TWA 747 explodes off Long Island
July 17, 1996
NEW YORK (CNN) -- TWA Flight 800 en route to Paris from New York City has apparently blown up in mid-air with 229 people on board, the Coast Guard said. The Guard said it was sending "every available aircraft" to the site, about 15 miles south of Long Island.
The flight departed John F. Kennedy Airport in New York for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris Wednesday about 8:30 p.m. EDT, crashing shortly after takeoff, the control tower at JFK told CNN. The number of passengers and crew varied, but early reports said there were 212 passengers and 17 crew aboard.
The Coast Guard was notified of the explosion and reports of life rafts in the water just about the time the flight took off, Chief Petty Officer Steve Sapp said. (429K AIFF or WAV sound) Petty Officer Tim Panovek said the Coast Guard had found debris, and was recovering bodies from the crash. So far, he was not aware of any survivors.
Eyewitness Sven Faret, a private pilot, was flying off Long Island about the time of the crash, he told CNN affiliate WNYW-TV. "We saw a giant ball; an instant later you just saw pieces drop out of it," he told the New York station.
It was "definitely in the air," he said.
Eyewitness Eileen Daly described a similar scene on CNN. She said she was walking on the beach with her 14-year-old son, who first saw the explosion.
"We were out on the beach and he says, 'Oh look,' and we saw what looked like fireworks in the sky, big white flash," she said.
"It turned into a big orange fireball that stretched from the sky down to the water, then it broke into two pieces, then it just fell into the water." At first, she thought it was fireworks. Then, she said she thought, "Oh my god, it's an airplane." (391K AIFF or WAV sound)
She disagreed with other eyewitness accounts that likened the explosion to the Challenger space shuttle disaster, explaining that in that explosion she could see a little bit of the shuttle as it caught on fire. "This, you saw nothing but flames."
The cause of the explosion is not known, but terrorism expert Larry Johnson said, "This was a bomb on board, without a doubt. You do not get these kinds of catastrophic mid-air explosions in airliners without an explosive on board."
Johnson said he had his own "short list" of suspects, but stressed that it was too premature to list any.
Searchers had clear weather and little wind. Sapp said six helicopters, three Coast Guard cutters and a Navy P-3 rescue plane were dispatched as well as 10 rescue boats. The Navy plane was dropping additional life rafts in the water.
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