Images from the Radar Tape in GIF.

These are frames from an FAA radar tape obtained by Paris Match and published at their website and in the March 20th issue of their magazine.

[Radar Frame 1]Click to download.

00 h 29 min 50 s:

The object in the red circle is the US Air flight, descending into Rhode Island which is going to intersect the flight path of the TWA flight and force it to take an air corridor that is unusually low. Flight 800 is in the blue box, and although the slash through the zeros makes it hard to read the numbers, the course annotation "BET - 37 H" is the assigned course for flight 800. The "H" means "Heavy", the ATC designation for a wide body jumbo jet.

The barometric reading is set to 29.92, the average barometric reading. Aircraft flying in the U.S. and Canada all use this setting to ensure that everyone's altimeters read the same.

[Radar Frame 2]Click to download.

00 h 30 min 17 s:

Circled in yellow, the aircraft reported to be a US Navy P-3 Orion which refuses to identify itself. It will stay on the scene until one minute after the explosion. The aircraft in the Red Circle is on a northerly course headed into Rhode Island, consistent with the prior identification as the US Air flight.

[Radar Frame 3]Click to download.

00 h 30 min 35 s:

In the green circle emerges what the J.F.K. experts call an "anomaly" and which Paris Match thinks might well be the target missile whose course is carefully chartered by the P-3 Orion. My own concern about this object is that it appears mid-screen, well away from any visible launching platform. The U.S.S. Normandy is away to the Southwest, and the Standard Missile could not transit the radar view to appear within the green circle without being caught by earlier sweeps. Since there was a submarine in the area exercising with the P-3, it's possible that the object in the green circle was a sub launched SAM undergoing tests.

[Radar Frame 4]Click to download.

00 h 30 min 40 s:

Although Paris Match captions this photo as 30 min 42 seconds, I am of the opinion that the screen display actually shows 30 min 40 seconds.

The "anomaly" still appears on the screen. It will stay on the radar screen for precisely twelve seconds, "being hit" by a radar sweep every four seconds for a total of four successive "hits". The successive sweeps rule out noise, which would plot as random dots all over the screen. Bradband noise able to get past the radar filters would appear as wide area blotches, not a dot.

[Radar Frame 5]Click to download.

00 h 30 min 44 s:

The "anomaly" has disappeared. The TWA 800 is flying at 13,300 feet. Still visible on the radar screen, the US Air flight (in the red circle) and the P-3 Orion (in the yellow circle).

[Radar Frame 6]Click to download.

00 h 31 min 16 s: Last second before the explosion. Paris Match says that the LA/CA code on screen indicates that everything is still going smoothly. This is incorrect. The LA/CA ALERT warns of a close approach. Two objects on the radar screen are closer than they ought to be. A collision is possible.

Note that there is a third object inside the red and yellow circles. If that third object is the one seen in the green circles at 30 min 35 s and 30 min 40 s, it has had to accelerate to well over the speed of sound.

[Radar Frame 7]Click to download.

00 h 33 min 12 s: Two minutes have not gone by since the explosion. The alert still hasn't been given. J.F.K. is still trying to understand what has happened to the TWA 800. The radar picks up an unidentified aircraft (blue rectangle) in the immediate area around the crash.

[Radar Frame 8]Click to download.

00 h 34 min 02 s:

The air traffic controller calculates that this object is flying at just 200 feet (66 metres) - it must be a helicopter, the only craft able to fly so low. Note that the data block for Flight 800 has vanished from the screen.

[Radar Frame 9]Click to download.

00 h 34 min 52 s:

It is a helicopter. It identifies itself to the controller using the code name "Jolly", a popular code for military helicopters and inspired by the Jolly Green Giant, which came to the rescue of many GIs in Vietnam. Before anybody else, the US Navy is already on alert and aware of the crash.

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