This Sunday, July 17, 2016, marks the 20th anniversary of TWA Flight 800's explosion.
Here's a refresher: TWA Flight 800 took off from JFK Airport on July 17, 1996, en route to Paris. Just 12 minutes into the flight, the plane exploded over the shores of Long Island. The 230 people on board were all killed.
In the wake of the explosion, several hundred eye witnesses came forward with claims they'd seen a projectile heading toward the plane before it crashed mid-air.
The biggest investigation in aviation history ensued.
But ultimately, Uncle Sam never offered up a definitive answer.
After 16 months and $20 million, the Feds concluded the probable cause was a crack in the plane's insulation had allowed high voltage from the lighting circuitry to create a spark that ignited the vapors in the empty fuel tank.
Twenty years later and still there are many skeptics out there who believe a different explanation of how the plane went down…
You don't have to be a member of the tinfoil hat club to buy this TWA Flight 800 conspiracy theory — it's far more plausible than the government's finding.
TWA Flight 800 Conspiracy Theory Explained
Hank Hughes, who was the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) senior accident investigator for TWA 800 at the time, remains among those who believe – to this day – the flight was shot down.
"I'm no conspiracy theorist," Hughes told the NY Daily News in April 2015, "but let's be clear: Yes. I say it was [shot down]. And I believe the FBI covered it up… Lots can go wrong with an airplane. Engines can fail; they can catch fire. Devices can malfunction. Pilots make errors. But jets do not explode in midair."
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Hughes went on to explain that during the initial investigation, the FBI wouldn't allow TWA's own mechanics to examine the wreckage that supposedly contributed to the explosion during their investigation.
Furthermore, according to Hughes, once TWA mechanics were permitted to scrutinize the evidence, they couldn't find a single piece of cracked insulation in the 159 miles of wire recovered in the investigation. Had the insulation actually been cracked, then the FBI's claim that the fissures had sparked a fire in the empty fuel tank would've made sense.
This led Hughes to believe that the FBI was actively trying to cover up their true findings.
As to why the Feds would want to keep the real cause of the crash a secret, there are two shocking reasons…
TWA Flight 800 Conspiracy Theory No. 1: The U.S. Shot Down Its Own Plane
This is where the dozens of witness accounts reporting seeing contrails in the sky prior to the explosion come back in.
One prominent theory surrounding TWA's explosion involves friendly fire from the U.S. Navy.
On Nov. 7, 1996, according Reuters (and reprinted in the Globe and Mail), former Kennedy advisor and ABC foreign correspondent Pierre Salinger, who was speaking to airline executives in Cannes, France, accused the U.S. Navy of firing a training missile at the airliner.
But then on Nov. 9, 1996, The Washington Times reported that Salinger retracted his accusation on the basis that he'd received anonymous "Internet files" as his "evidence" to make his claim.
Regardless of Salinger's retracted statements, there was a Navy Aegis guided missile cruiser known to be operating south of the jet's flight path that day. According to a Sept. 17, 1996, report in The New York Times, eyewitness testimonies stated the ship had let loose a practice shot that went awry.
TWA Flight 800 Conspiracy Theory No. 2: Foreign Terrorists
A series of terrorist events leading up to the TWA Flight 800 explosion — and one incident just days afterward – led many to suspect foreign acts of terror were to blame.
Even the White House had their suspicions.
"The investigation was looking at almost every possibility, including state actors, because we'd known that Libya had been involved with regards to bringing down the airliner over Scotland [Pam Am Flight 103]," Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and former CIA director, who was chief of staff for President Bill Clinton at the time of the crash, told CNN on July 15, 2014. "We were looking at Iraq and Saddam Hussein. We were looking at, you know, the possibility of even Iran might have played a role in this."
Fueling terrorism suspicions were also reports that a reddish-brown substance was observed on the backs of recovered passenger seats. This substance was possibly indicative of explosive residue or rocket fuel.
