History's Greatest Mysteries (2020) s04e21 Episode Script

TWA Flight 800

Tonight, one of the
worst aviation disasters
in American history.
Planes don't just
disappear from the air.
230 people killed when
their jetliner explodes off
the Coast of Long Island.
Virtually, anything on the
water in the vicinity is moving
into the rescue area and
they're there so quickly
that there's actually
falling wreckage
still coming out of the sky.
We'll uncover the top theories
for why the plane blew up.
Maybe a bomb was
placed on this airplane.
Aircraft fuel tanks are
considered explosive
and they have to be isolated
from ignition sources.
Is the US Government engaged
in an actual government coverup?
And explore new clues that
might offer the answers?
Two missiles fired
to hit another target,
but they went awry.
What really happened
to TWA Flight 800?
July 17th, 1996, JFK
International Airport.
It's a hot humid summer
night in New York City.
TWA Flight 800 sits at the
gate awaiting departure.
TWA 800 had a flight plan
to go from New York to Rome
with a layover in Paris.
Onboard the flight that day,
there was a total of 230 people.
There were 192 passengers,
18 crew members,
and 20 off-duty employees.
Most of them, they were there
because they were working
the second leg of the flight.
The crew, they are by
the book Professional.
Chief Pilot Ralph
Kevorkian is experienced
on other aircraft, but he's
moved into the biggest airplane
in TWA's fleet the Boeing 747.
engineer Richard Campbell is
also well-trained.
Because Richard had
reached the age of 60,
which at the time, that was
the pilot retirement age,
he decided to stay on with the
airline as a flight engineer.
The first
leg of the flight from JFK
to Paris is projected to
last just over seven hours,
but the flight is
delayed for 62 minutes.
There was a baggage issue.
Apparently, the flight
attendants had found a bag
and they were not sure, who
the baggage belonged to,
so it took quite a while to
match that piece of baggage
to the appropriate passenger.
As you can imagine, the
passengers are getting restless.
They're all sitting in the
airplane ready to take off.
At 8:07 PM the
crew fires up the engines,
the plane taxis out to the
runway, and at 8:19 PM,
TWA Flight 800 takes off
into mostly clear skies.
The air traffic controller
is communicating directly
with these airplanes.
Each one has a call sign.
Each one has a transponder,
which tells the plane position
to air traffic controllers.
At 8:30 PM,
air traffic controllers
give TWA 800 clearance
to go from 13,000
to 15,000 feet.
This is their last
communication with the plane.
So, Flight Engineer
Campbell goes ahead
and adds climb thrust,
and they start climbing
up to 15,000 feet.
8:31 and 12 seconds,
there's a transponder ping
with a Pennsylvania Air
Traffic Control Station.
Then, something strange happens.
Just 12 minutes after takeoff,
Flight 800 disappears
from radar.
A disappearing blip
is pretty alarming
for an air traffic controller.
So, they tried to contact them
but there was no response,
and then, they were asking
for nearby airplanes
to tell us what
was going on home.
This pilot flying over
Long Island calls in
and says he's seen an
explosion in the air.
The pilot reports that
this explosion occurred
at about 16,000 feet
over Long Island Sound.
And suddenly,
reports start coming in from
pilots all over the area.
Something has
exploded and the debris
just rained down into the water.
And then, there's an
outpouring of reports
from people on the ground.
They report seeing
a big fireball,
and also debris just
raining out of the sky.
radios sound the alert.
There's a major plane
crash into the ocean
and the search is
on for survivors.
Virtually, anything on the
water in the vicinity is moving
into the rescue area and
they're there so quickly
that there's actually
falling wreckage
still coming out of the sky.
There's burning debris,
it's mass chaos.
And from all of this wreckage,
they can actually
see that this was
the 747 from Flight 800.
It begins one of the longest
and most expensive aviation
accident investigations
in history.
Within 20 minutes of
the initial reports,
people in Washington, DC
begin to take action.
Our government is doing
everything we can to continue
the search for survivors
and to find out
the causes of this accident.
For the next two days,
Navy divers comb the area,
searching for survivors,
but they don't find any.
When the families first learn
that something has happened
to the airplane,
they gather at JFK
to try and find
out what happened.
And all the news photographers
and cameramen are out there
and it puts the
families on edge.
It's a terribly traumatic
moment for them,
so they make the
decision to move them
into the airport hotel,
which is about a mile away,
and that comes to be
known as Heartbreak Hotel.
