Scattered Clues

New shadows darken the TWA Flight 800 probe

Some independent investigators remain convinced that the wildly erratic readings included on the last line of data from the flight data recorder, which the NTSB drew a line through on its FDR Report, also indicate that a high-pressure wave rocked the airplane (Voice, July 21, 1998). Retired TWA captain and flight engineer Howard Mann examined an addendum to the FDR Report, obtained by the Voice, and concluded, "They are not accounting for the erratic data at all."

These anomalies— the witness accounts, the CVR sound, the damage to the wing rib, the FDR's last line— all nourish a band of TWA 800 conspiracy theorists, some of whom still believe that an accidentally fired U.S. Navy missile hit the plane. A founding member of this group recently got the chance to scrutinize the wreckage inside the Calverton hangar. Author James Sanders, who wrote The Downing of TWA Flight 800 and who is awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to steal evidence from the hangar (Voice, April 21, 1998), was permitted to photograph the fuselage reconstruction as part of pretrial discovery. He and his attorney first had to sign an agreement that they would not share any of the photos with the media, he told the Voice.

Sanders said that after examining the reconstruction he concluded that the NTSB has given a misleading impression of some of the damage. He mentioned, for example, a center tank partition that, according to the NTSB, sustained "accordion" damage, meaning "folding directly inboard" from the direction of the right wing. But Sanders said that the damage is far more extreme than the description suggests. "Spanwise beam two is crushed inward about eight feet from an external force— it's extraordinary when you see it in person," he said. (The NTSB suggests that the accordion damage was caused by water impact.)

AP/ Wideworld

Retired navy commander William S. Donaldson also is convinced a missile hit the plane (Voice, July 21), but unwilling to believe the Navy capable of such a ghastly error, he blames terrorists. He told the Voice recently that an 800 number his group had placed in a Long Island newspaper has drawn an overwhelming response from eyewitnesses who are not satisfied with the government's explanation of what they saw.

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