By CÚsar Reyes
It has been exactly a year since the tragic crash of T.W.A. Flight 800. The U.S. authorities have not brought to light the truth concerning the causes that provoked the fatal accident, in which all 230 passengers on board died on July 17, 1996.
So far there are three hypotheses about the crash: a mechanical failure, a bomb on board or a missile. The first two have been the ones most widely spread by the U.S. authorities. However, a series of tests, evidence and logical deductions carried out by the French magazine "Paris Match", lead to the presumption that a sophisticated high-technology missile fired by a U.S. Navy ship during military exercises was the "involuntary" cause of the tragedy.
At first, when the investigators of the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) went to France, the country from which many of the victims came, they presented a beige bag that was allegedly found among the wreckage of the plane and that the U.S. families did not attribute to their deceased relatives.
This bag supposedly contained residues of an explosive substance and was located under rows 15 to 23 of the airplane, just under the main fuel tank, which was, according to the U.S. authorities, the origin of the explosion. However, this explanation did not convince the French and, for several months, a special team of investigators from the magazine Paris Match came to search for the truth with the aid of informers who wish to remain anonymous who "worked for the U.S. government."
Several months ago, the conclusions of this investigation were presented by Pierre Salinger, a former Press Chief in the White House during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and Dr. Michael Sommer, a former member of these two administrations, a journalist and political adviser. The team of investigators also included a pilot with more than 30 years experience who is an aeronautics expert close to the U.S. government, a former missile manufacturer who is president of an aeronautics firm, as well as Ian Goddard, who directed the network of the investigation through the Internet. The conclusions that they arrived at are surprising:
T.W.A. Flight 800 was (apparently) downed by a kinetic energy missile launched from the sea (possibly from a submarine), during a military exercise carried out by the U.S. Navy. The target of the missile was an object guided by a military P3 Orion airplane, that was designed for anti-submarine combat and was responsible for registering the data from the simulated attack. The catastrophe occurred when the T.W.A. Boeing crossed the path of the object, because the plane was flying at a lower altitude to avoid crossing the path of a US Air flight which was on a perpendicular course. Apparently the Boeing's strong electric emissions attracted the missile that was directed precisely toward the target.
The investigators reached these conclusions not only based on a key piece of evidence, the appearance of a video cassette that registered the information from one of the radars at J.F.K. airport at the moment of the tragedy. They also used "numerous elements not yet revealed by the U.S. authorities," who swept under the rug questions that were "troubling" for them. Subsequently the different probabilities are offered that were summarized by the experts and which, according to the magazine Paris Match, "reinforce the missile theory."
The United States Defense Department confirmed that Tomahawk missiles were utilized as targets from the military installations of Wallops Island. On the night of July 17, these targets were launched to a height of approximately 10,000 feet (3,250 meters) as objectives of surface-to-air missiles launched from military ships. "Consequently," according to the magazine Paris Match, "one of these missiles could have directed itself at T.W.A.'s Boeing at the moment when the trajectory of the plane crossed that of the target." In this case: "It is possible that the confusion of the target was due to a computer error from a Navy ship or from one of the Coast Guard vessels."
The abnormal behavior of the Boeing was one of the factors in the tragedy. According to the investigators, "this was due to a delay in the control tower authorizing Flight 800 to ascend to a safer level." When "military exercises" are being carried out, the security zone for civil airplanes is above 20,000 feet (6,500 meters). Apparently, says Paris Match, the air traffic controllers called on the Boeing "to wait" (to ascend) in order "to allow a commercial U.S. airplane, a US Air flight, to pass." The delimitation of security space is strictly observed by the U.S. Navy, "but at the time of the July 17 exercises, several war zones had been established, W-105 and W-108." W is the initial for Whiskey, which in Navy code means "war zone." According to the investigators, due to the delay called for by the control tower, the T.W.A. Boeing was in one of the war zones, at a height of about 13,700 feet or possibly lower (as can be seen on the video of the radar). It was along the path of a P3 Orion, used occasionally in training missions, which guided an unmanned device to be used for target practice. The press has not mentioned anything about military exercises. The missile that struck Flight 800 was equipped with an auto-guided system (which selects its own target).
Contrary to the published information, sector W-105 could have been "activated" by a simple warning call from the Navy to the control tower, thanks to a special line called "Fox Trot", according to the report of the Paris Match investigators.
"The night of the catastrophe there was a state of alert at the very moment when the T.W.A. Boeing took off from J.F.K. airport bound for Paris. At that time, the U.S. Navy assumed that no commercial airplane would be permitted to enter this zone at an altitude of less than 20,000 feet (6,500 meters). Supporting this thesis... there is not only the presence of the P3 Orion, but also the declaration of witnesses who saw, shortly before the explosion of the Boeing, a C-130 discharge phosphorescent parachutes that appeared to be burning. This could explain the confused stories of certain witnesses that they saw burning fragments of the airplane falling."
