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Section: TWA 800 : A deliberate mystery?


In response to the "Aviation Week" article about TWA 800's crash, pilot Robert Durant sent me some comments I think are educational and worth reading.


My interest in TWA 800 is mainly professional, in that I make a living flying similar airplanes, but also arises from my concern with remote viewing and the results that various remote viewers have achieved in their attempts to shed light on this profoundly unsettling puzzle.

Here are some comments on the article and associated issues.

From the outset there has been a great deal of tension between the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FBI. Early newspaper accounts indicated that this was not just a matter of two agencies fighting over turf and budgets, but instead that the conflict had to do with the refusal of the NTSB to give any credence to eyewitness reports, while the FBI was placing great emphasis on such reports. There is a sense in which this difference in investigative philosophy is understandable, because the NTSB is literally a "hands on" outfit, dealing with wreckage in order to come to a conclusion about the cause of an accident. Eyewitness reports very rarely are relevant to aircraft accidents. Conversely, the FBI deals with witnesses and relies heavily on them in nearly all of their investigations.

However, I think the tension really arises from a much more particular aspect of the TWA 800 mystery rather than a vaguely defined difference of investigative strategy. Specifically, I believe that the missile hypothesis has been supported by a wealth of eyewitness testimony, and that the FBI early on became frustrated by the refusal of the NTSB to acknowledge such testimony.

I have it from a source that I believe to be credible that the FBI interviewed about 130 eyewitnesses. From that group a total of 34 witnesses were culled who were considered intelligent and honest, and had a good view of the event, and so on. I am told that these witnesses were interviewed at great length by the FBI, and subsequently by a team from the Redstone Arsenal, presumably experts on rocketry.

Newspaper and television reporting on the TWA 800 story has provided much detail on every aspect of this event save one - the eyewitnesses. That is why the account in Aviation Week is so important. (I have been out of town and almost out of touch with the world for the last month, so the Aviation Week article may have been headline news, but I am told that it was not picked up by any major newspaper or TV outlet.)

Aviation Week is universally respected as the "bible" of the aviation industry. It has always maintained the highest standards of journalistic probity. This is probably why the two pilots went to that publication with their story, knowing that it would be covered accurately. Almost any other venue would compress or distort their testimony.

I am intrigued by the "FBI gag order." What is the legal basis for a "gag order" by a government agency? Does such not have to derive from a court of law? And why is the second pilot still under the FBI "gag order"?

How many of the other witnesses are under a similar "gag order"?

Why should there be any restriction to public discussion of the testimony of any witness?

And why has the news media not picked up on this very provocative story? We have extremely credible eyewitnesses, FBI gag orders, and so on, all of it of high order "newsworthiness."

How is it that "two officials" decided to talk to Aviation Week about this? I will offer two speculations in reply. First, that this is a way for Aviation Week to protect Meyer and Baur by creating fictitious sources. Second, that Aviation Week is fulfilling a function that it has carried out for decades, which is to publish information that the government wants in the open, but does not want attributed to the real source. This has occurred many times with respect to military technology, and is one of the reasons the magazine has enjoyed such a wide and enthusiastic readership both here and abroad.

"The helicopter was executing a missed approach and was about halfway down Runway 24" This merely means that the pilots were practicing approaches to that runway simulating what they would do in very low visibility conditions. Runway 24 is so named because it is oriented to 240 degrees magnetic, meaning toward the southwest. The helicopter was probably about 500 feet in the air at the time, and climbing.

The cockpit layout permits a wide field of view. The "15-20 degrees above the pilot's line of sight and "15 degrees left of the centerline" mean that the events reported appeared nearly straight ahead of the pilots. Only a very slight turn of the head would be required to look directly at the streaks of light.

If the streak of light did in fact remain in view for as long as "3 to 5 seconds," this would almost certainly rule out a meteorite.

"NTSB investigators have suggested unofficially that the streaks the pilots saw could have been light reflections from the skin of the aircraft, tongues of flame from the airliner, or the forward door of the aircraft popping open, a possibility that still intrigues the investigators, the second official said."

Here we see the antagonism of the NTSB toward eyewitness testimony. This is reminiscent of the absurd official explanations of UFO sightings, as in "swamp gas" and the "weather balloons" that outrun jet interceptors.

To the extent that there is conflict in the testimony of these two pilots, it probably arises from seeing different portions of a very rapidly evolving event.

During the practice instrument approach, Baur would ordinarily be entirely "on instruments," meaning that his focus would be inside the cockpit. This would continue until the initial portion of the missed approach, at which time he would probably adjust his "scan" to include both the instruments and the vista outside the helicopter. Meyer, acting as copilot, would have devoted some of his attention to cross checking the instruments, but most of his attention would be focused outside in order to preclude an encounter with another aircraft. It seems that the sighting of the streaks of light took place during the later stages of the missed approach, when both pilots would be "in and out" of the cockpit.

About an hour after the demise of TWA 800 I turned on my TV set and found a New York local news show in progress that consisted of the anchor talking on the telephone with a series of people. They were located in several communities on the southern shore of Long Island, and were describing a horrible airplane disaster they had witnessed. It took a while for me to understand that they were discussing the crash of an airliner. My recollection is that several of the callers spoke of seeing what appeared to be "fireworks" going up, and then what one called a huge descending flame shaped "like a Christmas tree." This was the burning fuel, described in detail by the helicopter pilots. (Fireworks? Going up?)

The ignition source for the burning fuel could have been provided by any of the three main scenarios, an on-board bomb, a missile, or a mechanical or structural malfunction. The first two are obvious, but if the airplane had simply come apart in the air the fuel tanks would rupture, and the still-running jet engines would ignite it. The 747 was at a speed of over 300 miles per hour when the event took place. A substantial structural failure opening the skin of the airplane would result in almost immediate destruction of the rest of the craft from the immense aerodynamic forces.

I believe that TWA 800 will provide a good test of the validity of remote viewing. At the moment, there are three scenarios offered by remote viewers: (1) Ed Dames long ago sent a written analysis to the NTSB offering the conclusion that a hydraulic pump failed catastrophically, causing a fire that migrated through the fuel system, thus causing an explosion. (2) Several other remote viewers have stated that a missile was fired at the airplane. There are subsets of this, including the source of the missile and details on the structural damage done the aircraft, and even data on the parties who fired the missile. This information is "on paper" and has been circulated within the remote viewing community. (3) I have been told that there are remote viewing results that point to a "high energy" or "particle" beam device, but I have not seen anything "on paper" about these RV results. Obviously, these three scenarios are mutually exclusive.

Finally, I want to say that I endorse the effort to downplay or even obscure the "missile" hypothesis, at least until all other possibilities have been exhausted. The public and apparently most professionals in aviation believe that the key to stopping aviation terrorism lies in increased passenger and baggage screening. Certainly the public has been put through a great deal of trouble in this respect, even on the most neutral domestic flights. If the TWA flight was shot out of the air by a missile fired by terrorists, the psychological impact would be devastating. It would mean that we are helpless to respond to the threat, that we have no control. This could easily lead to economic chaos and a crisis in government.

--Bob Durant


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