TWA probe took emotional toll on FBI agents
November 17, 1997
Web posted at: 11:49 a.m. EST (1649 GMT)
From Correspondent Peg Tyre
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In a news conference Tuesday, the FBI is
expected to officially close its criminal investigation into
the crash of TWA Flight 800. For the men and women who
worked to piece together the crash's particulars, it is an
experience that will not easily be forgotten.
Sue Hillard Capozzi, Chris Voss and Tommy Corrigan were three
of the 500 FBI agents who took part in the largest and most
extensive criminal investigation in history.
High-profile tours of duty
All three agents are familiar with brutal crime scenes.
Capozzi, an evidence expert and an unvarnished workaholic,
came to Calverton from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where a bomb
had killed 19 U.S. servicemen.
"We were watching CNN after work and saw the crash," she
said. The July 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, en route from
New York to Paris, killed all 230 people on board.
"At that point, we knew that we would probably be called
At Calverton, she helped map out where personal effects were
found and the condition of each item.
"I would get telephone calls from family members saying that
this is really special -- have you seen it," she said.
"Things that you wouldn't expect to be important. Teddy
bears, certain articles of clothing, jewelry, a photograph
that the person had taken with them on the flight."
Voss and Corrigan had just finished a three-year
investigation into the World Trade Center bombing. In
contrast to that crime scene, a towering office building,
this one was 120 feet underwater and covered 225 square
Their work on the crash also took them to France, where they
interviewed families of victims. Corrigan described them as
"the most difficult interviews I've ever done in my whole
police career. They were gut-wrenching, they were extremely,
extremely difficult, they were painful."
The investigation itself brought plenty of frustration and
few rewards. Agents were heartened when some wreckage showed
chemical residue, then watched their best lead crumble. No
metal damage supported the residue evidence.
Then came Pierre Salinger and the frenzy around the friendly
fire cover-up theory -- one that the agents still take as a
"I go into a delicatessen and the guy would ask me, you know,
he was convinced the military had shot it down. So I stopped
going to that deli," Corrigan said.
Perspectives changed forever
Family life suffered as the agents moved into hotels to be
closer to the hangar.
"I think my son has gained somewhat of an appreciation for
what I do. I think he's proud of what I do," said
"I spent the first five months of the investigation living
out by the hangar, I got home on the weekends on occasion and
I said to him, 'This is important, I have to do it.' And his
answer was, 'Well, lately, everything you do is important.'"
Capozzi worked 98 days straight, took a break when her father
died, then returned to the hangar. In that difficult time,
listening to the victim's families helped her reset her
"They never started the conversation about their loved one as
what he did for a living or how much money he made. That
didn't matter. And that struck me very hard," she said.
"Before this crash all I really thought about was my career
and watching the families go through this, I realized that
there is a lot more than just a career," she said.
The men and women who worked on the investigation will move
on, but they say they will never forget.