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S P E C I A L TWA Flight 800: The Crash and Investigation

Pilot and author charged with stealing TWA 800 wreckage

Latest developments: December 5, 1997
Web posted at: 9:15 p.m. EST (0215 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- TWA's chief 747 pilot, a TWA flight attendant and the author of a book about the TWA 800 crash have been charged with stealing pieces of the wreckage from the hangar where investigators reconstructed the Boeing 747.

Federal law enforcement officials told CNN that arrest warrants have been issued for James Sanders, author of "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," his wife Liz Sanders, a TWA flight attendant, and TWA pilot Terrell Stacey.

According to officials, Stacey, who as TWA's chief 747 pilot served as the airline's number two representative in the crash investigation, allegedly took documents and seat fabric from the wreckage at Liz Sanders' request.

The items, they say, were allegedly intended to help James Sanders in writing his book, which promotes the theory that a missile brought down TWA 800 on July 17, 1996.

The New York-to-Paris flight exploded after takeoff from JFK Airport and crashed off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 people aboard.

TWA Flight 800
CNN Interactive will make available the full NTSB report after it is released Sunday and webcast live the hearings next week.

Stacey had access to the wreckage because he was involved with three crash investigation committees, according to a spokeswoman with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Officials say that Stacey has agreed to plead guilty next week, but Jeff Schlanger, James Sanders' attorney, said the author would fight the charge.

Federal prosecutors said they expected the three to surrender for arrest and arraignment next week.

Attorney says Sanders being persecuted

Book cover

Schlanger said his client is protected under the First Amendment and is being unfairly persecuted by the FBI.

"The FBI has spent millions creating a videotape and holding a lengthy press conference to make sure their theory got the public's attention," Schlanger said. "Why are they moving to arrest a person, a man who holds that up to a little scrutiny?"

The FBI has consistently rejected the theory circulated by Sanders and former journalist and White House press secretary Pierre Salinger that a U.S. Navy missile shot down the passenger jet and that the government is covering it up.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said an explosion in the center fuel tank, possibly caused by faulty wiring, destroyed the aircraft. The NTSB has set week-long public hearings on its findings starting December 8 in Baltimore.

According to the complaint, Stacey was approached by Elizabeth Sanders, who said her husband wanted to talk to him about the crash because he was conducting his own private investigation.

Stacey eventually provided James Sanders with information and copies of reports on the crash investigation and pieces of fabric from some of the plane's seats.

Sanders says FBI is 'livid'

747 seats
It is alleged that Sanders, with the help of TWA pilot Terrel Stacey, stole seat fabric and documents from the wreckage   

According to the complaint, those seats had a reddish residue, unlike residue on other seats on the plane. Although a lab report concluded that the residue was not rocket fuel, Sanders made his claims anyway.

The FBI says its tests show that the residue is an adhesive, but Sanders claims the FBI is involved in a cover-up. He says, "I think they really do know with some certainty what happened."

In an earlier interview with CNN, Sanders said he was being harried by the FBI for raising uncomfortable questions about the investigation.

"Actually," he said then, "what the feds want to do is get even. They are livid."

The FBI has been investigating how Sanders obtained the material since his theory was published in a California newspaper earlier this year.

FBI deputy director James Kallstrom sent a letter Wednesday to the National Transportation Safety Board asking that it not discuss the residue during its public hearings scheduled to begin Monday.

He also asked the NTSB not to discuss other information the FBI uncovered in its investigation, such as the identify of eyewitnesses to the crash and testimony from experts regarding the limitations of the eyewitness observations.

Correspondent Peg Tyre and Reuters contributed to this report.


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