> Legal defense fund contributions should be >made out to the "Jim & Liz Sanders L.D.F." and mailed to: > >Speed & Schlanger >60 East 42nd Street >Suite 750 >New York, NY 10165 >
[INLINE] ~ Special Report ~ The Downing Of TWA 800 By James Sanders [INLINE] Chapter 1 ANATOMY OF A TRAGEDY As the evening of July 17, 1996 began, Eastenders on Long Island's south fork had no idea that only a few miles away a joint naval task force was assembling for a critical test of a top secret weapons system. In towns like Westhampton, Mastic Beach, and along the Shinnecock Bay Inlet, as midweek parties began, as recreational boaters set out into the warm night, the could not have foreseen the light sow that would soon light up the skies. At 2000 hours, July 17, 1996, a world away from the town of Southampton's resort beaches, military zone W-105, thousands of square miles of ocean located south and southeast of Long Island, was activated by the United States Navy. Within minutes, from different locations around the sector, military activity increased as the various units participating in the operation deployed their aircraft and surface vessels. The 106th New York Air National Guard put a C-130 and HH-60C helicopter in the air. The Coast Guard cutter "Atak" patrolled just south of Long Island's Gabreski Air National Guard base, her sailors catching the last few rays of deep orange before the sun finally disappeared for the night. Over the horizon, to the East, in zone W-105, U.S. Navy AEGIS guided missile warships prepared for the final evaluation of a multibillion-dollar upgrade to their software, radar, and Standard IIIA and IV antiaircraft/antimissile missile. The AEGIS radar and target management system was the pride of the U.S. fleet, so powerful that Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser personnel were said to have bragged that a ship like the USS Normandy could single-handedly fight a nuclear war with a small country, and win. "AEGIS arrogance", they called it, a pride supported by the stubbing Tomahawk cruise missile tubes and the surgically accurate antiaircraft and antiship weapon that Bristled form the cruiser's deck. AEGIS warship protected the fleet and could fight battles on land, sea, or air, and in just a few short weeks, the USS Normandy herself would steam into the Adriatic to relieve the USS Arleigh Burke AEGIS destroyer and take up station to bombard the Bosnian Serb rebels with a barrage of Tomahawks. But that was still months away. Tonight, the system itself had to be tested as the surface vessels sailed into position. At the same time, a Navy plane, with newly upgraded electronic equipment designed to work with AEGIS, slowly cruised. The plane was the key to the new top secret and highly complex radar tracking system that was in its third year of testing. The aircraft's onboard computer hardware, weighting 535 pounds, was the platform for a new software upgrade linked directly to the AEGIS warship's radar system. If all ran like clockwork, the computer link and integrated radar and communications net would make it possible for a defensive envelope to be extended more than thirty miles over the horizon even in the most dangerous of costal battle theaters, despite the foulest of weather and the darkness of night. But would it work? Zone W-105 was selected for this final pre certification test because of the complexity of the area. It was as close to a simulated Persian Gulf environment as the Navy could get without leaving U.S. coastal water. Long Island offered dense ground-clutter, and the constant flow of commercial air traffic out of JFK gave the navy the «neutral» radar blip it needed to test the discrimination skills of the targeting software. Meanwhile, navy planes were approaching the exercise area to present "friendly" electronic signatures for AEGIS to track and compute into the task force battle array. A "hostile" presence would soon appear in the form of a BQM-74E Navy drone missile launched in the vicinity of Shinnecock Bay, east of Riverhead, Long Island. The 106th New York Air National Guard and Coast Guard units would be "traffic cops" for the Navy drone as it briefly passed over land en route to zone W-105. The drone, the friendliest, the neutrals, the task force surface naval vessels, the National Guard aircraft, and the interlocking radar were all part of a test of the Navy's new Cooperative Engagement Capability or CEC, and integrated radar network designed to be fully compatible with the Army's missile defense system in order to give the battlefield zone closest to the water comprehensive protection from cruise and ballistic missiles. The Army's antimissile development was controlled by a command called Force 21, with a headquarters at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, just outside of Eatontown, near the Jersey shore. Attached to this Army program was a senior Navy Officer named Admiral Edward K. Kristianson, whose expertise in computers and integrated data management system arrays made him