New information may be coming to light in the tragedy of the TWA crash of Long Island. But investigators are cautious with their revelations. Elizabeth Farnsworth has the report.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Today the New York Times reported that chemists at the FBI crime laboratory in Washington, D.C., have found in the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 traces of a chemical used in plastic explosives. But this afternoon, investigators said the findings did not prove that the plane was destroyed by an explosive device. At a news conference on Long Island, FBI Representative James Kallstrom read a lengthy statement to reporters.
JAMES KALLSTROM, FBI Director, New York: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Since the tragedy of TWA Flight 800 on July 17, 1996, the team of federal, state, and local officials working tirelessly on this matter has had two priorities: first, to recover the victims, identify them and return them to their loving families; secondly, to determine whether the cause of this catastrophic event was the result of a mechanical malfunction or a criminal act.
As a result of scientific analysis conducted by federal examiners, microscopic explosive traces of unknown origin have been found relating to TWA Flight 800. However, based upon all of the scientific and forensic evidence analyzed to date, we cannot conclude that TWA Flight 800 crashed as a result of an explosive device. Forensic experts outside the government consulted by the FBI agree that the detection of the microscopic explosive traces alone does not allow the conclusion that TWA Flight 800 crashed as a result of an explosive device.
Other evidence of some kind--for example, physical damage, or patterns characteristic of a detonation, would need to be available, in addition to confirm the explosive trace findings before a positive conclusion of an explosive device could and should be made. