California paper renews rumors of missile in Flight 800 crash

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal investigators on Monday disputed the latest report that TWA Flight 800 may have been downed by a missile, saying the evidence doesn’t support that conclusion.
A joint statement from the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board came after the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., said newly disclosed evidence “points to a missile” in the July 17 crash into the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island that killed all 230 people board the jumbo jet.
The newspaper cited reddish stains on seat fabric that it said contained chemicals consistent with solid-fuel propellant. It also said sources “inside the investigation” provided documents from the FBI and NTSB indicating that a dummy-warhead missile may have smashed through the plane.
The FBI and NTSB said that while it wasn’t policy to comment on every piece of evidence, “it can be stated that the information in the articles contains numerous factual and interpretive errors.”
“The articles’ resulting conclusions are not supported by the facts,” the statement said.
The newspaper said Monday that theories center on either a terrorist missile or friendly fire — “possibly a secret Navy weapons test gone wrong.”
The resurrection of the friendly-fire theory brought a new round of strenuous denials by government investigators.
Navy officials reiterated that no weapons tests were conducted off New York’s Long Island that evening. They say there is no way the peacetime Navy could cover up an event that would be known in minutes by hundreds of people.
The FBI and NTSB have condemned earlier versions of the friendly-fire theory as bunk, but such speculation has thrived on the Internet.
The Press-Enterprise said its inquiry suggested a missile hit the plane on the right side in front of the wing and ripped through the cabin, leading to a massive explosion or fire in the center fuel tank.
James Kallstrom, assistant FBI director and chief of the investigation, told the newspaper the stains on seat fabric were not from rocket fuel.
“It has no connection to a missile… there’s a logical explanation but I’m not going to get into it,” Kallstrom was quoted as saying.
Investigators have refused to rule out three theories — a bomb, a missile or mechanical failure– on what brought down the Paris-bound jet.
The newspaper’s findings relied heavily on information supplied by James Sanders, a retired California policeman and auto-accident investigator who has probed the crash on his own.
Sanders, whose wife works for TWA, said he became engrossed in the crash after sources in the investigation gave him documents and pieces of seat fabric. Sanders said he had the cloth analyzed.
The newspaper also said unexplained blips on FAA radar tapes may be the track of a missile racing toward the jet.
It said Richard Russell, a retired United Airlines pilot who has espoused the Navy missile theory since August, owned the tape and would make it public this week. In a phone interview at his home in Daytona, Fla., Russell said he did not plan to release the tapes, but that the French magazine Paris-Match would publish three frames this week showing a blip closing at high speed on TWA 800.
Investigators have refused to rule out three theories — a bomb, a missile or mechanical failure — on what brought down the Paris-bound jet.