Along with the
grief, there are also questions.
What happened to TWA Flight 800?
This is a very tense time.
The bombing in Oklahoma City
had just occurred in 1995.
Terrorism was in everybody's
mind, so people had this idea
that terrorists were
targeting aircrafts.
Go, go, get
in back, get in back!
We were a heightened alert
because we had all these things
that happened prior, just
before this happened,
we had the World
Trade Center bombing
and also the Khobar
bombing in Saudi Arabia.
In the 1990s, the idea
of a major terror attack
on or above American
soil is a huge story.
So, it was the first thought
that this was a
terrorist attack.
Investigators look into
how terrorists could have
brought down the plane,
focusing their attention on
what happened before takeoff.
There was the big
62-minute delay for a bag,
so people wondered, was
there a bomb in that bag?
It happened earlier
with Pan Am Flight 103
over Lockerbie Scotland.
That bomb, which was in a
bag, killed 259 passengers
and 11 people on the ground.
So, new high-tech
scanners were put in place
to find even thin layers
of plastic explosives.
But, unfortunately,
JFK did not yet have
such a system
installed and working.
The National
Transportation Safety Board
begins the long process of
reassembling the aircraft
to determine a possible
cause for the crash.
They were able to recover
close to 95% of this aircraft
from the bottom of the ocean.
And once that process was done,
the FBI was able to send
samples of the aircraft
into the lap to check
for any sort of residue,
and there was a very small
trace of an explosive residue
that was on a floor panel.
Because trace amounts
of explosives were found,
the FBI focused
on the possibility
that maybe a bomb was
placed on this airplane.
But there's another possibility
based on eyewitness accounts.
Many of the eyewitnesses
reported seeing an actual streak
of light, so that
made the FBI think
that maybe it's not
just a bomb on board.
Perhaps it was instead
a missile attack.
The question is where was
the missile launched from?
The leading idea was that
it was launched from a boat.
Once the residue is reported,
and then the idea of
a missile is reported,
oh, that leads to
widespread tension.
People are on edge,
airport, and other security
around the world
is now tightened.
It's just a matter
of trigonometry.
I mean, any high school
kid can figure it out.
- It's a missile.
- It's gotta be a missile.
People really
believe that this was
some sort of terrorist attack.
But some raised doubts.
There's one huge problem here.
No terrorist organization is
taking credit for this attack.
Isn't that what terrorist
organizations do?
Because if they want
to create terror,
you need to know who they
are and why they did it
and we're not seeing that here.
It's not the first time
that the NTSB has investigated
an aircraft that might have
been brought down by a bomb,
but the NTSB is a lot more
hesitant than the FBI to leap
to conclusions about the
causes of a specific incident.
They have institutionally
a long history
of carrying out
accident investigations
and they understand that by
following their procedures,
they're likely to
be able to draw
the most accurate conclusions.
The FBI's purpose is to
enforce laws and as a result,
these two are going
to come into conflict.
So, the NTSB's
explanation to this is
that this aircraft was used
before to transport troops
from the Gulf and those
troops could have had
some sort of explosive
residue on them.
While explosive residue
might have been left
over from the Gulf War,
investigators also
consider something else.
So, they look at the
history of the aircraft
where was the plane before that,
and maybe a month and a
half before the accident
The NTSB found that the
airplane has been used
for training canine-explosive
deduction dogs,
and when they checked
with the dog handlers,
one of the pouches that carry
RDX explosive was punctured
and traces of it may have wound
up on the back of the seat
or on the floor
in the front side.
With regards to the people
who were on the ground
who saw this all unfold, the
NTSB said they didn't see any
sort of missile-like
impact on the aircraft
and those people were mistaken
based on their
perspective on the ground.
Seeing this all happen.
The Safety Board has found
no evidence that the crash
of Flight 800 could have been
caused by a bomb or missile.l
The families that are
grieving are really looking
for closure that they
can't get from the NTSB.
They want to know what happened,
but sometimes there's no way
to really rush the process.
The Transportation
Board has no firm estimate
of when its findings
will be ready,
but cautions that
it could take years.
Our work will continue,
and we will spare no effort
to determine the cause
of the crash of TWA 800.
That makes a lot of
Americans very nervous.
They want answers.
They want answers.
The NTSB is slow
delivering answers,
so independent researchers
are doing their thing.
They're looking at the data
and they come to the conclusion
that maybe we're not
looking broadly enough.