the perfect candidate for senior-level liaison with the Army for this multibillion-dollar 21st-century warfare. At about the same time as the naval units were heading into position, the gate agents for TWA's New York to Paris Flight 800 were announcing final boarding. As families said good-bye, fathers bugged their daughters, and husbands and wives promised to call one another as soon as the plane landed safely, the TWA cabin crew was checking seatings assignments on the computer printout. Out of the tarmac, the baggage handlers were putting the last of the luggage aboard, while in the cabin, Captain Steven E. Snyder and his first officer Ralph G. Kevorkian completed their preflight checklist. Earlier that day, TWA Flight 800 had flown in from Athens and had to be cleaned, checked, put through maintenance, refueled, and resupplied for the return flight to Europe. The area around the huge 747-100 was like a small silty as the ground crew fought against the clock to get the plane airborne on schedule. Even as children at the departure gate pressed their noses against the glass to watch the train of little baggage trucks wind away from the landing gear, no one could have known the fate that awaited Flight 800. Not in their most terrifying nightmares could anyone, neither passengers nor crew, have conceived of the engine of destruction that was assembling itself just offshore, or of the resulting fireball that would consume everyone onboard when the plane's path brought it near the hot zone W-105. For several days before the final test on July 17, an Army unit had been deployed at the Long Island site, participating in several training missions that included the launch of several drones. Shortly before 2030 hours on July 17, an all-clear signal was given to the drone's launch platform. No general aviation or commercial aviation traffic was in the area. Is was safe. The missile launch unit fed in the trajectory instructions to the drone's computer and watched as the automatic launch sequence counted off to ignition. Within minutes of the all-clear, the drone was airborne. At about the same time as the all-clear signal, Linda Kabot from Westhampton Beach on Long Island was snapping off party photographs at the Republican fund raising event from an outdoor restaurant deck overlooking Shinnecock Bay. Linda was focusing her camera at the smiling faces of local Republican politicos and friends, not realizing that in the background high overhead in the purple sky, that little streak of light she'd seen would turn out in one of the photos to be an image of the Navy BQM-74E Navy drone, quickly descending to its altitude coordinates shortly after its launch. In its preprogrammed trajectory, the Navy drone reached its preset altitude, it then dropped to thirty feet above sea level and accelerated to more than 500 mph as it began a long left turn away form the clutter of Long Island's land mass. The drone settled into a east-southeast heading toward the Navy AEGIS surface task force cruising on station just over the horizon. As the missile shot through the darkness at the speed of an airliner, the passengers aboard Flight 800 were just settling into a routine in the minutes after their late takeoff. Seat belts began unfastening as the cabin flight attendants began preparations for the long service through the night and into the braking dawn over Europe, eight hours away. High overhead at 20,000 feet a Navy P-3 Orion deployed form Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine, turned its infrared tracking system on as it assisted the hundreds of millions of dollars in Navy high-tech tracking equipment spread along the shore from Virginia to Long Island, installed to monitor the ongoing development of the Navy's CEC warship defense system. Tonight the P-3 would be part of the invisible eyes ot the network, monitoring along whit the land-based equipment, every phase of what the navy expected to be perfect shoot down of the drone missile already on its way into the heart of the AEGIS task force. The Navy had invested a lot of money in the development of CEC, even before the disastrous Exocet missile attack on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, when American warships escorted oil tankers up and down the Strait of Hormuz while under hostile Iranian shore batteries. Amid the flights of commercial airliners form both adversaries, U.S. and allied military aircraft, and hostile aircraft from Iran, is was next to impossible to discriminate between targets, neutral, friend or foe. The heavy traffic, Saddam Hussein maintained, was how the Stark was attacked by his fighter pilots in the first place. It was part of the reason for the deployment of CEC. Because of the complexity of modern electronic warfare, in which the front lines obliterate traffic of all types, CEC was designed to be an almost surgical radar tracking, evaluating, and targeting system which would make it possible for the Navy to enter hostile environments like the Arabian Sea. CEC