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Relative of TWA Flight 800 Victim Says FBI Told Him It Is Suspending Criminal Investigation

November 13, 1997

Relative of TWA Flight 800 Victim Says FBI Told Him It Is Suspending Criminal Investigation of the July 1996 Crash That Killed 230By PAT MILTON

NEW YORK (AP) _ The FBI has told families of victims of TWA Flight 800 that it found ``absolutely no evidence″ that a criminal act brought the plane down and is suspending its investigation, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

``I must report to you ... that our investigation has found absolutely no evidence to cause us to believe that the TWA Flight 800 tragedy was the result of a criminal act,″ wrote James Kallstrom, the FBI assistant director who headed the criminal probe.

Kallstrom confirmed Wednesday night that the FBI had sent a letter to victims’ families, but he gave no details ``as it is a private matter between the FBI and the families at this point.″

The FBI plans a news conference next week to issue a comprehensive report on the criminal probe’s findings, a law-enforcement source said.

Kallstrom wrote that the FBI will continue to be involved in the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the July 1996 crash that killed 230 people.

``Every lead has been covered, all possible avenues of investigation exhaustively explored and every resource of the United States government has been brought to bear in this investigation,″ Kallstrom said.

The NTSB is continuing to try to learn what caused vapors inside the empty fuel tank to explode, shattering the Paris-bound plane shortly after takeoff from New York’s Kennedy Airport.

The FBI has said repeatedly it has found no evidence that the Boeing 747 was downed by a bomb or missile.

The FBI began its investigation minutes after the jumbo jet burst into a fireball, killing everyone on board and scattering wreckage across a 5-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean, about 10 miles off Long Island.

Numerous eyewitnesses reported streaks of light in the sky just before the explosion, prompting a team of investigators to focus on the missile theory. The FBI flatly rejected allegations by conspiracy theorists that an errant Navy missile was to blame.

``When it first happened, I thought bomb,″ said Joe Lychner of Houston, who lost his wife and two small daughters in the crash.

``But when I look at all the testing the FBI did and they found nothing, I am convinced this had to be mechanical.″

FBI agents interviewed more than 7,000 people, including everyone who touched or had access to the aircraft at Kennedy Airport and in Athens, Greece, where the flight originated.

The FBI and NTSB reconstructed the wreckage inside a hangar and then scrutinized the holes and punctures for any evidence of a crime.

Michel Breistroff of Paris, whose 25-year-old son was killed, said he received Kallstrom’s letter on Wednesday.

Breistroff said he and other family members overseas now plan a campaign to have all 747s grounded.

``This plane is obviously a dangerous plane,″ he said. ``It took investigators all these months and all these millions of dollars to tell us that.″

TWA spokesman Donn Walker in St. Louis said the airline did not know that the FBI had sent letters indicating it was ending its criminal probe.

``They’ve been hinting for a while so it’s really not a surprise,″ he said.

He added the company was frustrated that federal investigators have not been able to determine what caused the crash.

``We just want answers. We just want to know what happened,″ he said.

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