Maybe there are other ideas
that have not yet
been considered.
1996, it's just two months
since Flight 800 crashed,
but the two federal agencies
investigating the disaster,
are at odds.
The FBI says it's likely
a terrorist attack.
The Transportation
Board doesn't agree
but insists it's too
early to speculate.
Then, researchers from outside
the government propose
their own theory.
An NTSB official makes an
offhanded comment in the media
about the remoteness of
a missile strike being
about the same as
a meteorite strike.
And so, that comment actually
does send people off looking
at the possibility that
it was a meteorite.
News corporations are
reporting on TWA 800.
This is a sensational
story and as a result,
a lot of different theories
are really starting
to circulate, in particular,
there are astronomers
that contact the NTSB to raise
the possibility that this was
in fact, a meteorite strike
based on eyewitness accounts.
The eyewitnesses report
seeing a streak of light
and a fireball, well,
guess what does both?
Meteors across Earth.
People report seeing
fireballs all the time.
There's over two tons of
meteoritic material falling
to Earth every day.
And sometimes,
those meteors make impact.
In America specifically,
we know of three cases
where cars were hit with
meteors in the last century.
That could cause real damage.
Take for example,
a recent fireball
over Chelyabinsk, Russia.
It broke windows and injured
people on the ground.
So, yeah, you could bring down
an airplane from a meteor.
Statisticians collect the data,
and crunch the numbers
about meteorites
to calculate the odds,
one could strike a plane.
About 3,000 meteorites make it
through the Earth's
atmosphere every year.
About 125 a day, and
on any given day,
there might be 5,000 aircraft
flying over the United States,
which sounds like a lot,
but the odds of a
small meteorite hitting
an aircraft are still
extremely small.
In a 100-year span,
the chance of a meteor bringing
down a plane is just 1%.
A meteor, not large enough
to be detected by NASA,
but yet not too small that
it would completely burn
as it's going through
the atmosphere.
The possibility of that
small-enough meteor
to impact a plane that's
traveling about half
the speed of sound is minute.
That said, it's
still worth a pause.
Searching for proof
that a meteor strike
took down the plane,
theorists consider the
wreckage of Flight 800.l
Based on what we understand
about meteorites entering
the atmosphere, the size of
meteor needed to take down
an airplane is only about
the size of a baseball
and if the meteor hits
the fuel tank in the wing,
it could definitely
trigger a big explosion
like the eyewitnesses saw.
Some suggest
the plane may have been hit
by fragments from a meteor.
Some scientists' analysis
of the wreckage did lend
to the theory of a bolide,
which is a meteorite
that explodes in the air
and some of the wreckage
did reveal puncture points.
If a meteorite happened to
explode near the aircraft,
perhaps some of the meteorite
shrapnel could have punctured
the 747.
But many
witnesses say they saw a streak
of light coming up toward
the plane not coming down
on it from above.
Taken together, it's
all a quirk of perspective
and how it enters
the atmosphere.
Remember, the Earth's
surface is curved,
so that adds another dimension
to perceiving exactly
where things occurred
in the night sky.
raising the meteorite theory,
urged the NTSB to do further
research, but they resist.
They just found
it highly unlikely.
And because these experts are
essentially inserting themselves
into a well-established
this is another case of
trying to dictate
how an aviation
accident investigation
will be carried out.
Not only is there a very
low-expected frequency
for this kind of occurrence,
but also even if it did occur
that it would have caused
the damage that we saw.
If it wasn't a terrorist
attack or a meteorite,
then what could have
caused the explosion?
A few months into
the investigation,
the Safety Board is
convinced of one thing.
So, they put forward a theory
that the airplane
actually broke in half.
When the explosion happens,
the front of the
aircraft is severed
from the back of the airplane.
So, imagine the front
of this Boeing 747
like a bullet shearing
off and collapsing.
The back end of the aircraft
starts heading upwards
because the engines
are still spinning.
Inside, it's a nightmare.
They're looking at the sky
and there is no front end.
So, they come to the
conclusion that maybe the streak
of light that eyewitnesses
saw going upwards was
this second half of
the airplane on fire
still moving upwards in the sky
and that's why the pilots
did not have time to call in
to say there was a problem
because this was a sudden event.
February 1997, while the FBI118
still believes terrorists
brought down Flight 800,
Transportation Board
investigators say no.
Could the answer lie hidden
in the recovered wreckage
of the doomed 747?