TWA chief 747 pilot Robert Terrell Stacey, who was participating in the official investigation as a TWA representative at the time, was also convinced the flight had been shot down intentionally. In the months following the explosion, he worked with journalist James Sanders, and Sanders' wife Elizabeth, to clandestinely remove items from the wreckage reconstruction site.
In 1997, Sanders published the book "The Downing of TWA Flight 800," in which he proposed that TWA 800 had been taken out by a foreign military missile and that a U.S. government cover-up was put in place to avoid public panic.
On Dec. 5, 1997, federal prosecutors charged Sanders, his wife Elizabeth, and Stacey with theft of government property.
Later, the NTSB's final report would state that, because of a lack of any other corroborating evidence associated with a high-energy explosion, they believed the in-flight breakup of TWA Flight 800 was not initiated by a bomb or missile strike.
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Of course, the NTSB's official statement is also that of the U.S. government, so if Sanders' theory – which aligned with countless others at the time — that Uncle Sam was keeping the true story of the incident hush-hush, the NTSB's findings would come as no surprise.
What did come as a surprise, however, was news that former President Bill Clinton had wanted the investigation to "resolve as quickly as possible" since 1996 was an election year…
How One Fed Official Blew the Lid Off the TWA Flight 800 Cover-Up
According to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch – who penned the book "The Clinton Tapes" in 2010 – President Clinton wanted the TWA Flight 800 incident quickly resolved.
It was, after all, an election year, and his ratings as the incumbent presidential candidate were sky-high thanks to the Welfare Reform Bill.
There was just one problem impeding the investigation's quick resolution: Jim Kallstrom, then FBI assistant director.
You see, Kallstrom knew that traces of PETN and RDX (explosives) were found on the plane and had been confirmed by the D.C. lab investigating the crash.
Kallstrom also knew what the countless eye witnesses claimed to have seen.
Now, for over a month after the crash on July 17, 1996, the former FBI assistant director appeared to be keeping all talk of eyewitness accounts and missiles out of the news.
However, Kallstrom was leaking investigative details exclusively to The New York Times.
On Aug. 22, 1996, Kallstrom was summoned to Washington where he allegedly attended a private conference with then Attorney General Janet Reno.
No actual account of that meeting exists, however.
But if the two met just so Reno could throw Kallstrom's media-leaking back into his face, it was too late.
On Aug. 23, The New York Times published an article entitled "Prime Evidence Found That Device Exploded in Cabin of Flight 800." The expose effectively stole the thunder from Clinton's election-driven approval of welfare reform, while threatening to disrupt the peace and prosperity message of the following week's Democratic convention.
On Nov. 8, 1996, Jim Kallstrom hosted a press conference in which he denounced the conspiracy theories that the U.S. government was involved in the incident and its cover-up.
"What we can say is that the United States military did not shoot a missile at this airplane," said Kallstrom that day, according to The New York Post on July 4, 2016. "The United States military did not shoot anything. Nothing, nothing like that has taken place, would take place, would ever take place under any circumstances."
A year after that, on Nov. 10, 1997, the FBI formally ended its 16-month investigation, stating that it had found no evidence of a criminal act.
The Denver International Airport opened its runways on Feb. 28, 1995 – about 16 months behind schedule and nearly $2 billion over budget.
Suspicions swirled over the hub's $4.8 billion price tag – and over its sheer size. DIA spanned 35,000 acres, roughly twice the size of the next largest airport in America.
Immediately conspiracy theories began surfacing about the airport's true purpose. Click here to read three shocking Denver Airport conspiracy theories that – to this day – remain unresolved…
- NY Daily News: Former Obama Pilot: TWA Flight 800 Was Not Blown Up by a Faulty Fuel Tank; It Was Shot Down. I'll Always Believe That, and Here's Why
- CNN: 5 Things You Didn't Know About the Crash of TWA Flight 800
- The New York Post: Was TWA Flight 800's Fiery Crash Part of a Massive Cover-Up?