According to the information received by Paris Match, the United States and certain allies had planned a series of exercises, from May to October of 1996, to test a new generation of computerized missiles. The night of the drama, the U.S.S. Normandy, along with 6 missile-carrying ships, passed through the exercise zone with kinetic energy missiles. The documents of the U.S. Navy show that, 3 months after the catastrophe of Flight 800, from October 7 to 24 of 1996, other exercises of the same kind were carried out."
In this type of exercises, "the role of the Coast Guard is to prevent [non-military] ships from entering the exercise zone." During these exercises designed to test new materials, according to Paris Match, "the Navy and the Coast Guard remain in direct communication. However, on October 2 and 3, although the exercises concerned the Coast Guard of District 5 and District 1, District 5 did not receive an order to notify ships entering the war zone that military exercises were being carried out."
The experts consulted by the investigation think that "the failure to inform all the parties concerned" was to "do a test" of an identical catastrophe to that of Flight 800, when the air traffic controllers permitted an airplane to enter a "war zone."
To corroborate what was said previously, the investigators of Paris Match cite the log book of the commanding officer aboard one of the ships that took part in the exercises. The statement says: "I am very happy to record that, on October 2, during the tests of the U.S.S. Sullivan, missiles were launched... The first objective of these tests was to check the propulsion and the capacities of the weapons. But the ship that was supposed to launch the target to test our missiles did not arrive on time. Fortunately, the U.S.S. Samuel R. Morrison responded quickly to the call from our airplanes to find a replacement."
This is one of the most discomforting questions of the investigators of Paris Match. According to them: at least 154 witnesses on the south shore of Long Island, and several pilots whose planes were traveling in the proximity of the T.W.A. Boeing, observed a flying object." According to the first information from the (news agency) Associated Press, "a radar detected a blip that disappeared near the airplane just before the explosion." Regarding this information, the British newspaper "The Times," which followed the investigation from the beginning, was informed of satellite pictures showing "an object flying towards the T.W.A. airplane and striking it." The U.S. daily "Boston Globe" supposed that the pictures were from a Data System II satellite, used by the CIA. This is equipped with high resolution cameras with a sensor, called "Heritage." This detects objects by the heat they emit.
At the time of the catastrophe, Dr. Michael Sommer (one of those who presented the report from Paris Match) was with his colleagues near Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the secret center for launching CIA satellites. Upon hearing the news, a pilot at the base said: "It's one of those blasted missiles, and this satellite will prove it."
Citing the Freedom of Information Act, the investigators demanded the satellite pictures from the CIA. The agency refused to hand them over, taking cover behind Presidential Directive 12958, according to Paris Match.
In opposing the missile theory, the U.S. authorities have said that the Tomahawk missiles fired on the day of the disaster had a maximum range of only 185 miles, which would have made it impossible for one of them to have reached the T.W.A. Boeing, which was some 206 miles (333 kilometers) from where the missiles were fired. Nevertheless, the experts of the Paris Match investigation think that on the same day another, more sophisticated type of missile with a greater range (possibly the Continuous Rod Missile) could have been launched. These have a fragmentation bomb in their head which, according to the experts, could explain the numerous perforations found in the wreckage of the T.W.A. Boeing.
According to the Paris Match report, "the opinions of the experts differ on the reasons why the U.S. Navy is keeping silent about this apparently accidental catastrophe." Some think that an admission would give enemies crucial information about the sophistication of the latest U.S. missiles - much greater than what the public thinks - or about the anti-missile defense system. Others think that the F.B.I. does not want to expose the fact that Navy personnel were the cause of the tragedy. But it also seems that the hypothesis of a kinetic energy missile forces the Navy to keep silent for diplomatic reasons.
With the signing of the SALT I accords, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, alarmed by the efficiency of the missiles, decided to prohibit them. To confess their use would be to admit that did not respect the accords.
The experts who took part in the investigation for the French magazine were surprised at the injuries to the passengers at the moment of the catastrophe. According to the report, from the coverage of Newsday (of Long Island): "The medical examiner of Suffolk County concluded that the majority of the passengers of Flight 800 died instantly from the violent separation of the skull from the spinal column, a blow comparable to a that of a club, caused by a brutal change in the speed and trajectory of the airplane."
Similarly, the news agency Reuters cited another medical examiner: "The most probable cause of the injuries, and I think the one from which all the passengers died, was a violent and quick blow like that of a whip... First, the facial wounds, as the heads of the passengers struck the seats in front of them, then a second shock, with their heads projected backwards, affected all the functions of the whole brain." Because of the impact 16 passengers were beheaded.
Moreover, the medical examiners found metal fragments on the bodies of several victims. Did these come from the wreckage of the airplane or from a missile? questioned the investigators of Paris Match. The analyses remain secret. "However, nobody saw traces of burns on the bodies of the passengers found in the forward part of the airplane, above the electric systems of the Boeing. Undoubtedly it seems that this part disintegrated first [after the impact of the missile] before the accident caused the explosion of the fuel tanks." In conclusion, Paris Match says, "this reinforces the hypothesis of a missile."
Note: The present work has been based upon the fundamental elements of the report of the magazine Paris Match from France, in its issue of March 20, 1997. Some of the material is also available on the Internet at:
under Archives, News, in both English and French.
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