This reassembled airplane
in that hangar in Calverton,
I've heard the term
Frankenstein aircraft,
which looked like literally
tiny pieces, big pieces,
whatever they could find,
they put together just trying
to find answers about
what happened that day.
Two important
factors may be the age
and condition of the airplane.
The Boeing 747, that
is TWA Flight 800,
it's a relatively old
aircraft, it's 25 years old.
It's flown for
over 93,000 hours,
which is the equivalent
of flying continuously
for 10 and a half years.
It's one of the earlier
versions of the famous 747.
And if properly maintained,
the plane could last
many, many, many years
before it reaches an age
where you can no
longer repair the parts
and you decommission it.
Around the 1980s, airline
mechanics started to notice
that there were cracks on
old Boeing 747 airplanes
and this was really on the
structural part of the aircraft
in the upper deck,
the lower deck,
as well as the nose
of the aircraft.
On TWA 800, the NTSB find
cracks that are an inch
to one-and-a-half inch.
Now, an old airplane
like this 747
that was almost 25 years
old, you get cracks,
but every airplane that has
worked that long has cracks.
It comes from the
routine pressurization
and pressurizing of
the airplane cabin.
So, if you shake up a soda,
you do the same thing,
you pressurize the
container, and what happens
if that container is punctured?
Cracks are extremely dangerous.
Any sort of crack to the
fuselage of the aircraft
when the airplane is
experiencing any sort of stress,
that crack can just
tear the airplane apart.
So, if they're not addressed,
cracks could really lead
to catastrophic results.
In 1986, the FAA
required investigations
of older aircraft
including TWA Flight 800.
So, when you look
at the NTSB report,
they went through the
maintenance log books
for this aircraft and there
were no major mechanical issues.
This was an aircraft that
had flown tens of thousands
of hours, and components
do break down over time.
In the Spring of 1997,
learned of problems
with the doomed
plane's maintenance.
The inspectors who
evaluated the wreckage,
found that the people
who regularly inspected
the airplane actually
missed some cracks.
It had gone through the
normal safety checks,
but still, the plane
wasn't fully sound.
The NTSB found
evidence of metal fatigue
of some stress cracks
caused by pressurization
of the aircraft.
They found some hairline
cracks in what we call
shear ties that keep the skin
attached to the airplane,
and they also found
several hairline cracks
in the wing spar.
Spars are connected
to the keel beam
that basically keeps the wings
attached to the airplane.
But were these
cracks big enough and in areas
that could cause a
plane to break apart?
Part of the investigation
led them to take a deep dive
of the fuselage and they
found that there were cracks
in the shear ties
that were on the wing,
but it wasn't anything
that would've caused
an explosion of any kind.
The investigators reported
that none of these cracks
were serious enough
to have contributed
to this tragedy.
Just like you can have a rock
hit your windshield, at first,
it's just a little tiny
star, looks like an asterisk,
but what makes it dangerous
is when it travels.
Well, the same thing is true
with the cracks in the airplane.
They had not combined with each
other to create a long crack
in the structure and therefore,
could have not contributed
to the catastrophic breakup of
the airplane while in flight.
Analysis of the
wreckage confirms for the NTSB
that structural defects
didn't take down Flight 800.
So, they looked to the flight
data recorder for clues.
Along with all the
wreckage that they found,
they found the
airplane's black box
and the black box keeps
a record of the data
that the airplane is
producing as well as
all the conversations
between the pilot,
co-piloting, and crew.
Initially, there
was concern that
because the casing was cracked,
they would never be able
to recover any of
the conversations
that was going on
in the cockpit.
But as soon as they got it
back to DC and they put it
in a tape, they were able to
play the full communication.
I'm sure it was a
very emotional moment,
but it was in their final words
that the crew was able to
communicate what was going on
and that really helped
investigators get closer
to what they believed caused
the aircraft to explode.
The 1996 Flight 800 disaster
remains under investigation
for four long years as
government officials clash
and families of victims grow
increasingly frustrated.
Then, in August of 2000,
the National Transportation
Safety Board announces it
finally has what it
says are the answers
so many are waiting for.
Answers gleaned from the
airplane's black box.
There's a lot of
routine chatter.
It's the type of things that
you would expect to hear
on any civilian airline flight.
Everything seemed
routine with the exception
of just before they were
ready to close the doors.
There was this hour delay
because of this mismatch
of the bag and the passenger,
but the passenger was
on board all the time.
