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Olympic Officials Say No Indication TWA Crash Connected to Games

July 18, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Olympic officials said today there was no indication the TWA jet explosion was connected to the Atlanta Games and expressed confidence in their security measures.

``It’s much too early to try to determine or to see if there’s a connection to what we’ve been doing,″ Atlanta organizing chief Billy Payne said. ``Right now we just deal with it as unfortunate.

``Of course, all of our people are in touch with everybody investigating the accident. Within a relatively short term we will have some idea if there is any remote connection. Hopefully not, but until then, we’ll just wait.″

Police foot patrols were increased at Atlanta’s international airport, but Olympics officials said there were no other changes in their security.

FBI terrorism experts were investigating whether a bomb caused the TWA jumbo jet to explode over the Atlantic shortly after takeoff Wednesday night from New York’s Kennedy Airport, apparently killing all 229 people aboard.

The crash came just two days before the opening of the Centennial Olympics, heightening concern about the level of security for the Games.

``We continue to go about our preparation with the great attention to security that we’ve given it for all these years,″ Payne said.

He described the situation at Olympic venues and installations as ``business as usual.″

``We got a lot of business to do,″ he said. ``But our business has always been very importantly the security and safety of the athletes and visitors. We’re going to keep doing that, react, take measures to this specific incident as the story unfolds.″

Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell said President Clinton was still scheduled to attend the ceremonies.

``I don’t know if we’re going to have the full amount of joy that we would have, but we do have to go on, and we will,″ Campbell said on NBC’s ``Today″ show.

IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch sent a letter to Clinton, Payne and TWA to express condolences to the families of the victims.

Don Mischer, executive producer of the opening and closing ceremonies, said officials were considering whether to mention the plane explosion during Friday night’s event.

``That’s something we have thought about,″ Mischer said. ``We have to really determine if it’s appropriate and in what way we might do that.″

At Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, spokesman Miguel Southwell said police foot patrols had been stepped up at the Federal Aviation Administration’s request. For the moment at least, the airport’s security level would not be increased from the already heightened stage it has remained in since a spate of domestic terrorism last summer, he said.

``The FAA has asked the police to be more vigilant in doing patrols and sweeping through the airport,″ Southwell said. ``The FAA is trying to consider what else they will need to do.″

He said the airport and the FAA are in ``constant contact″ talking every few minutes.

Prince Alexandre de Merode, an International Olympic Committee vice president, expressed relief there were no athletes aboard the plane and said there appeared to be no Olympic connection.

``I don’t think so, absolutely not,″ he said. ``I believe it’s really outside of the Olympic Games. But perhaps it’s a warning we have received. It showed that security measures in all directions have to be reinforced.″

IOC spokeswoman Michele Verdier said Atlanta organizers and government security agencies have done everything necessary to guard the games.

``Security for the Olympic Games is the responsibility of the organizing committee and the host nation,″ she said. ``As IOC, we have absolutely no doubt that all measures have been taken at the right level.″

Last summer, the FAA ordered all airports to increase security to Level 3, which includes coating windows with anti-ballistic film to prevent shattering in a explosion, frequent announcements in the airport cautioning passengers not to accept packages from strangers, erection of ``intrusion barriers″ to prevent cars from crashing into the airport and installation of surveillance cameras on the roof of the terminals.

While other airports have scaled back, Hartsfield remained at Level 3 because of the impending Olympics, Southwell said.

In addition, Hartsfield bought high-tech firefighting trucks and installed several advanced metal detectors.

A move to Level 4 would allow only ticketed passengers and employees beyond security machines at the airport, and vehicles over 5 feet tall would not be able to get beyond barriers around the terminal’s perimeter.

``We can go to Level 4 immediately,″ Southwell said.

Frank Benaquista, who was headed home to Pittsburgh after a business trip to Atlanta, said it seemed to him that the sensitivity of the airport metal detectors was higher this morning.

``When I went through, my glasses set it off. Then they swept me. That’s the first time that’s ever happened,″ said Benaquista, who described himself as a frequent traveler.

Roger Grove, a businessman from Albany, Ga., who was headed to Detroit, said he did not experience anything unusual passing through security today. ``It was just normal, routine,″ he said.

At the airport Welcome Center, set up to process athletes and Olympic officials, things also seemed to be operating as normal. People there said they had no concerns about security in Atlanta.

``I feel safe. I am not anxious for myself,″ said Eric Favory, a member of the medical staff for the French Olympic team who was at the processing center.

Mike Kelly, a TWA vice president, noted that the FAA had been placed on an increased level of security because of the Olympics, but said there had been no specific threats against TWA or the flight.

A spokesman at the State Law Enforcement Command, the group organizing 4,500 state law enforcement officers during the Olympics, said that agency would know more today.

``We’re still analyzing the data,″ Don Daniel said Wednesday night.

``We feel very confident with the type of security we have in place,″ he said. But ``I’m sure we’ve got some heads-up going on.″

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