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FBI: Radar blip at time of TWA crash was Navy plane, not missile


March 20, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The mysterious radar blip that Pierre Salinger claimed was a missile that downed TWA Flight 800 was in fact merely an unarmed Navy P-3 Orion reconaissance plane, FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom said Thursday.

At a luncheon for the JFK Airport Chamber of Commerce, Kallstrom insisted that Salinger offers no facts in his report to back up his theory that a U.S. missile felled the Boeing 747 and the government has conspired to hide the truth.


Salinger, a former ABC News correspondent and press secretary to President Kennedy, contends a missile fired during a "super-secret" Navy exercise off Long Island mistakenly locked onto Flight 800 and downed the plane. All 230 people on board were killed when the plane, headed to Paris from New York, exploded and plunged into the Atlantic on July 17, 1996.

Salinger and investigative reporter Mike Sommer claimed at a news conference earlier this month that images taken from an air traffic control video at John F. Kennedy International Airport show two blips on radar. The first, they contended, was Flight 800, and another blip headed toward it was a missile that downed the plane.

The FBI, Pentagon and federal air safety investigators have previously discounted such a "friendly-fire" theory.


Kallstrom said Thursday that the line on the images that comes close to the blip of Flight 800 simply represents a Navy plane whose transponder was not working. A transponder is a radio or radar transceiver that automatically transmits electrical signals.

"If that's the evidence of a huge government conspiracy -- it didn't happen," Kallstrom said.

A source familiar with the Federal Aviation Administration radar images explained to CNN that while the two blips appear to be in close proximity, the Navy plane was actually flying 7,000 feet above the TWA Boeing 747. The Navy plane filed a routine flight plan indicating it was on its way from its base in Brunswick, Maine, to participate in military manuevers off the coast of New Jersey, the source said.

Kallstrom added that three of the ships that Salinger refers to in his report as being in the waters off Long Island at the time of the crash were actually in the Mediterranean.


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