The leading private investigator of the crash of TWA Flight 800 has taken his case to Congress, but doesn’t have much hope that anyone took him seriously. His claim that the ill-fated flight was shot down by a missile is largely ignored.
Retired Navy Cmdr. William Donaldson, an experienced crash investigator, has spent the past two years working with other aviation professionals in an effort to learn what caused Flight 800 to fall from the sky on July 17, 1996 killing 230 people.
Donaldson testified Thursday before the Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn. He is not happy with the results, but is not discouraged in his effort to expose what he believes is an effort to cover up the real cause of the crash.
Duncan conducted the hearing to evaluate continued funding of the National Transportation Safety Board. A spokesman for Duncan told WorldNetDaily that he expects the committee to send a favorable approval to Congress.
Donaldson was highly critical of the NTSB in the way it has handled the investigation of TWA Flight 800. He told the committee that the NTSB should have a complete overhaul in structure, including firing the chairman, James Hall. Hall also testified at the hearing.
“Based on the performance of the NTSB while investigating the unexplained loss of Flight 800, I no longer believe the NTSB is capable of fulfilling its aviation mission,” Donaldson testified. “Its abuse of power used to muzzle witnesses and interested parties proves that it has become so politicized that the board itself has become an aviation hazard.”
Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., D-Ohio, was assigned by the committee to conduct an investigation. Early in that investigation, Donaldson claims he was taken seriously and his evidence was given careful consideration. About seven months along, he says, Traficant took an opposite view and became hostile.
“If, in fact, Flight 800 was downed by a missile and there is a cover-up going on, then hundreds, if not thousands, of government personnel are involved — including me,” Traficant stated in the hearing.
At one point in the hearing, Traficant asked Donaldson if he ever thought the Canadians were responsible for firing the missile. Cmdr. Donaldson said this was just one example of the effort made to discredit him.
“Not once did I ever write anything anywhere of that opinion. That didn’t go down on any document as something we seriously believed. He used it to try to say, ‘See how much of a flake this guy is,’” he described, adding that he had been ambushed.
During his testimony, Donaldson restated claims that President Clinton had forewarning that a commercial flight would be shot down as early as October 1994. He said the president was only a few weeks from the 1996 election and had political reasons to cover-up the truth of the crash.
He also accused the NTSB and FBI of using intimidation tactics to control the investigation and to use fear to keep people who knew the truth from coming forward. Despite the comments made by Traficant, Donaldson does not believe a cover-up requires large numbers of people. He suggested only a few people in positions of power are able to control others and manipulate the press.
A major example of alleged manipulation of the press took place when Hall stated, “It wasn’t a missile,” which was reported in the Wall Street Journal in April 1997. At the time he made that statement to the press he was completing a successful covert search for missile parts on the bottom of the ocean, according to Donaldson.
Despite the current effort to discredit the missile theory, Traficant was helpful in obtaining important information from the FBI for Donaldson. Radar records from the time of the event show a vessel very close to the location where the TWA 747 exploded in mid-air.
A list of questions was sent to Traficant to forward to the FBI for answers. One of those questions asked about the unidentified radar contact.
“They admitted for the first time ever that they did not identify the contact, that was only 2.9 miles away from Flight 800 when it exploded. This was after the investigation had been formally dropped,” explained Donaldson.
Why wouldn’t President Clinton take advantage of the downing of a commercial flight by terrorists just before and election? He could easily justify a missile attack on Iran in retaliation and become a hero in the eyes of the American public. That question has been asked more than once by those who do not accept the missile and cover-up theory.
“The problem is that we’re not talking about Kosovo. We’re talking about Iran with 40 million people, some of which are rabidly fanatic about anti-Americanism. Any shot at Iran could result in severe terrorist reprisals,” explained Cmdr. Donaldson.
Thomas F. Stalcup, representing the Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization, had been invited to testify but was canceled at the last minute. Donaldson arranged for his prepared testimony to be included in the official record even though Stalcup was not permitted to speak.
“The NTSB and FBI conducted incomplete testing of crucial pieces of evidence and are guilty of a high level of complacency about the contradictory results determined by the different agencies,” charged Stalcup.
“Both agencies have failed to identify the nearest surface vessel to the tragedy. Eyewitness reports have been inaccurately portrayed by NTSB and FBI officials in at least two animations depicting the official crash sequence. At least one senior NTSB official finds it more important to ‘put the thing to bed’ than to conduct a scientifically sound investigation.
“The cause of the crash of Flight 800 is still unresolved. Other independent investigators and some journalists and writers claim to have discovered many other anomalies, gaps, failings and non-rigorous aspects of the official investigation. It now appears that any objective and close scrutiny of the more accessible facts in this closely held investigation leads to only one indisputable certainty. That is, that the most expensive inquiry ever, of the greatest disaster in U.S. aviation history has produced an inexplicably flawed and inconclusive official investigation,” he concluded.
The NTSB reports that the investigation has cost $40 million to date. Hall told the committee that he hopes to have the investigation concluded by December with a report available soon after.
The Clinton administration has asked that NTSB funding be increased to $57 million in fiscal year 2000, $73 million in 2001, and $76.4 million in 2002. The requests will include 68 new employees for the NTSB.
After the hearing concluded, Duncan invited Donaldson to his office for additional discussion about his investigation.
Once in his office, Duncan introduced him to Capt. Mike Coffelend, a pilot for Continental Airlines and a lobbyist for the Continental Airline Pilots Association.
“Here we go again,” explained Donaldson of the meeting. “The guy with the power is going to hand the ball to a guy in the middle to be the filter, and he has a political cutout if he needs him.”
Duncan excused himself from the meeting and asked Donaldson to present his case to his pilot friend. David Bayloff, a spokesman from Duncan’s office, confirmed the meeting and said he knew Coffelend personally as a constituent from Ohio. He said Rep. Duncan was trying to be fair and open-minded about the claims of Donaldson.
“This guy (Coffelend) tells me he’s representing the Airline Pilots Association from Continental to Congress and he’d already missed one other congressional appointment and he can’t afford to miss the next one, so ‘here’s my e-mail address.’ So here I am, stuck again. It’s not a good place to be,” said Cmdr. Donaldson.
“This pilot made clear that I should make sure that Duncan’s not portrayed as siding with me in promoting a theory. He’s being fair and he’s listening to the evidence,” he added.
Cmdr. Donaldson is not discouraged and has no intention of ending his efforts to expose what he claims is a major cover-up by government agencies, and even by the president. He is considering holding an executive hearing at which members of Congress could attend.
“I have access to 119 eyewitnesses on 18 boats, four aircraft, and 31 locations ashore that surrounded the missile launch site. None of these witnesses were allowed to testify at the NTSB hearing,” Donaldson told the committee.
He concluded by urging the committee to hold special hearings on the possible cover-up.