'It blew up:' TWA 800 tape released
Pilots who witnessed blast, aftermath heard on recording
January 14, 1998
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Web posted at: 2:36 p.m. EST (1936 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Taped conversations between air traffic
controllers and airborne pilots who witnessed the explosion
of TWA Flight 800 and its fiery plunge into the Atlantic
Ocean 18 months ago were released on Wednesday. The tapes are
dramatic, but provide no new information on the cause of the
disaster that killed 230 people.
The 30-minute recording made public by the Federal Aviation
Administration in Washington begins five minutes before the
last transmission from Flight 800 but nothing is heard from
the crew of the Boeing 747 to indicate a problem.
The pilot of Eastwind Flight 507 tells air traffic
controllers what he saw as TWA Flight 800 exploded
AIFF or WAV|
(215 K / 20 sec. audio)
Air traffic controllers try to contact TWA Flight 800
AIFF or WAV|
(147 K / 20 sec. audio)
The pilot of Virgin Atlantic Flight 009 contacts air traffic
controllers to report the explosion
AIFF or WAV|
(361 K / 32 sec. audio)
The first report of an explosion in the sky off the coast of
New York's Long Island was radioed by the pilot of Eastwind
Airlines Flight 507, who relays the information to an air
"We just saw an explosion up ahead out here at about 16,000
feet or something like that," the pilot says. "It blew up in
the air and then we saw two fireballs go down to the water.
There was smoke coming up from that. Also, there seemed to
be a light. I thought it was a landing light on. It was
coming right at us at about 15,000 (feet) or something like
that. ... And then it blew."
Alitalia Flight 609 confirmed the explosion, followed by a
similar report from Virgin Atlantic Flight 009.
The pilot of United Airlines Flight 2, flying directly over
the crash site, reports the wreckage "is still burning down
there. ... It's bright red. There is smoke coming out."
As the information is radioed to the air traffic controller,
he tries to contact Flight 800 but receives no reply.
A few minutes after the explosion was first reported, the
realization that a plane has gone down sinks in.
After the air controller tries yet again in vain to reach
Flight 800, one pilot says, "I think that was him," referring
to the fiery wreckage in the ocean below.
"I think so," concludes the controller.
"God bless him," responds the unidentified pilot.
Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI
already have reviewed the FAA recording. The tape was
returned to the FAA shortly after last month's NTSB public
hearing into the crash.
The information on the tape is not expected to shed any new
light on the ongoing mystery of what brought down the
Paris-bound 747 shortly after it took off from New York on
July 17, 1996.
The plane's center fuel tank exploded but the cause of the
blast remains unclear. The investigation is now focused on
finding the source of the ignition.
The NTSB isn't expected to release a probable cause until
late next year. The FBI has concluded the crash was not the
result of a criminal act.
Correspondent Christine Negroni contributed to this report.