On the black box,
we can hear Captain Ralph
Kevorkian joke like,
"All right, we won't tell 'em
that," talking about telling
the passengers that
they made an oops.
Flight Engineer Campbell
responds, "If we do that,
we'd have a mutiny back there."
At around 8:19 PM, they
take off uneventfully,
and from the point of view
of air traffic control,
everything is going
fine with Flight 800.
At some point, Captain
Kevorkian made a comment,
"Boy, look at her, she's
climbing like a homesick angel."
That's a term we use when the
aircraft climbs very rapidly.
In other words, she's really
climbing high towards the sky.
After this was said, the
second pilot in the flight deck,
Captain Snyder had said that
the airspeed was bleeding off,
which means the aircraft
is flying faster than usual
and it really wasn't
anything to be worried about.
Cross-checking the transcript
with the flight data,
it just confirms that nothing
out of the ordinary is
really happening here.
So, at around 8:30, Boston Air
Traffic Control advises TWA
to climb from one
3,000 to one 5,000.
And at this point,
Captain Kevorkian says,
"Climb thrust."
Flight Engineer
Campbell responds,
"The power's set."
"Power's set," were the
last words that were heard
in the flight deck, and
then 37 seconds later,
the airplane explodes.
But while most
of this is all normal chatter
on a flight deck, there's
one earlier exchange
that intrigues
crash investigators.
Just a few moments before
the CVRS stops recording,
Captain Kevorkian comments,
"Check out that crazy
indication on number four."
What he's saying is sort
of equivalent to driving
in your car and having
your gas gauge malfunction.
Because this is an old airplane,
and the 747 has so many fuel
tanks that are interconnected
in each wing, those gauges
were not that reliable.
So, you occasionally get
some weird indications.
But this time,
the Safety Board believes it's
a sign of trouble inside one
of the fuel tanks.
Just a few days
after the accident,
one of the investigators sees
that the center-wing
tank bowed out.
So, something happened to
make the center tank explode
from the inside out.
Aircraft fuel tanks are
considered explosive
environments and they have to be
isolated from ignition sources
because you don't
wanna have any chance
that something will
ignite in those areas
because there's fuel there.
Captain Kevorkian's statement
about the strange readings
from the fuel tank gives
investigators a clue
as to the source of this
fuel tank explosion.
You have electrical
components inside
the central fuel tank to tell
you if they're running short
on fuel, but if a short circuit
somewhere causes a
high amount of voltage
to arc between two pieces of
metal inside an area filled
with fuel vapor, a
catastrophic explosion is
likely to occur.
The NTSB believes
that's exactly what happened.
So, the NTSB theory is that
there was a electrical spark
that exploded that tank outward
and blew the aircraft apart.
The inescapable
conclusion that the cause
of the in-flight breakup
of TWA Flight 800 was
a fuel-air explosion
in the center-wing tank.
Investigators hone
in on the electrical system,
which connects the fuel
gauges to the tank,
looking for what could
have caused the explosion,
they find evidence
of frayed wiring
and damaged installation
in the maintenance reports.
They see that
there are anomalies
in the electrical system.
The wire, which has gone
in 25 years earlier,
has been subjected to vibration
and salt and chemicals
and pressurization and abrasion.
The wires were the ones
installed back in 1976 or so,
and hasn't been replaced.
Some of those wires would fray.
Some of the installations
start to break,
and if they're short, now you
have your ignition source.
Not everybody is satisfied
with these conclusions.
This explanation faces
a couple of problems.
Number one, it's coming so late.
People have gotten
used to the idea
that perhaps there was
a terrorist involvement,
but secondly, it's
only their best guess.
Like a multiple-choice
test where you don't know
the right answer, but you can
rule out most of the rest.
They think this is
the right answer,
but they cannot point to
absolutely conclusive evidence.
We know that the
center-fuel tank exploded,
we've known that
for a long time.
We don't know what
initiated that explosion.
While evidence strongly points
to degraded wiring, the NTSB
is never able to pinpoint
the exact cause
of the explosion.
It becomes very
difficult in the aftermath
of TWA Flight 800's
destruction to determine
how such a spark might have
reached the fuel vapors inside
the central-wing fuel tank.
By the time the investigation
results are announced,
many people are dissatisfied
and they wanted answers
and the Federal Government
just wasn't able
to give them answers
quickly enough.
