Slowly but surely, retired United Airline Capt. Ray Lahr and attorney John Clarke are prying open the can of worms known as the TWA Flight 800 investigation, and sooner or later the major media will have to take notice.
WABC in New York already has. Two weeks ago, the station’s Jim Hoffer did a short feature headlined “Major court ruling in TWA Flight 800 case.” What proved to be most newsworthy about the feature, however, was not the ruling in question but a surprising admission by former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz.
As Hoffer noted, and has been reported here previously, a U.S. district court judge in Los Angeles has granted Lahr access to most of the documents he has requested to get at the truth behind the alleged 3,200-foot “zoom climb” of the damaged aircraft.
In the WABC feature, Hoffer interviewed not only Lahr but also Goelz, who oversaw the investigation. Wittingly or not, Goelz made the stunning comment that “whether [TWA Flight 800] climbed 3,200 feet or not is really irrelevant.”
Irrelevant? Really? The FBI and the CIA did not think so. In 1996-1997, the two agencies climbed over the notorious “wall” to collaborate on an animation showing how a crippled 747 could climb rocket-like for 3,200 feet after its nose had been blown off. This animation was critical. The FBI needed such a scenario to silence the media and close the case.
The CIA video could not have been more definitive. “The Eyewitnesses Did Not See a Missile,” reads an underlined script on the video screen. No, “What the witnesses saw was a Boeing 747 in various stages of crippled flight.” The FBI showed the CIA video at its final press conference in November 1997, thereby ending any serious investigation.
Despite doubts, the NTSB stuck to the story. At the final NTSB hearing in August 2000, Dr. David Mayer, acting chief of the NTSB’s Orwellian-titled “Human Performance Division,” reaffirmed the zoom climb. “As the airplane maneuvered in crippled flight,” said Mayer in an attempt to explain what the eyewitnesses saw, “it appeared to fly nearly straight up.” Tellingly, at no NTSB hearing were the eyewitnesses, several of them pilots or military personnel, ever allowed to testify.
Goelz himself knows just how relevant the zoom climb is. His claim that “there is absolutely no evidence that a missile was fired at this aircraft” hinges on the zoom climb. Without it, there is no way to explain the testimony of the 270 FBI eyewitnesses who had seen lights streaking up toward the plane in the seconds before it exploded. Without it, that eyewitness testimony becomes once again all but irrefutable evidence of a missile strike.
Much of that testimony was vivid and specific. One travel industry professional, for instance, told the FBI that she was standing on the beach when she noticed a 747 “level off.” With her eye still on TWA Flight 800, she watched in awe as a “red streak” with a “light gray smoke trail” moved up towards the airliner at a 45-degree angle. Then, the “red streak went past the right side and above the aircraft before arcking [sic] back down toward the aircrafts [sic] right wing.”
She saw “the front of the aircraft separate from the back” and watched as the burning pieces of the debris fell from the aircraft. She provided a drawing that showed the scenario in some detail, including the “upside down Nike swoosh,” which ended at the plane’s right wing. By the way, she correctly identified the departure of the plane’s nose long before that detail became publicly known. For the record, hers is one of perhaps 100 comparably strong testimonies.
A veteran safety investigator and a serious student of aerodynamics, Ray Lahr thought the zoom climb scenario a canard the moment he saw it. There is scarcely a pilot anywhere who disagrees with Lahr. Buttressed by wide support in the aviation community, he began his nine-year quest to see the evidence used to calculate the zoom climb.
Lahr is making progress. The Los Angeles judge clearly sided with him. He ruled that the case Lahr and Clarke presented was sufficiently strong “to permit plaintiff to proceed based on his claim that the government acted improperly in its investigation of Flight 800 or at least performed in a grossly negligent fashion.”
Ten years out, the evidence for a missile strike grows stronger by the week. A Pulitzer awaits the first major media organization to tackle this case in a serious way. Shamefully, none ever has.
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