could identify and track all commercial traffic, and friendly military surface and air traffic in and out of the countries bordering the Sea, while remaining on the lookout for a hostile cruise missile launch form any direction. The Navy believed this system would allow them to discriminate electronically among friend, foe, and background clutter and still fight a battle. At least that's what the Navy thought as their warship and planes glided into position on the night of July 17, turned their combined radars on, and began sweeping the area for the commencement of this final precertification test. Deep inside the electronic brain of a second Navy P-3 working with CEC, the radar communications equipment in the plane linked to the AEGIS-CEC transmitted signals along a downlink to the vessels AEGIS radar computers. They began to decipher images from among the land clutter, friendliest, neutrals, and the hostile BQM-74E Navy drone missiles rapidly heading toward the task force. It was as if combined radars and computers suddenly took an electronic snapshot of the entire area and identified friend from foe while eliminating neutral aircraft. Then, almost instantly, the interlocking software of each AEGOS-CEC platform acquired the target drone, but were suddenly jammed by electronic interference. One radar broke through the interference, however, computed a shot through the thickening fog of multiple "hostile" electronic jammers, plotted its trajectory, and commanded the software to automatically select the platform best positioned to make the shot. The computer software then launched a Navy Standard IIIA or IV antimissile missile, specifically altered to function with this new equipment, toward the oncoming drone. Form over the horizon, no one except Navy personnel could see the whoosh of the rocket launch as the missile took off from its tube. The antimissile missile climbed high into the evening sky and rocketed west in the general direction of the low-flying cruise-missile drone, toward a position where its onboard computer was expecting to receive a midcourse correction. This signal was supposed to fine-tune the Standard missile's trajectory in order for the inboard semi active radar homing device to lock onto the target as the Standard missile began its plunge toward the drone a few thousand feet below. At least that was the plan. Commercial planes rising into the sky from JFK were unwitting participants in this final test of 21st century technology. As TWA Flight 800 climbed towards 14,000 feet, heading eastbound over the water for Paris, it was about twelve miles off the south coast of Long Island over the horizon to the west of the military exercise as it crossed into the warning zone and technically became a "neutral". At the same time, the electronic receiver onboard the Navy Standard missile began sweeping its secure radio frequency, waiting for the course correction commands form the AEGIS computers to direct the weapon, now at its predesignated point, to where it was supposed to attack its prey. But prior to the mandatory midcourse correction the last AEGIS-CEG radar still tracking the missile and the drone through the heavy electronic jamming suddenly went completely blind. The drone and Standard missile could not be tracked. In two earlier tests all but one radar had been put out of action by electronic jamming. On July 17, the Standard missile was no longer under the control of the AEGIS-CEC system. Following its internal programming, it continued on its westerly course at 3000 feet per second actively searching for a target. In an instant, the Standard's internal radar acquired TWA Flight 800 at well above and to the west of the target drone. The antimissile missile's radar turned sharply to the right, aimed its inert war hear at the 747, and painted an electronic bull's-eye on an area just in front of the right wing. The missile leveled off in a direct line to its impact point, and then at full speed slammed into the fuselage several feet below the passenger cabin. There was no instant explosion, as the dummy war head missile sliced through the huge plane a sheet of paper, depositing a trail of reddish-orange residue in its wake. It roared through the fuselage and exited through the left side of the plane, just forward of the left wing,n where it left a hole large enough to walk through. After the missile exited, passengers, seats, galleys, food carts, and suitcases were sucked out of the interior through the hole in the left side, leaving a 4700 foot trail of debris along the sea bottom during phase one of the three phase breakup. On its way through the interior of the 747, the missile seriously weakened the front of the nearly empty center fuel tank. The plane went into a dive, and eight seconds and 4700 feet after the initial missile impact, a small explosion occurred, beginning approximately in the middle of the center fuel tank. The top of the fuel tank bowed upward, but at this stage of the breakup, did not rupture. This caused the