In Search of Nelson DeMille's TWA 800 Video

Nelson DeMille’s bestselling novel. Nightfall, opens on July 17, 1996, with a steamy encounter on a Long Island beach. The man and women involved decide to videotape their coupling. In the process, they inadvertently capture the destruction of TWA Flight 800. The novel centers around that video.

Through his many contacts with the NYPD/Joint Terrorism Task Force DeMille learned there was a real video out there. To the best of my knowledge, the FBI confiscated the original from the MSNBC studios in the early morning hours of July 18, 1996.

Although I have communicated with scores of people who saw the video when it briefly aired, I have only spoken to one who knows exactly what he saw. His name is Thomas Young. Here is his story:

In early August 1996, I was admitted to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Hong Kong for ten days with a back injury. My employer, Polar Air Cargo, flew my wife Barbara out to join me as our anniversary was in a few days, and I knew my wife would be worried sick with me being hospitalized in a foreign country. 

We had little else to do but watch TV as I was in traction for most of the hospital stay. From the first day of being admitted to the hospital until the morning I was discharged from the hospital and boarded a flight for San Francisco, I witnessed a devastating video of a missile launch recorded by an unknown Long Island, NY resident.

The video was re-played every 15 minutes (24/7) on the local English-language, Cantonese-, and Mandarin-language television stations. It was recorded on July 17, 1996.

The videotape began with people milling about on a deck facing a body of water. In the background, a streak of light can be seen leaving a point below the edge of the deck, vertically -- then curving to flatten the climb to have more of a horizontal component -- accelerating as it climbed. It passed behind what appeared to me to be a thin cloud layer and continued upward out of the frame, from right to left.

As the streak of light disappeared beyond the edge of the frame, after a slight pause, there is a generalized, dim, but sharp flash on the upper left side of the screen, followed almost immediately by a brighter and more pronounced flash lighting the layer of clouds near the top of the video image.

Three characteristics of the missile's flight clearly convinced me what I was seeing.

  • First, the missile's path changed from nearly vertical to an angle with much more of a horizontal component, consistent with that of a guided missile.
  • Second, for the entire time (of several seconds duration) that the missile was recorded on the video, as evidenced by the white-hot exhaust gasses and the smoke plume that followed, the missile was in powered flight -- unlike fireworks or flares.
  • Third, the rate of acceleration and course correction changes are consistent with a guided missile -- in my experience, quite possibly a shoulder-launched surface- to-air anti-aircraft missile (or MANPADS).

Why do I believe this?

In the 1980s, I was employed by the Boeing Aerospace Company (BAC) and worked in its Space and Strategic Missiles Systems division.  I worked on Army Air Defense missile systems, and -- more specifically -- had played a significant role in BAC being awarded the Avenger Pedestal-Mounted Stinger Air Defense System contract with the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. 

Avenger was a truck, tracked-vehicle, or helicopter-transported Air Defense unit equipped with two pods of four FIM-92 Stinger missiles. I witnessed the Stinger missile being fired at the nearby Yakima Proving Ground/Training Center and was very familiar with other U.S. Army air defense missiles such as the ROLAND-based Hawk missile (deployed in Europe by NATO), among others. One part of my work was to understand the MANPADS operational and engineering requirements, and I viewed numerous military-furnished videos of ADS missile tests as one aspect of my work.

Given the TV reception in my Hong Kong hospital, I could not identify the type of missile that took out TWA 800, but I am confident I was looking at a guided missile. 

"If this was a Navy missile..." Barbara recalled me saying at the time, and she finished my thought for me,"...there goes Clinton’s re-election.” 

Upon returning to the United States, I was astounded that none of my coworkers (except those who were with me in Hong Kong) and neighbors knew of the video's existence -- which was mentioned only once in the press after my return to the U.S.  I called the FBI New York Field Office twice to discuss what I had seen in the video, but my calls were not returned or taken seriously.

I have very specific reasons to reject the conclusions of the FBI and NTSB in this case.

First, while employed by Boeing, I was given the opportunity to interview for a position as a Tour Guide at the BCAC Boeing 747 Assembly Plant in Everett, Washington. In preparation for the interview, I studied for months the 747's construction in detail sufficient to answer any potential customer's questions about the aircraft from either its modular construction to its operation.

I also spent considerable time on the factory floor studying its construction. At the time, I had more than 10,000 flight hours as a pilot and flight engineer (combined), including in Boeing air-transport category aircraft. As a Boeing employee, I had also previously completed several courses in each of the Boeing 727, 737, and 747 aircraft -- and knew those aircraft from engineering, construction, and operational standpoints.

Second, at the time of my 1996 hospitalization in Hong Kong, I was employed as a Boeing 747 First Officer, having just completed my upgrade from being a 747 Flight Engineer. I hold FAA Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) and Flight Engineer (Turbojet-powered) certificates and have thousands of hours in a variety of 747 aircraft. 

As a Flight Engineer, it is my job to know every system of the aircraft and its operation, in all environments from the Arctic to desert climes -- including risk awareness associated with those prevailing meteorological conditions we find ourselves operating within.  In the case of TW800, the climatic environment the aircraft was being operated in is well within its capabilities with no demonstrable risk evident, suspected, or imagined.  

Any wiring in the 747 center fuel tank operates the fuel quantity probes in the millivolt range of power: for wiring to create a spark sufficient to arc and cause fuel vapors to explode in the tank is higher than any part of the aircraft's systems produce -- other than the engines' burner can igniters.

In the final analysis, I cannot accept the FBI and NTSB conclusions being sold to the American public in the case of TW800. The scenario created to explain the aircraft's destruction as reported in my opinion is virtually impossible from an engineering standpoint of the aircraft structure and systems. In view of the video I viewed hundreds of times in Hong Kong, I have little doubt as to the true cause of the aircraft's loss.  

Young knows aviation as well as anyone. He also has a good sense of political realities. The sentence that he and his wife composed, “If this was a Navy missile, there goes Clinton’s reelection” goes a long way in explaining the rationale behind the most successful cover-up in American peacetime history. The 21st anniversary is Monday, July 17. If you have access to that video, please contact me at

For more information, please read TWA 800: The Crash, The Cover-Up, The Conspiracy. 

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