Investigators seeking answers to the 1996 explosion and crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 fired Stinger missiles into the air from a Florida beach last month to determine whether it is possible that streaks of light seen by several witnesses could have been missiles.
While investigators said they will need several weeks to analyze data from the unannounced tests, sources familiar with the tests said initial observations have turned up nothing to cast doubt on the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary determination that no missile hit the plane. The board determined shortly after the crash that the plane's nearly empty center fuel tank exploded, but they so far have not determined a source of ignition.
The Boeing 747 exploded and fell into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 230 people on board, on July 17, 1996, 12 minutes into a flight from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Paris. Numerous witnesses saw streaks of light in the sky. Investigators have stressed that they still have no physical evidence of a missile or a bomb.
Board investigators, however, decided that their probe could not be considered complete unless they made a detailed scientific comparison between what the witnesses said in their first interviews with FBI agents and the sights and sounds a missile would make in exactly the same atmospheric conditions and lighting as that evening on the Long Island coast.
In probing the air disaster, neither FBI nor board investigators could find explosive residue or any of the telltale markings and metallurgical changes that indicate presence of a high-energy blast. The FBI, which long ago announced that it was no longer looking for a smoking bomb or missile, chose not to participate in the latest tests.
The answer to how closely the tests and the witness reports mesh is still several weeks away and will be part of the evidence presented at the board's final hearing in late August.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.