TWA investigators blast Salinger in letterMarch 18, 1997
Web posted at: 10:36 p.m. EST (0336 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal officials investigating the TWA Flight 800 crash have sent victims' families a letter that sharply criticizes recent reports that a U.S. Navy missile brought down the plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent the families of all 230 victims a letter that calls Pierre Salinger's missile report "a combination of falsehoods, inaccuracies and just plain gibberish."
Salinger was press secretary to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, briefly a U.S. senator, and long-time correspondent for ABC News. Attempts to reach him and his research partner were unsuccessful Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, because of his former status, many in the press feel compelled to cover his remarks no matter how outlandish and unsubstantiated they might be," says the NTSB letter, which CNN obtained Tuesday.
Reactions from victims' families was varied. "It's reassuring," said Eleanor Seaman of Albany, New York, who lost her niece in the crash. "You hear one thing from one place, and another thing from someone else. It's difficult. But we've trusted the NTSB on this."
Olivier Michel of France said the letter says about "the same thing" past letters have said. But he added very few victims' families put faith in the missile theory.
Salinger held a press conference in Paris last Thursday to announce evidence a missile destroyed the Boeing 747 on July 17 last year, killing all 230 aboard.
Salinger and his research partner, former ABC producer Mike Sommer, released a 64-page report claiming the plane was shot down by an errant missile during a secret U.S. Navy missile testing exercise.
Salinger and Sommer displayed what they claimed were stills from a Federal Aviation Administration videotape of radar transmissions showing a missile closing in on the jumbo jet. They also displayed a still photograph taken off Long Island at a party that seemed to show a missile in the background.
The NTSB and FBI heatedly denied the allegations. The NTSB followed up with a letter to families dated March 14 and signed by Peter Goelz, the safety board's director of government and public affairs.
"All experts, including those from Boeing, TWA, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and foreign officials... agree that there is no sign of a missile attack," Goelz wrote.
The letter also attacks an investigative report by the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California that asserts the same theory using much of the same alleged evidence. It says the "reddish residue" the newspaper claims matches missile fuel is actually a seat adhesive.
"Regarding some of the issues raised by Mr. Salinger in recent days, they are again a combination of falsehoods and claims that are only partially based on the truth and, when taken out of context, are completely misleading," Goelz wrote.
"We remain confident that we will be able to determine a probable cause to this terrible tragedy," Goelz wrote.
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