|TRAFICANT, James A., Jr.,|
WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 1998
Washington, D.C. – U. S. Rep. James A. Traficant, Jr. (D–OH) today submitted a report to a House aviation panel supporting federal investigators' claims that the July 17, 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 was not caused by a missile or a bomb. "While it remains true that investigators have yet to uncover evidence of an ignition source inside the center wing fuel tank, all of the other evidence recovered indicates that there was an explosion of fuel vapors inside the tank, and that this was the initiating event that caused the break-up of Flight 800," noted Traficant in his report.
Traficant was asked last fall by the chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation, U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R–TN), to review the government's Flight 800 investigation and prepare a report for the subcommittee. The request was made amid persistent rumors that investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Transportation Safety Board were ignoring or covering-up evidence that Flight 800 was downed by a missile. Traficant, a senior member of the subcommittee, had been closely examining the Flight 800 investigation for several months at the time the request was made.
The Traficant report found "no conclusive evidence to counter the NTSB's assertion that the break-up of the airplane was initiated through a fuel air explosion in the center wing fuel tank. I also did not uncover any conclusive evidence contradicting the NTSB and FBI's assertion that there is no evidence that the crash was caused by a bomb or a missile. While a few eyewitness accounts are not consistent with the break-up scenario posited by the NTSB and FBI, the bulk of the eyewitness statements are consistent with the break-up scenario."
In conducting his review, Traficant and a member of his staff interviewed the key parties to the government's investigation of Flight 800, including representatives from the NTSB, FBI, Boeing, TWA, and Airline Pilots Association. Interviews were also conducted with certain eyewitnesses and other participants including members of the 106th Air Rescue Wing of the New York National Guard, U.S. Navy missile experts, the Suffolk County (NY) Medical Examiner, and outside experts. The government hangar in Calverton, New York that houses the Flight 800 wreckage was visited by a member of Traficant's staff.
On the night of July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island, New York. All 230 people on board were killed. The federal government's investigation into this tragedy has been unprecedented. Almost two years after the crash, many people still have questions about what caused this tragedy.
"To my knowledge, no other committees in the Congress have undertaken a close examination of the federal government's investigation of TWA Flight 800," noted Traficant. "Given the magnitude of this investigation, I have been somewhat disappointed that the major oversight committees in the Congress have not taken a more active interest in the Flight 800 investigation."
Traficant reported that while his review uncovered some problems and anomalies with the federal government's investigation, "the NTSB and the FBI did a remarkable job in examining this tragedy. The hundreds of men and women who sacrificed so much of their time and their emotional strength examining this tragedy should have our lasting gratitude. On the whole, the Flight 800 investigation was carried out in a highly professional, careful and thorough manner."
In the course of his review, Traficant closely looked at the many theories that continue to proliferate on the Internet and other media. "I closely examined a number of these theories and scenarios, including friendly fire from the U.S. military, a terrorist missile, electromagnetic interference, a meteor and a bomb," noted Traficant. "These theories are not supported by the evidence. It is important to note that the NTSB and the FBI also closely examined these theories. In fact, the U.S. military's top missile experts examined every piece of recovered wreckage over a period of several months. Not a single piece of evidence was uncovered which indicated that a missile or a missile fragment brought down Flight 800," added Traficant.
"If, for argument's sake, the government is covering-up the real cause of this tragedy, it is a cover-up involving hundreds, if not thousands of individuals," noted Traficant. "I find it highly unlikely that a cover-up of this magnitude could succeed -- especially in today's media environment."
Traficant did find that there was tension between the FBI and NTSB during the initial months of the investigation. "This tension was, to a certain extent, to be expected when two agencies are investigating a crash of this magnitude from two different perspectives," observed Traficant. "In the end, however, this tension did not, in my opinion, compromise the investigation in any serious way, although it may have given rise to some of the many rumors and conspiracy theories surrounding Flight 800."
In his report, Traficant revealed that, while the FBI was responsive to his initial inquiries, the bureau has yet to respond to letter Traficant sent to the FBI's New York office last April asking questions about the FBI's identification of vessels and aircraft in the proximity of Flight 800. "The FBI's complete response to these questions will go a long way in addressing some of the many questions that have been raised about the government's Flight 800 investigation," asserted Traficant.
In November of 1997, the FBI pulled out of the Flight 800 investigation noting that, after an exhaustive review, the FBI found no evidence of a criminal act. However, the FBI refused to make public any of the eyewitness statements it collected and other evidence. The FBI is taking this position on the extremely slim possibility that future evidence may be uncovered pointing to a criminal act. In his report, Traficant criticized the FBI for its refusal to make public much of the evidence it collected.
According to the Traficant report, the Flight 800 probe did reveal some flaws in the manner in which the federal government investigates major airline accidents. The Traficant report makes recommendations on how to address these problems. The recommendations include:
- Enactment of legislation either directing or encouraging the NTSB to strengthen their existing procedures for investigating major airline accidents by signing a general memorandum of understanding with airplane manufacturers, airline operators, airplane pilots and other designated parties, to provide specific guidelines on how major airline accidents will be investigated. The goal of the MOU should be to allow the NTSB to make better use of the analytical expertise of private parties – without compromising the NTSB's independence (the NTSB is currently working with the Rand Corporation to address these same issues).
- Enactment of legislation either requiring or encouraging the NTSB to continue their standing policy of not making any public statements about probable cause or causes of a major airline accident unless all parties to an investigation are notified of such statements and have had a chance to provide comments. Unfortunately, this policy was not always adhered to during the Flight 800 investigation.
- Enactment of legislation ensuring that the NTSB has full and immediate access to the information developed by any parallel federal investigation of a major airline accident, criminal or otherwise.
- A letter to the FBI signed by all members of the Aviation Subcommittee urging that all of the eyewitness statements and other evidence compiled in the Flight 800 investigation be made public in a responsible manner.