Nearly thirteen years after the destruction of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, I had begun to think that the case was a dead issue, but then two unexpected and unrelated events caused me to think otherwise.
The first was a phone call from one of the three most important eyewitnesses to the case. The second, two weeks later, was the still-mysterious crash of Air France Flight 447 off the coast of Brazil.
This eyewitness put a further dent in the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) claim that a fuel tank explosion brought down TWA Flight 800. The crash of Flight 447 has put TWA 800 back in the news again. If the media are going to look to 800 as a template for 447, they need to know what the eyewitnesses to the 800 crash actually saw.
The eyewitness in question may be prepared to tell his story publicly. After giving his testimony to the FBI in July 1996, for personal reasons, he had chosen to remain silent. He is still sufficiently wary that I will shade his testimony and refer to him only as "Surfer." What I will share, however, is his one, entirely damning, new revelation.
The other two critical eyewitnesses I will identify by name and FBI number. The first is Mike Wire, #571. I have become good friends with Mike and his wife Joan since meeting them while doing research on the book, First Strike, that I co-authored with James Sanders in 2003. (The documentary that Sanders and I produced in Spring 2001 is available online. Part 1 sets the scene) The second key eyewitness, Joseph Delgado by name, 649 by number, was at the time the principal of Westhampton Beach High School. He was not thrilled that Sanders and I had identified him in First Strike, but he acknowledged that our facts were accurate. No one provided the FBI a more precise description of the event than Delgado. His illustration of the same is stunning.
The surfer saw the events just about as clearly as Delgado. What he also saw, in addition to the apparent missile, was the break-up sequence of the aircraft. He described it accurately to the FBI long before the NTSB came to the same conclusion based on radar and the debris field.
These are just three of the 270 eyewitnesses by the FBI's own count that saw a flaming, smoke-trailing, zigzagging object appear to destroy TWA Flight 800. All three followed the object off the horizon. Delgado and the surfer tracked TWA 800 separately from the object and witnessed the moment of impact. Wire and the surfer saw the object "arch over" before the strike. The New York Times interviewed none of these three, none of the 270 for that matter.
A no-nonsense, 6'-7" millwright and U.S. Army vet, Mike Wire watched events unfold from the Beach Lane Bridge in Westhampton on Long Island. He came to play a key role because the CIA based its notorious video animation on Wire's perspective. Why the CIA was involved in a domestic airplane "accident" is anyone's guess. The media never bothered to ask.
The FBI showed the CIA video just once. That was in November 1997 when it officially bowed out of the case. The FBI needed it to negate the stubborn testimony of the eyewitnesses.
A key animation sequence in the CIA video showed not a missile but an internal fuel tank explosion blowing the nose off the aircraft. According to the video's narration, TWA 800 then "pitched up abruptly and climbed several thousand feet from its last recorded altitude of about 13,800 feet to a maximum altitude of about 17,000 feet." This rocketing aircraft was alleged to look like a missile and to have confused the eyewitnesses. (The animation begins at the 8:30 mark of Part 2 of "Silenced").
This animation was essential to close the investigation. Without it, there was no way to explain what these hundreds of official FBI eyewitnesses, many of them highly credible, had actually seen.
According to the official record, the three key eyewitnesses were re-interviewed by the FBI in 1997. The authorities paid most attention to Delgado. On May 8, 1997, agents from the FBI and the Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California, interviewed Delgado at his Long island school. According to FBI notes, the China Lake rep was introduced to Delgado simply as "a member of the Department of Defense."
Delgado told the authorities once again that he had seen an object like "a firework," ascend "fairly quick," then "slow" and "wiggle" then "speed up" and get "lost." Then he saw a second object that "glimmered" in the sky, higher than the first, then a red dot move up to that object, then a puff of smoke, then another puff, then a "firebox." The agents seem to have taken him seriously.
In Mike Wire's first interview on July 29, 1996, at his Pennsylvania home, he told an FBI agent exactly what he had seen, and it tracks closely with Delgado's account. Here is how the agent recorded the conversation on his "302:"
Wire saw a white light that was traveling skyward from the ground at approximately a 40 degree angle. Wire described the white light as a light that sparkled and thought it was some type of fireworks. Wire stated that the white light 'zig zagged' (sic) as it traveled upwards, and at the apex of its travel the white light "arched over" and disappeared from Wire's view. . . . Wire stated the white light traveled outwards from the beach in a south-southeasterly direction.
