Still Bearing Witness

Five Years Later, Flight 800 Still Poses Questions

At the NTSB's August meeting, Mayer gave many reasons why eyewitness recollections should not be taken at face value. Citing psychologists, he said memories are almost never perfectly recalled, but are corrupted by what is called "post-event information," which in this case could range from FBI agents' leading questions to the influence of news reports suggesting a missile was fired. Oddly, though, in some cases investigators decided to trust witnesses implicitly. Wire's recollection of where he was standing and where he was looking, for example, was apparently treated by investigators as utterly trustworthy, precise information.

For Dwight Brumley, who was sitting on the right side of US Air 217, a passenger flight approaching Providence at 21,000 feet at the time of the explosion, there is no doubt that the streak of light coming up from below and slightly behind him was a missile. "I watched it for seven to 10 seconds—it pitched over, and a small explosion appeared," he told the audience at the hotel. "Then, after a few seconds, it grew much bigger, then began to elongate as it extended downwards."

Brumley, according to CIA and NTSB investigators, could not have seen TWA 800 explode, because it was out of sight, directly ahead of and below his aircraft, at the time—an explanation Brumley roundly rejects. However, the account of another passenger on US Air 217 recently interviewed by the Voice is potentially more problematic for investigators. Sitting toward the rear of the plane, on the same side, 12-year-old Adam Coletti looked down and saw what looked like the wake of a boat. He saw the shape of a boat, he said. He turned to tell his mother across the aisle, he told the Voice; then when he looked back there was a redness where the boat had been. "It looked like it was red and kind of blinking, red, intense," the boy said. "I'm not sure if it exploded then, or if I turned again and looked back, but it was 10 to 15 seconds after I saw the red that I saw the explosion." The explosion, he said, had seemed to be stretching up from the boat. It "went up from the boat—just really quick," he said. Coletti's unique account does not, apparently, fit any of the TWA 800 investigation's suggested explanations for eyewitness evidence of the crash.

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