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Mystery of TWA Flight 800 Persists, 15 Years Later

August 1, 2011


Sunday, July 17th, marked the 15th anniversary of the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York at approximately 8:30 p.m., 12 minutes after it left New York’s Kennedy Airport heading for Paris, killing all 230 people aboard. To commemorate this tragic event, AIM gathered a group of people who have looked into this event, each bringing his own insights and knowledge of the case to the table. Those participating on AIM’s show on BlogTalkRadio, “Take AIM,” on July 14th included John Clarke, an attorney who has worked on this case in several capacities since 1997; Jack Cashill, a journalist and producer who has co-written a book and produced a documentary on the subject; and Retired Captain Mike Larkin, a former Air Force pilot who later became a TWA pilot for more than 30 years, and who often piloted TWA 800 from New York to Paris. I hosted the show, and have produced and written a documentary on the subject called TWA 800: The Search for the Truth.

There were a number of articles this year, since this anniversary was divisible by five, apparently making it more newsworthy. Most of the articles, like this AP story that ran in The Washington Post, focused on families and friends of the deceased, gathering for an ocean-side ceremony remembering the victims. While some of the stories, such as this one, did at least bring up the fact that there were questions raised at the time as to whether the plane was blown up by a bomb or missile, they ultimately accepted the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board which “concluded the plane was destroyed by a center fuel tank explosion, likely caused by a spark from a wiring short-circuit that ignited vapors in the tank.”

The eyewitnesses were explained away, according to the article, as having actually seen “a piece of the plane itself that had broken off in an initial blast that preceded an even larger explosion.” In fact, the findings were that following that “center fuel tank explosion,” the nose fell off, the fuselage rose approximately 3,000 feet, and the eyewitnesses actually saw burning fuel and debris coming down, not a missile flying towards the doomed flight. Or, “a piece of the plane that had broken off.” Regarding the eyewitnesses, there were more than 600, including 260 who saw something streaking toward the plane, of which 92 actually saw it rise from the surface.

I did a show and wrote about this last year as well, which focused on Ray Lahr and his lawsuit, litigated by John Clarke, challenging the findings of the NTSB. Lahr is a former Navy pilot, engineer and crash investigator, who spent more than 30 years with United Air Lines, including 20 years as a safety representative for the Air Line Pilots Association. AIM will continue to follow this story until hopefully, as former TWA pilot Mike Larkin said during this show, the President or Congress gets the courage to demand the release of all the evidence, including satellite images from that evening that he believes exist that would reveal the truth of what happened. According to Larkin, who was a friend and former roommate in the Air Force of the pilot of the downed TWA 800 flight, “definitely, a missile brought the airplane down.” Larkin is also a poet, and he read a poem during the show that he wrote about TWA 800, which is included in the transcript.

Also, Jack Cashill discusses new insights into President Clinton’s thinking on this matter just weeks after it occurred.

I plan to do a more lengthy AIM Report to focus on the latest insights and developments that are keeping this story alive, and to explain why this story was so important to AIM’s now deceased founder and longtime chairman, Reed Irvine.

Below, in quotes, are excerpts of the discussion from “Take AIM.” You can listen to a podcast of the show or read the complete transcript here.

Jack Cashill

“Without Accuracy in Media, this case would have died years ago. You guys were the ones who sustained it. You know, this happened in ’96, just before the Internet matured, but had this happened ten years later, they could not have gotten away with what they did. They simply couldn’t have. But, at the time, The New York Times controlled the whole information flow, and the FBI was speaking exclusively with The New York Times, so they could control the information, and they did.

“…on the question of who fired that missile, I still remain agnostic. I don’t feel like I have enough information conclusively to blame someone. I have suspicions, and I know what the evidence is, but I’m reluctant to go any further than that. In the book First Strike—by the way, in our documentary, Silenced, we’re fully silent on the question of who fired the missiles—which Jim [Sanders] and I put out in 2003—and Jim has always believed it was a Naval accident, I’ve never been fully convinced of that.”

Mike Larkin (former TWA pilot)

“I think the FBI knows what happened—they had a satellite parked out over New York that night that would have filmed the entire event. Those films are locked up at Langley....So any time the Congress gets the courage to demand the FBI release the evidence they have locked up, we’ll know who’s responsible.

“What convinced me that a cover-up was taking place was when Major Meyer, the helicopter pilot, and his co-pilot were out there, hovering, just waiting for darkness to put on their goggles and do a night training exercise. Major Meyer was a combat veteran. He knows what ordnance looks like. He and his first officer both saw the missiles. First of all, the FBI wasn’t interested in talking to him. They sent some flunky out to him with a pad, didn’t even copy down what Major Meyer had to say, and then never followed up with him at all. So it was obvious that there was a cover-up taking place. We don’t know who the Clinton administration was covering for, whether it was Iran or the Navy. But definitely, a missile brought the airplane down.

“Boeing spent millions of dollars to reconstruct that center fuel tank, which is about the size of the bedroom I’m sitting in now, twelve-by-twelve. They tried every way in the world to get it to explode—I think they even tossed a highway flare into it! Everyone knows that diesel, JP-4, is not volatile, it’s very difficult to even ignite. So the idea that there was an explosion caused by an electrical spark is just nonsense.”

John Clarke

“To my mind, the government’s explanation is the most damning piece of evidence. As you mentioned, the CIA put out a video that they released to the national news, played on all three networks and CNN, depicting the nose of the aircraft being blown off from the center fuel tank explosion—incidentally, that fuel tank was empty—then falling off, and two-thirds of the aircraft climbing 3,000 feet. It’s absolutely ludicrous! And it’s impossible—when we filed Ray Lahr’s Freedom of Information act suit, we had 29 witnesses, a dozen experts, and they all said that it was impossible. Number one, it’s impossible for the fuel tank to have exploded, but, more importantly, if the nose had actually been blown off, and the balance of the aircraft had remained intact, it’s absolutely impossible for the aircraft to have climbed. It would have stalled right away.”

Larkin

“Well, I followed this along as a lay person, not as an investigator, but I think that this mystery could be cleared up very easily if the President—or perhaps our new President—orders the FBI to release the tapes of the satellite that evening. I think that would answer everyone’s questions real quickly. Also, the tapes of the air traffic control radars that the FBI confiscated and are locked up down at Langley. Someone knows the answer.”

Cashill

“I hate to say it, but they’ve gotten away with it. They’ve won. I don’t know right now what could happen, except—you know, my serious greatest hope is that Jim Kallstrom [FBI]—who’s got to be a tortured soul after all these years, because he was not a bad guy, he’s a former marine, he didn’t want to do what he did, and the first five weeks of the investigation he ran it seriously and he talked to all those family members and he held a lot of hands and hugged a lot of people—this has got to be weighing on his conscience. It’ll take someone like that to come forward and say—probably on his death bed—“Enough. I’ve got to get this off my chest. I’m gonna go meet my maker, I don’t want to go meet him with this massive lie on my soul.”

Clarke

“In 1996, if they could cover up, what I think pretty clearly are 230 homicides, even if it was an accident—it would be reckless disregard of the safety of others if it was a military exercise in the most heavily trafficked air spaces in the world, that would be homicide—if you could cover that up, resulting in 230 deaths seen by 600 people, when the news media was better off than it is now, I think that sort of drives the point home of why this is important now.”

Copyright ©2011 Roger Aronoff

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org.

 


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