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FBI: No criminal evidence behind TWA 800 crash


Video shows stages of jet's breakup

November 18, 1997
Web posted at: 3:23 p.m. EST (2023 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The FBI formally ended its 16-month investigation Tuesday into the crash of TWA flight 800, and agents said there was no evidence it was a criminal act. The probe now shifts to the National Transportation Safety Board, which plans to hold public hearings next month.

"No evidence has been found which would indicate that a criminal act was the cause of the tragedy of TWA flight 800," FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom told a news conference.

CIA animation of the plane exploding
video icon 685K/21 sec. QuickTime movie

"We do know one thing," Kallstrom said. "The law enforcement team has done everything humanly possible, has pursued every lead, has looked at every theory and has left no stone unturned."

He said the cost of the FBI probe ranged from $14 million to $20 million.

Image strip

The FBI's conclusion left mechanical failure -- not a bomb or missile -- as the most likely cause of the crash on July 17, 1996, when the Paris-bound Boeing 747 exploded in a fireball minutes after taking off from Kennedy International Airport, killing all 230 people on board.

A CIA video simulation shown during the briefing concluded that witnesses to the crash off the Long Island coast saw the breakup of the doomed plane in the seconds after the initial explosion, not the explosion itself. The video outlined the step-by-step chronology of the accident.

What some people thought was a missile hitting the plane was burning, leaking fuel from the jet after the front part of it had already broken off, FBI officials said.

Thousands of interviews done

Hundreds of investigators carried out thousands of interviews, and nearly 1 million pieces (96 percent) of the aircraft were retrieved after months of trawling and 4,600 dives, Kallstrom said. All 230 victims were recovered and positively identified.

"We recovered 39,600 items of personal effects," he added, "items that meant so much to the family members."


There were interviews with 244 witnesses who saw the explosion over the Atlantic Ocean.

Kallstrom said there was no evidence of a missile attack, as some people had feared.

He said that despite checking every possible angle on such an attack -- including tracing the course of thousands of boats in New York harbor, talking to boat owners, confiscating some boats to check them for burn marks, and viewing massive air-control radar data -- there was no evidence to support the missile theory.


TWA Flight 800


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