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Feds: TWA Streak Probably Jet Fuel

October 1, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A mysterious streak of light seen by more than 200 people just before TWA Flight 800 crashed was probably the jet breaking up and leaking burning fuel _ not a missile that shot the aircraft down, the CIA and the FBI say.

Carolyn Osborn, a CIA spokeswoman, said Tuesday that a seven-month study _ still incomplete _ found that ``what people interpreted as a missile was in fact the aircraft after the first explosion rocked it.″

``The plane continued to gain altitude, giving the appearance of a missile,″ Osborn said.

The Paris-bound Boeing 747 exploded on July 17, 1996, shortly after leaving New York’s Kennedy Airport, killing all 230 people on board.

Investigators know the center fuel tank exploded, but don’t know why. They are leaning toward mechanical failure, but have not entirely ruled out a bomb or missile.

The FBI had asked the CIA for help analyzing more than 200 eyewitness reports of something resembling a flare in the sky just before the plane blew up, New York FBI head James Kallstrom told Congress earlier this month.

``We became involved because of the possibility that this was a terrorist incident,″ Osborn said.

Investigators interviewed each witness and went to the spot where each person had been to determine how much they could have seen. They also used weather, radar and flight data.

The final report must be forwarded to Kallstrom for review in the next 30 days, Osborn said.

None of the witnesses who reported a streak in the sky told investigators they saw it leave the ground or actually strike the plane.

The analysis concluded that most of the witnesses probably could not have seen the initial explosion of a jet that rose 13,700 feet and flew 10 miles off the coast before crashing. Instead, they saw the beginning stages of the plane’s breakup after the nose section had been ripped from the body, the study found.

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