In its August
2000 official report
on the crash of Flight
800, investigators
at the National Transportation
Safety Board said
a fuel tank inside
the wing caught fire,
which triggered the
plane's explosion.
Some believe it was a spark
created by defective wiring,
but others seek clues
in a different flight
that ended tragically.
Two years after the
tragedy of Flight 800,
there was a Swissair 111
that tragically crashed off
the East Coast of Canada,
killing all 229 people on board.
Examining these two flights,
Flight 800 and Swissair 111,
there are a lot of similarities
that are a bit uncanny.
Both flights took off
from the same airport, JFK,
at the same time, 8:19
PM, and the same day
of the week Wednesday.
And tragically, both
planes went down very early
in their flights.
Like TWA 800,
the Swissair plane
ignites mid-flight
without a definitive cause.
The entertainment electronics,
which were stored next
to the cockpit is where
the fire started and then
it spread to blankets,
and before you know it,
the entire plane is
engulfed in flames.
Like Flight 800, the
Canadian officials are unable
to figure out exactly
what triggered
the fire in the first place.
Investigators in both crashes,
speculate that defective
wiring is to blame
but aren't able to
pinpoint the exact source.
Given all the similarities
between these two flights,
is there something else
that could cause both planes
to go down?
As they were figuring
out the factors that led
to both of these crashes and
what they might have in common,
researchers noted
that both pilots
on the planes briefly
lost radio contact shortly
before things went haywire.
So, given these similarities,
the question becomes
what could cause
communications to go out?
And it's the same thing
that could create
navigational problems
and other electronic
problems on a flight.
Electromagnetic interference,
it's a real problem.
There's a reason that you
have to put your cell phones
into airplane mode and we
try to minimize other forms
of electromagnetic interference.
When it comes to aircraft,
they're very sensitive.
They have a lot of
they have a lot of electrical
components that are subject
to the possibility
of interference.
Some argue that
there's only one source capable
of generating enough
electromagnetic interference
to bring down a plane.
The US military.
What these researchers
found was that when we look
at Swissair 111, which, again,
took off at the same time,
the same day of the week
from the same airport,
they did find
something interesting.
The fleet area control
and surveillance facility
is a Navy organization
that monitors the air and
sea space off the coast
of the United States.
Documents provided the
first couple of weeks
of September 1998 did show
military operations off
the Eastern Seaboard.
Specifically, the document
reports that during that week,
there was a small-scale
ECM notification
that stands for Electronic
Countermeasure notification,
and that's a training exercise
for electronic war games.
So, instead of using
bombs and bullets,
what they used was
electronic warfare.
They're sending out signals
that could interfere
with the electronics
of civilian flights.
And the records further
showed that Navy jets were
actually, in very similar
area to the Swiss 111 flight
at the time of this incident.
So, these independent
researchers put forth the idea
that the electronic warfare
jamming signals sent out
by these military jets
somehow interfered
with the electronics
of Swissair 111 leading
to the fire that ultimately
brought down the plane.
But even with the presence
of the military exercises
in the area, debate remains
whether there was enough
electromagnetic interference
to bring down these flights.
The EMS spectrum
can cause problems,
but we really haven't
had a lot of incidents
where we pointed towards
electromagnetic interference
as potentially
downing an aircraft.
Even though the surface of the
Earth is constantly bombarded
in the electromagnetic spectrum.
Times that it would
be most at risk
of causing a problem
would be in the descent
of the aircraft
and not in midair.
An NTSB report cited
about 11 sources
of electromagnetic
energy in the area.
The largest of them
emitting about 800 Watts
with a peak of
about 1,000 Watts.
This energy decays with
distance and when you tally
all the sources at an
altitude of 13,000 feet
at one airplane, I don't
think you have enough energy
to trigger an explosion
in the center wing tank.
Even so, speculation about
the military's role in
the crash continues.
It is unfortunate
that a small number
of people pursuing their
own agendas have persisted
in making unfounded charges
of a government coverup
in this investigation.
A lot of people will
point to government coverups
and government conspiracies
because the government
isn't always good
at dispelling the rumors.
Sometimes, the government
doesn't come out
and dispel these
conspiracy theories
because to do so would
require revealing evidence
that shouldn't be in
the public domain.
It's been more
than 20 years since the
National Transportation
Safety Board released
its August 2000
report on Flight 800.
Some relatives of
the victims continued
to dispute its findings.
With the help of researchers,
these families have discovered
evidence allegedly withheld
from the NTSB of nearby
live-fire military exercises,
showing an object
headed toward the plane
just before it exploded.
