MH 17 versus TWA 800

On the 17th of July,  Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 crashed in Ukraine, near the Russian border, killing all 298 aboard.  The cause of the crash was announced within hours by several governments: it had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Usually it takes months to make such a determination.  The pieces of aircraft wreckage are typically removed to a large hanger and used to reconstruct the plane so far as it is possible.  Then an array of forensic experts are brought in to probe every minutiae imaginable.  Months later, a report is published that gives the “most probable cause” of the crash.

How, then, could any government leader, or anyone else, for that matter, know the cause so quickly?  How could it be that, almost in an instant, the crash was known not to be due to, say, a bomb on board, or the explosion of a fuel tank?  How was it that other causes were summarily ruled out?

The answer seems to be because witnesses saw the airplane, saw the ascent of the missile, saw the missile intercept the plane, saw the explosion of the missile’s warhead, and then saw the tragic downward plunge of the aircraft.  And all this was consistent with radar data.

Now let us flash back to July 17, 1996.  That evening, at 8:19, TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747, was cleared for takeoff at New York’s JFK Airport.  The pilot wheeled the jumbo aircraft into position on Runway 13R, opened his four throttles, accelerated smoothly down the runway, lifted off, and took up a course for Paris.  Twelve minutes later, TWA 800 exploded,  the parts raining down in the Atlantic ten miles south of Long Island.

The essences of the MH 17 and TWA 800 accidents are identical: a large passenger aircraft is cruising along high above.  Observers on the ground watching it see an object rise from the ground and intercept it.  An explosive fireball follows.  Radar observations are consistent with the reports of the ground observers.

But here the parallel ends.  The investigation of TWA 800 required four years, after which it was announced that the “most probable cause” of the disaster was the explosion, triggered by an electrical spark, in the fuel-air vapor in one of the aircraft’s fuel tanks.  Thus ended the most costly air-disaster investigation in U.S. history. 

This explanation seemed plausible, and, at least at first, there were good reasons to believe it based on historical analogies – some of them quite surprising.

As an example, take flour – the ordinary kind you have in your pantry.   If flour dust should accumulate in an enclosed volume – say, an empty silo – and if it becomes mixed with the right quantity of air with a component of  20 percent oxygen, and further, if a spark from some source should occur within this mixture, an explosion can occur

And just such explosions have occurred, with loss of life and property.  Thus, flour, the main component of "the staff of life," can become the critical ingredient of an implement of death.  Nor is flour the only bizarre "explosive" we have.  In a class with flour, as examples, are sawdust, sugar, and powdered milk.  

Nor have weapons scientists of the world overlooked how this phenomenon can be used in their trade.  Consider our BLU-96: a 2,000-pound bomb dropped by an aircraft.  It contains the fuel for the main explosion plus two small conventional explosives.  The first bursts the container of the fuel for thermobaric reaction, and the second ignites the bomb itself – that is, the fuel-air mixture.  To see a graphic demonstration of the destructive power of this weapon, look here.

Now, Boeing, the designer of the 747 that was Flight TWA 800, is highly staffed with bright scientists who undoubtedly know well these phenomena, and who took them into consideration in the design of their aircraft.  It is unthinkable that they would design an airplane vulnerable to destruction as described by government investigators.  This diminishes the plausibility of the government's story.

And there is another negating factor that looms large: of all the thousands of aircraft that have ever flown, there has never been an instance of an accident resulting  from a fuel tank explosion without an external cause.  Michael Barr, Director of Aviation Safety at the University of Southern California, disbelieves the government's story.  He says, "These planes just don't blow up.  There's too many firewalls, too many checks and balances."

Taken together, these two points cast the government's story into serious doubt.  It seems unlikely that the crash was due to any endogenous cause.   Where, then, does that leave us?

American Thinker writer Jack Cashill proposes an exogenous cause, and I believe he has the answer.  He has written extensively about TWA 800.   Read him here, here, and here.

In these articles, Cashill persuasively makes the following salient points:

-There were 270 eyewitnesses who said they saw what looked like a missile strike the aircraft.

-The testimony of these witnesses was corroborated by radar data.

-The investigators ignored all these witnesses.

-The government fabricated witnesses' statements, simply recording interviews that never took place.

-The expert personnel from the NTSB, those experienced in aircraft accident investigations, were overwhelmed by interference from the FBI and the CIA, whose personnel lacked pertinent experience.

-Chemical tests showed evidence of explosive residue on parts of the aircraft wreckage.

In sum, the evidence is strong that TWA 800 was brought down by a missile.

How could it be that two accidents so similar in nature could be reacted to so utterly differently?  The answer lies in politics.  For MH 17, there are powerful political leaders who want the plane to have been shot down, since it will help their side in the never-ending Mid East wars.  The controversy is not whether it was shot down, but rather by whom it was shot down.

But in the case of TWA 800, the politics are drastically different.  If the plane were downed by terrorists, or if it were brought down by a tragic error of our own forces, this, in either case, would be a monumental embarrassment to our government.

This our leaders couldn’t possibly allow to be the conclusion.  Hence the bizarre and shameful “investigation” that ensued.

As I see it, the facts before us justify the conclusion that the preponderance of evidence points to a missile having caused the crash of TWA 800.  I would add that if a congressional investigation were made, with its authority to put witnesses under oath, and with its power of subpoena, proof beyond reasonable doubt – the level of proof required to hang a man – could easily be reached.

Jack Cashill calls for such an investigation.  I join him in that plea.

If you experience technical problems, please write to