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FBI: Bomb 'less likely' as TWA crash cause

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November 20, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- For the first time since the crash of TWA Flight 800, the FBI says it is "less likely" that a bomb or a missile brought down the Boeing 747 jet.

FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette, confirming statements made Wednesday by FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, says the lack of convincing physical evidence of a bomb or missile from wreckage of the recovered jetliner diminishes the probability that the plane was downed off New York's Long Island by a criminal act. All 230 people aboard were killed.


"With 95 percent of the plane up, we don't see evidence of either one of these scenarios as of yet," Valiquette said. "Logically speaking, if you have 95 percent of the plane up and you have no evidence, then you would say that is less likely we would reach the conclusion that it is a bomb or a missile."

Valiquette cautioned that the remaining pieces of the airplane, still being retrieved by fishing trawlers, may yet contain evidence of an explosive device.

"The last 5 percent of the airplane could still have evidence of a bomb or missile. For that reason, we are not removing those theories from the board," he said Wednesday.

From the start of the investigation into the July 17 explosion of the Paris-bound jumbo jet, the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI have consistently maintained that three theories -- a bomb, missile or mechanical malfunction -- hold equal weight.

Officially, all three theories remain active. But for some time, several senior NTSB investigators have said publicly that a bomb or a missile was less likely, simply because of the lack of evidence to support either theory. Now the chief FBI agent on the case -- James Kallstrom -- seems to agree.

Investigators examining the plane's wreckage have not found telltale scars or significant chemical residue that would indicate an explosive device. And although they now say that means mechanical malfunction is the more likely explanation for the crash, they still have not determined what went wrong.


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