Some of the family of the
victims of Flight 800 now think
that maybe there is
a coverup going on,
and maybe this was a
direct military attack.
The idea
that the US Military could
accidentally shoot
down a passenger plane,
isn't wild speculation.
It actually happened
just eight years prior
to the explosion of Flight 800.
In 1988, the USS Vincennes
had actually shot down
an Iranian airliner
originating out of Tehran.
They thought that
it was actually
an Iranian Air Force
Fighter aircraft
and fired two surface-to-air
missiles downing
the civilian airliner.
That occurred in 1988.
It was still fairly fresh
in the public's mind.
Some of the family now say
that if the military is
responsible for this,
then they too should
be held accountable
for the tragedy of Flight 800.
Families of the victims
never gave up and they want
to bring their own investigators
do their investigation.
In June of 2022,
the families filed a
lawsuit against the US Navy
and two government contractors
to pursue this theory and,
hopefully, discover the truth.
The lawsuit alleges that
the government knows full well
what happened, but covered
up that information
because, they allege, the
Government caused the crash.
According to this theory,
the Navy shot down the
plane during war games,
then covered it up.
The lawsuit says that
this was a friendly fire.
There were two missiles
fired from a Navy vessel,
but they went awry.
It was supposed to
hit another target
but hit the bigger plane
with more heat signature
that was TWA 800.
According to their lawsuit,
the Navy's radar caught
the actual debris from
the airplane exploding
and measured the
velocities of the particles
and say that they were moving
at 4,000 miles per hour,
which is four times faster
than the speed of sound.
Their allegation states,
only a US military-grade
missile could cause the debris
to move at that rate.
They alleged that the radar data
from those tests was withheld
from the NTSB but given
to the FBI within
minutes of the crash.
And so, with without
analyzing the radar images,
the NTSB concluded there was
no evidence of a missile.
None of the participating
bomb technicians,
nor myself, have
seen any indication
of high-explosive effects on
any of the wreckage recovered
from Flight 800.
This theory has its detractors.
They claim that only
a missile could create
such high-velocity debris.
I'm not convinced of that. A
meteor is gonna be moving faster
than a missile but the
devil's in the details.
The idea that
fast-moving debris could
only have been caused by a
missile strike is contradicted
by the facts of physics.
Fast-moving debris
from the aircraft was
almost certainly created by
the explosion of that aircraft
and not by an intersection
with some form of missile.
But what about the allegations
that the Navy war games
shut down the plane?
That scenario also has no merit
because a destroyer was
alleged to have shot a missile,
but that destroyer was actually,
maybe a hundred miles plus
south and none of the missiles
on it had the range to
bring down the plane.
No fragments from any
surface-to-air missile have
ever been found in the wreckage
or near the wreckage
of Flight 800.
Also, the missile
theory does not explain
why the aircraft lost
communication with the ground.
The Transportation
Board still insists
that the investigation
is and should be closed.
The recovered wreckage
of TWA Flight 800 was kept
in a hangar outside Ashburn,
Virginia for 25 years
and was used as a training aid
for other NTSB investigators.
Families had nothing.
Many of them did not have the
remains of their loved ones.
Allowing them that opportunity
to go into the hangar, seeing
the wreckage had to be a
tremendous relief to them.
You know, losing
somebody is extremely hard,
especially if you don't
get to say goodbye to them.
But this is also
such a big moment
because the lease is
done with this building
and they're gonna destroy
all of the pieces.
So, it's kind of forcing
a lot of these families
to really say goodbye.
You know, like the book is
closed, the chapter's closed.
Perhaps their
lawsuit will at last bring
the families of the victims,
the closure they seek.
But we may never definitively
know why TWA 800 crashed.
I think it continues to
capture public imagination
because it was one of the
first real sensational events
that happened at the
dawn of the internet.
And so, people got online
to share ideas and theories
and they wanted answers.
So, in that narrative
void, people came up
with their own conjecture
and their own answers.
History is full
of tragedies and in many cases,
we don't actually, ever
find a conclusive answer.
- Just went down.
- And when you have people
that are involved
because their family
members died tragically,
people will still
wonder about it.
What happened to Flight 800?
While the latest theory
gets tested in a court of law,
the cause of the crash
of Flight 800 continues
to ignite debate.
I'm Laurence Fishburne.
Thank you for watching
History's Greatest Mysteries.
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