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Weeks After TWA Crash, Pilot Reports Seeing Missile Pass By His Plane

September 8, 1996

SHINNECOCK, N.Y. (AP) _ Weeks after the TWA Flight 800 explosion and hundreds of miles away, an American Airlines pilot claimed he saw a missile pass by his jetliner in flight, federal investigators said Saturday.

While the two cases were being investigated separately, the report fits a scenario that is one of the theories under consideration in the TWA case _ that a missile brought down the jumbo jet July 17, killing all 230 people aboard.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the pilot on an Aug. 29 American Airlines flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Boston said he saw a missile pass his Boeing 757 as it flew over Wallops Island, Va.

The island, where the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a program for unmanned research rockets, is about 220 miles south of the TWA crash site.

``We got a report of it through our normal channels and assigned an investigator to it,″ said NTSB spokesman Peter Goelz. ``We’re going to look into it. So far, we have not been able to confirm anything.″

Goelz said he had never heard of such a report in the two years he had been with the agency. He said the pilot did not report taking any evasive action.

``We have no idea how close it was. We don’t know that it was a missile. It might have been something else,″ he said.

No one answered the telephone Saturday at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the island when a call was placed for comment.

Questions have persisted about military activities on the evening of the TWA Flight 800 crash because investigators say a missile attack remains one of three possible explanations, along with a bomb and a catastrophic accident.

Pentagon and state National Guard spokesmen have said repeatedly that no exercises with missiles or other live weapons were being conducted in the area.

Asked about the possibility that friendly fire brought down the jetliner, NTSB Vice Chairman Robert Francis said Thursday: ``My information, and I believe it is reliable, is obviously it’s something we looked very closely at, and there’s no indication that was the case.″

Meantime Saturday, attempts to find wreckage from TWA Flight 800 were ruined by bad weather Saturday. Rough waves off Long Island stirred by the remnants of Hurricane Fran left no visibility on the ocean floor, said Lt. Nicholas Balice, a Navy spokesman.

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