A Government Cover-up Lives - 18 Years Later
© Jack Cashill
Eighteen years ago today, on July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747, was blown out of the sky ten miles south of the Long Island coast killing all 230 people on board.
Al Francis was intimately involved in the aftermath of that incident. At the time he served as the council chairman and captain representative for the TWA pilots of International Council 024, of the Air Line Pilot’s Association.
In an email I received last week, Francis wrote, ”The travesty which followed was the first time I had been personally involved with what is surely a government cover-up of the true facts surrounding the crash.”
Francis continued, “It was the first time that I had witnessed the national media buy, hook, line and sinker, a fabrication offered by an administration then in power.”
What inspired Francis to write was that on July 2nd, Deborah A. P. Hersman, the current chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), “denied a request to reopen the TWA 800 investigation, even though there was considerable evidence to justify such an action.”
Included in that evidence was an excellent documentary produced last year by the TWA 800 Project, simply called TWA Flight 800 and now available via streaming on Netflix.
One of the six whistleblowers profiled in that documentary deserves special attention. His name is Hank Hughes. At the time of the explosion he was a senior accident investigator for the NTSB and was a member of the “Go-Team” that headed immediately to the crash site.
Hughes was responsible for determining whether or not any proposed scenario for the cause of the crash was consistent with the damage to the airplane interior.
So disturbed was Hughes by what he calls an “egregiously conducted investigation” that he attached a detailed affidavit to the TWA 800 Project’s petition to re-open the investigation.
“During the course of my 42-year career as an investigator,” Hughes writes, “the investigation of TWA Flight 800 was the only case in which I witnessed deception, lies and corruption on the parts of investigators and their management.”
As Hughes points out, Title 49 of the U.S. Code gives the NTSB full authority to investigate all commercial airplane crashes. That did not happen with TWA 800.
The FBI was “immediately and overwhelmingly present” at the site and quickly took control of the investigation. Immediately, the FBI blocked the NTSB from talking to the hundreds of eyewitnesses for months and only then under strained circumstances.
Despite its collective lack of know-how, the FBI also kept NTSB investigators away from various pieces of wreckage. FBI agents made a practice, in fact, of screening physical evidence before NTSB investigators could see it and “withheld wreckage with suspicious damage patterns for unknown periods of time.”
In some instances, the FBI took evidence from the reconstruction hangar in Calverton, NY without allowing the NTSB to see it or analyze it.
FBI agents were not the only culprits. Hughes openly accuses the NTSB’s Dr. David Mayer (at left) of changing location recovery tags on the wreckage.
By reclassifying where in the debris field an item was recovered, a dishonest investigator could create a crash scenario to fit a more politically acceptable outcome.
When Hughes challenged Mayer, Mayer told him, “I didn't want to confuse the Chairman.” That chairman was Jim Hall, an experience-free Clinton political appointee.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers [IAMAW] also expressed concern about the efforts of Mayer and others to alter the database.
Its coordinator, Rocky Miller, was told ominously by a top NTSB official, “If you believe in corporate memory, you will keep your mouth shut.”
To its credit, the union did not shy from telling the truth in its final report: “A high pressure event breached the fuselage and the fuselage unzipped due to the event. The explosion [of the tank] was a result of this event.”
Contrary to NTSB regulations, Hughes, although a group chairman, was not allowed to write an analysis of what he found. The evidence his group gathered led him to much the same conclusion as the IAMAW’s.
The pattern of seat damage and passenger injuries strongly suggested not a low speed fuel tank explosion, as the NTSB would later insist, but “a high-order explosion from a military-type explosive detonating a significant distance away from the airframe.”
Says Hughes, “This was the first time in my 26 years as an NTSB accident investigator that I had been ordered not to write an analysis.”
The most spectacular bit of mischief involved the CIA. The FBI had, for no good reason, commissioned the CIA to create an animation to prove that the 270 eyewitnesses who reported seeing something like a missile saw something other than a missile.
The CIA analysts concluded that what they saw was a nose-less aircraft rocketing into space for another 3500 or so feet before crashing into the sea. This scenario, says Hughes unequivocally, “is physically impossible given what the FAA radar tracking data shows.”
According to Hughes, the CIA analysts knew this was impossible, but FBI honcho James Kallstrom went ahead and showed the animation at a wrap-up press conference to prove that there was “absolutely no evidence” that a criminal event destroyed the aircraft.
At both public NTSB hearings, the first in 1997 and the second in 2000, Kallstrom made sure there was no eyewitness testimony.
“The suppression of eyewitness accounts at an NTSB hearing was unprecedented,” says Hughes. “This has never occurred before or since the NTSB investigation of TWA Flight 800.”
The aforementioned Dr. Mayer worked with the lead CIA analyst for sixteen months to align the witness accounts with the CIA’s impossible zoom-climb scenario. There is much more, and those interested should read Hughes’s testimony in full.
Says Hughes in conclusion, “The extraordinary measures to which the NTSB, FBI and CIA went to falsify and distort witness statements or accounts of what occurred, to alter and hide physical evidence and to mount a false public relations campaign to misinform the public, was unconscionable.”
Whistleblowing doesn’t get much more definitive that.
Jack Cashill and James Sanders' First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America is now available. First Strike explains how a determined corps of ordinary citizens worked to reveal the compromise and corruption that tainted the federal investigation. With an impressive array of facts, Jack Cashill and James Sanders show the relationship between events in July 1996 and September 2001 and proclaim how and why the American government has attempted to cover up the truth.
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