Consequences of Secrecy and Interagency Conflict: Undermining the Official Investigation into TWA Flight 800.

NTSB Aircraft Accident Report: In-flight Breakup Over the Atlantic Ocean, Trans World Airlines Flight 800, Boeing 747-131, N93119, Near East Moriches, New York, July 17, 1996. Adopted August 23, 2000. Pages xvi, 294.

NTSB Board Meeting on TWA 800. August 23, 2000. And see: FIRO: The Eyewitnesses: A Brief Review of Official Declarations.

Report of the Civil Aeronautics Board, Of the investigation of an accident involving aircraft of United States registery NC 21789, which occured near Lovettsville, Virgina, on August 31, 1940. Pages 71-84.

Civil Aeronautics Board, Aircraft Accident Report. Trans World Airlines L-1649A, U.S. Registry N-7313C, Near Milan, Italy, June 26, 1959. Released: November 1960. Pages 37-59.

Civil Aeronautics Board, Aircraft Accident Report, SA-379. Pan American World Airways, Inc, Boeing 707-121, N709PA, Near Elkton, Maryland, December 8, 1963. Released: March 3, 1965. Pages 11-13.

National Transportation Safety Board, Special Investigation Report: Wing Failure of Boeing 747-131 Near Madrid, Spain, May 9, 1976. October 6, 1978.

The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems 1997-1998. N. Friedman. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1997, page 411, which is in the section on "Surface-To-Air Missiles," states: "The February 1991 budget (FY92/93) included initial work on a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) warhead. Such a weapon would presumably generate an intense electromagnetic pulse [EMP], to burn out the circuits on board an attacking weapon. The FY95 [1994-95] program began overwater tests against representative seekers." This EMP warhead is non-nuclear and powered by a small magnetohyrdodynamic (MHD) generator. A missile manufacturer that contracts with the US government holds a patent (#5,251,550) for an improvement to such an anti-aircraft EMP warhead.

The "Grounds" for lightning and EMP Protection. R.B. Block. PolyPhaser Corporation, 1993. And, EMP Interactions: Principles, Techniques, and Reference Data. K. S. H. Lee. Taylor & Francis, 1995.

Analysis of the FY 1992-93 Defense Budget Request, With Historical Defense Budget Tables. Stephen Alexis Cain. Defense Budget Project, Washington DC, 1991. Table 14.