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Federal agencies deny TWA Flight 800 shot down by missile

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They reconfirm that Internet report false

November 8, 1996
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal investigators, the White House and U.S. Navy strongly denied Friday there was any reason to believe TWA Flight 800 was accidentally shot down by a missile fired from a Navy ship.

The agencies planned to hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST Friday afternoon. The July 17 crash killed 230 people.

The denial followed remarks Thursday in Cannes, France, by Pierre Salinger, a former White House press secretary and ABC Television correspondent, that he had evidence the jetliner was brought down by "friendly fire" and the incident was being covered up by the government.

Federal officials denied Salinger's report.

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  • "There's no indication that there's any credibility to the report," Deputy White House Press Secretary Mary Ellen Glynn said Friday morning.

    Earlier, a Navy spokesman told CNN: "It's not possible that a missile was fired at the plane and we've covered it up." And, an NTSB investigator said: "There is no evidence of any missile fire bringing down that plane -- unequivocally."

    Investigators on the case have been frustrated over their inability to determine whether a bomb, missile or mechanical malfunction caused the explosion off New York's Long Island.

    Salinger was press spokesman for President John F. Kennedy before becoming Paris Bureau Chief for ABC.

    Document on Internet

    Salinger said he was basing the claims on information he saw in a document given to him six weeks ago by someone in French Intelligence with close contacts to U.S. officials. He refused to identify the source.

    Later, however, he learned from CNN that the document actually was a widely accessible e-mail letter that has been circulating for at least six weeks on the Internet's World Wide Web. Salinger expressed surprise and verified that his document matched those CNN showed him.

    "Yes. That's it. That's the document," Salinger said. "Where did you get it?"

    The document has been widely distributed over the Internet through e-mails and other outlets.

    It claims the Paris-bound Boeing 747 was struck by a Navy Aegis missile shortly after takeoff from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The jumbo jet crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island, killing everyone aboard.

    The National Transportation Safety Board, FBI and Navy have repeatedly denied the report. The Navy said it could not have shot down the plane because it had no weapons in the area to do so, and pointed out that federal investigators had already found that possibility "without merit."

    "We've tracked any Navy assets in the area and there's nothing different. There was nothing in the area that could have done that. There's nothing more to add," Lt. Cmdr. Susan Haeg, a Navy spokeswoman, said.

    Another Navy official scorned Salinger's earlier claim.

    "I would find that unbelievable," the official said, asking to remain anonymous. The official said the Navy keeps logs to account for the positions of its ships and any firings of its weapons systems.

    A streak of light

    The missile theory has stayed alive because of the number of reports from other pilots in the area and witnesses on shore who claim to have seen streaks of light or something similar around the time of the crash.

    A New York Air National Guard unit put out a press release Friday as the latest rumors were circulating reiterating that two of its helicopter pilots "witnessed a streak of light" around the time of the explosion.

    A statement faxed to news organizations, including CNN, by the 106th Rescue Wing based at Gabfbreski Air National Guard Station at Westhampton, New York, said:

    "The two helicopter pilots that saw TWA (flight) 800 explode on the night of July 17 have not changed their statements, according to a base spokesman.

    "Major Frederick Meyer, the pilot, and Captain Cristian Baur, the co-pilot, both saw a streak of light, moving from east to west prior to the initial explosion. Both pilots, who have made statements to the FBI, do not know what caused the streak of light."

    The flight report the pilots filed the night of the crash with the Federal Aviation Administration reflects what they now say they believe they saw. The FBI has acknowledged that some pilots in the area that night saw streaks of light but has not publicly identified those pilots.


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