After the light disappeared, the 302 continues, Wire "saw an orange light that appeared to be a fireball." Although the CIA chose to build its animation squarely on Mike Wire's perspective, the story the CIA video told bore almost no relation to the one Wire had told the FBI.
The NTSB transcribed its 1999 conversations with the CIA analysts responsible for the video. (NTSB Witness document, Appendix FF, Docket No. SA-516, April 30, 1999). In this document, the CIA analysts concede the problems that Mike Wire's original 302 presented.
Said one, "We realized that if he [Wire] was only seeing the airplane, that he would not see a light appear from behind the rooftop of that house." In other words, the CIA could not square its account of a self-imploding airline turning into a rocket with Wires' account since TWA 800 was at least 20 degrees above the horizon, well above the rooftop. So, claimed the CIA analyst, "We asked the FBI to talk to [Wire] again, and they did."
It was during this follow-up interview with the FBI, some time in 1997, that Wire was reported to have changed his mind, now admitting that he had first seen the ascending light high above the rooftop. How high? Said the CIA analyst, "[Wire] said it was as if - if you imagine a flag pole on top of the house it would be as if it were on the top or the tip of the flag pole."
The CIA analysts based their video on this second interview with Mike Wire. "FBI investigators determined precisely where the eyewitness was standing," says the narrator while the video shows the explosion from Wire's perspective on Beach Lane Bridge. "The white light the eyewitness saw was very likely the aircraft very briefly ascending and arching over after it exploded rather than a missile attacking the aircraft."
The CIA animation converts Wire's "40 degree" climb to one of roughly 70 or 80 degrees. It reduces the movement of an obvious smoke trail from three dimensions, south and east "outward from the beach," to a small, two-dimensional blip far off shore. It places the explosion noticeably to the West of where Wire clearly remembers it. Most problematically, it fully ignores Wire's claim that the streak of light ascended "skyward from the ground" and places his first sighting 20 degrees above the horizon, exactly where Flight 800 would have been.
In fact, Wire never told the FBI anything about a flagpole. He could not have. He never talked to the FBI, the NTSB or the CIA after July of 1996. The CIA and/or the FBI fabricated the entire interview and added the flagpole detail to make the interview seem real. The 302 from this alleged second interview is not in the official NTSB record.
The surfer added confirming detail to Wire's account. After thirteen years, he finally read the 302s the FBI had prepared. The first one from 1996 was entirely accurate. The second one from 1997 added very specific new details about the surfer that served to discredit his testimony. Not only were the details untrue, the surfer told me, but, as in Wire's case, there was no second interview.
Delgado presented more of a challenge. The serious nature of his second interview suggests that there was still a force within the bureaucracy struggling to get at the truth. By the time of the NTSB's final hearing in August 2000, that force had obviously been suppressed.
At the hearing the task of discrediting Delgado fell to one Dr. David Mayer, who headed up the NTSB's Orwellian-titled "Human Performance Division." He too solved his problem with a flagpole. As Mayer described events, everything Delgado saw occurred "between these two flagpoles." Mayer then used an illustration to show where those flagpoles were located and vectored Delgado's line of sight from between those flagpoles out to sea.
"So again," said Mayer, "it doesn't appear that this witness was looking in the right location to see where flight 800 would have been when it would have been struck by a hypothetical missile." If he were looking in the wrong direction, Mayer implied, none of his testimony could possibly matter.
One major objection here. In none of the FBI notes does Delgado ever mention a flagpole, let alone two flagpoles. With good reason. There weren't any at his location in Westhampton. Like the CIA analysts, Mayer created flagpoles that did not exist and entered them into the official record.
Mayer knew better. In researching this article I discovered a detail I had missed before. On July 20, 1996, three days after the crash, the Suffolk County Police went to the high school parking lot where Delgado had been standing and did a GPS reading of his angle of vision. Mayer had total access to this information. He suppressed it. And he was not the only one to suppress information. There is powerful evidence to suggest that the authorities consciously corrupted the testimony of the three most critical eyewitness to the crash.
The NTSB has since fully abandoned the CIA "zoom-climb" explanation, but it worked to distract an administration-friendly media. For a new administration so keen on transparency, and a media so keen on exposing the past abuses of our intelligence agencies, and for the families of air crash victims looking for closure, TWA Flight 800 would seem like a very good place to start clearing the air.
It is time to reopen the case.