FBI ends TWA Flight 800 criminal probe
November 13, 1997
Web posted at: 10:17 a.m. EST (1517 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The FBI confirmed Thursday that it has
formally closed its 16-month-old criminal probe into the TWA
Flight 800 disaster, saying it found "absolutely no evidence"
that the crash was the result of a criminal act.
The news came ahead of an official announcement scheduled for
next Tuesday. The FBI's top investigator in the crash,
Assistant Director James Kallstrom, said he sent a letter to
the families of the 230 people killed in the crash so that
they would not be surprised by the announcement.
In the letter, Kallstrom wrote, "Our investigation has found
absolutely no evidence to cause us to believe that the TWA
Flight 800 tragedy was the result of a criminal act."
A L S O :
Text of FBI letter to TWA Flight 800 families
Kallstrom would give no other details about the FBI's
announcement, saying that until the official news conference,
"It's between the families and me."
However, in his letter, Kallstrom wrote that the FBI will
continue to be involved in the National Transportation Safety
Board's investigation of the July 1996 crash.
FBI moved in to investigate quickly
The FBI stepped into the National Transportation Safety
Board's crash investigation within an hour of the July 1996 crash, with the intent of determining whether criminal activity had brought down the Boeing 747.
The Paris-bound jumbo jet burst into a fireball minutes after
its takeoff from Kennedy International Airport, killing
everyone on board and scattering wreckage across a
5-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean, about 10 miles off
In the early days of the investigation, three possibilities
were consistently presented: a bomb, a missile, or airplane
malfunction could have been responsible.
But as investigators continued their probe, the FBI
repeatedly said it had no evidence that the Boeing 747 was
downed by a bomb or missile, but had kept the investigation
open to sift through dozens of eyewitness accounts.
FBI agents interviewed more than 7,000 people, including
everyone who touched or had access to the aircraft at Kennedy
Airport and in Athens, Greece, where the flight originated.
Several witnesses said they saw lights in the sky just before
the plane exploded into a fireball over the Atlantic Ocean,
just off New York.
"When it first happened, I thought bomb," said Joe Lychner of
Houston, who lost his wife and two small daughters in the
"But when I look at all the testing the FBI did and they
found nothing, I am convinced this had to be mechanical."
Some families to seek grounding of 747s
But the victims' families may still not get their
long-awaited closure. The NTSB inquiry into possible
mechanical failure will continue. Suspicion centers on a
buildup of gases in the central fuel tank, but it is still
not known what ignited the gases.
Meanwhile, several family members of people killed in the
explosion say because of their lingering doubts about the
safety of all Boeing 747s, they plan to wage a campaign to
have all of the aircraft grounded.
Herve Schwartz lost his brother-in-law in the crash. He said
his family has no sense of closure from the tragedy, "since
we don't have any explanation yet. We need to know why it
exploded." ( 247K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Because the crash cause is still unknown, Schwartz has joined
the campaign to ground the jets. "We've got a feeling that
it's too dangerous to fly 747s," he said.
"This plane is obviously a dangerous plane," said Michel
Breistroff of Paris, whose 25-year-old son was killed. "It
took investigators all these months and all these millions of
dollars to tell us that."