floor of the passenger cabin also to bow upward, breaking loose seats in the center rows 21, 22, and 23. The explosion completed the separation of the front of the plane from the fuselage, initiating phase two. The force of the explosion followed the path of least resistance: forward, blowing out the weakened front of the center wing tank. The explosive force caused the forward fuselage to separate a few feet in front of the missile's path, where the fuselage had been greatly weakened. This blast propelled row 15, seats 1,2 and 3, about six-tenths of a mile to the left, while a large piece of the fuselage above the R2 door sailed six-tenths of a mile to the right. The front end tumbled end over end off to the left as the remaining section of the plane continued on in a steep dive. The pilotless stump of the 747 began to roll to the left until the left wing tip pointed toward the water below. The fire from the center wing tank spread rapidly up the right side of the fuselage and right wing. At about 7500 feet the inner right wing tank exploded. The engines and about ninety-eight percent of the center wing tank came to rest on the ocean floor more than 12,000 feet east of the missile's point of impact. As quickly as it happened, it was over. Flight 800 was gone, spread across the water in a flaming swath. Moments earlier, a Long Island FAA radar technician staring into his electronic view screen thought he had seen something approaching TWA Flight 800 just before it disappeared from the radar. He saw "conflicting radar tracks that indicated a missile." Then he filed his report and the paper trail had begun. A short time after the incident, the White House Situation Room was advised that preliminary assessment of FAA radar data indicated that a missile had shot down TWA Flight 800, en route from JFK to Paris with 230 passengers aboard. By 2 a.m. on July 18, key federal intelligence and investigative personnel were informed via White House teleconference that TWA Flight 800 was brought down accidentally by a friendly missile during a Naval exercise. They had on their hands, they were told in the blamelessly antiseptic world of military corporatese, a "situation." The Department of Justice Command Center and FBI Strategy Information Operations Center also came to life as Flight 800 information began to trickle in. Each was connected by a video teleconference system (VTS) to the White House Situation Room. The initial talk in the room focused not on a bomb, but on a missile. Some eyewitnesses thought they had seen something bright arching toward the jet just before it blew up. At the next video conference, about dawn, an FAA representative said there was indeed a "strange radar blip." But there were far too many people crowding into these teleconferences to let the missile analysis stand. So word was put out that "at air traffic control on Long Island, FAA officials reviewing radar tapes were unable to find even the mysterious blip". The radar tape did not remain on Long Island for long. It went to the FAA Technical Center in Washington, D.C. The FAA Technical Center team, headed by the FAA's Tom Lintner, concluded that there was an "unexplained blip" on the radar tape. U.S. military missile experts told the FBI that a missile with a semi active radar homing system would show up on an FAA radar set in transponder mode, but that a shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile would not. According to Newsweek , writing in the aftermath of the crash, when news of the disaster had been reported in almost every newspaper and magazine in America, the possibility of a missile bringing down Flight 800 was the topic of conversation at the 6 a.m. VTS teleconference. They said that the Stinger theory - the Stinger is a shoulder-fired, American-manufactured missile - resonated with the FBI, which had picked up intelligence that some terrorists had been shopping for the lethal weapons. As the 6 a.m. meeting got underway in the VTS room, there was "a lot of breathless talk" about attacks by missiles, or MANPADS. Still, some experts were dubious. The Stingers handed out to the Afghan and Paki "muj" by the CIA were at least a decade old, and probably junk by now. The Pentagon cast further doubt on the Stinger theory with some simple math. The effective range of a Stinger is just over two miles, and its sensor can't lock on aircraft much above 11,000 feet. The Pentagon had a growing problem. They had temporarily halted the CNN nonstop coverage of a possible missile by having a high-level source "leak" disinformation, that the blip was an "anomaly", which CNN then authoritatively passed on to the public. But now they had the potential for a bureaucratic leaking sieve if they didn't get the missile talk under control. So a coordinated program of leaks began to appear, and gradually began to neutralize the few clues being unearthed by a few intrepid reporters. Whether the president or vice president actually knew about these events in the hours immediately following the crash or even whether they knew about the cause of the crash itself is a matter of conjecture. Nevertheless, somewhere within the topmost echelons of the military establishment, whether it was for national security or purely political reasons, a cover-up was initiated to conceal the real cause of the crash from the American people. Maybe the identities of the ships of the ships in the task force had to be hidden. Maybe it would be too embarrassing to reveal with the Democratic convention only a few weeks away. We only know that the true details of some of the most critical evidence assembled on the floor of the hangar at Calverton have never been revealed to the public. This cover-up would have been easier to maintain had there been no witnesses. But witnesses were everywhere, and they had to be discredited or dismissed. Thirty-four civilians at various locations along the flight window across Long Island saw the missile rise out of the ocean and intercept Flight 800. After extensive FBI and military debriefings, these thirty-four people were found to be highly credible, too credible to be dismissed as flaky. Each, from a different location, had seen a missile exit zone W-105 and intercept Flight 800. For example, an on-duty Air National Guard pilot saw a missile going from east to west slam into TWA Flight 800. The Air National Guard put out a press release the next day saying only that an unknown object, going from east to west, was seen by the captain. A woman on a boat south of Long Island was taking photos while facing the east. One of the photos shows a missile trail rising out of zone W-105. The missile itself had left tangible evidence of its flight path through the aircraft in the form of a solid fuel residue deposited on the seats in rows 17, 18, and 19. It also left a red trail attached to airplane parts that fell off into the ocean during the first eight seconds of the plane's breakup. Knowing that the United States Navy shot down the plane with a missile, a plan of action was developed to remove evidence from the scene that would implicate the United States Government. Coast Guard MPs from a closed facility with only a skeleton crew maintaining and guarding it were brought over to guard a dock when sensitive debris was brought to shore. One source described a Coast Guard MP team that observed this happening. The story is partially confirmed by the New York police officers who observed a highly sensitive diving operation in the Red Zone during the first days after the crash. They were prohibited from the area during the multi-day course of the operation. Debris was brought to the surface and placed on the boat, but it did not go to Calverton hangar, they said. But the source of the Coast Guard MP team story went further. He said that not only was the recovery of airplane wreckage a clandestine operation, but that the team was debriefed by intelligence personnel - they identified themselves as CIA - and warned that anything they say to the media or to any other sources would be a violation of national security and that they would be punished accordingly. A team of Navy divers was brought in to dive in a particularly sensitive area of the Red Zone. No divers from any other organization were allowed to approach this area. The Navy divers brought debris up and placed it on a ship which delivered the cargo to the dock guarded by the Coast Guard MPs, who watched as missile parts were off-loaded and placed on a truck. Pieces of the 747 that had red residue attached were also loaded onto the truck, which then drove off to an unknown location. Unbeknownst to those charged with removing the evidence from the crime scene, they missed some of the reddish-orange residue. On August 3, 1996, a seat was recovered from the ocean floor with a significant amount of reddish-orange residue attached to its back side. Over the next few weeks, as the seats in rows 17, 18, and 19 were recovered, FBI investigators at the Calverton hangar saw the residue trail extend entirely across the cabin, scorched into the backs of most of the seats in these rows. The FBI took five samples of the reddish-orange residue for analysis. But, once tested, the results became part of a criminal investigation and the FBI declined to release their findings. As the cover-up moved forward, it took the form of a lengthy process of creating new truths while systematically hiding the evidence. A series of nightly leaks to the press by unnamed government "sources", the content of which became increasingly illogical, kept conditioning the American population into believing whatever the NTSB suggested. Ultimately, they settled on a "mechanical" finding. But the real cause all along was a terrible lack of judgment on the part of the Navy, who had used innocent civilians as human guinea pigs as they rushed a multibillion-dollar weapons system into its final certification test before it was ready. Copyright 1997 James D. Sanders.
Back To The Top.
Back To The Crash Page.
Back To The TWA Page.