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

'It blew up:' TWA 800 tape released

Reconstruction of Flight 800
Air traffic controller tapes
icon 23 min. 19 sec VXtreme streaming video

Pilots who witnessed blast, aftermath heard on recording

January 14, 1998
Web posted at: 2:36 p.m. EST (1936 GMT)

In this story:

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.

icon 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)
icon Air traffic controllers try to contact TWA Flight 800 AIFF or WAV
(147 K / 20 sec. audio)
icon 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 controller.

'We just saw an explosion'

"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.

Investigation continues

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.

TWA Flight 800

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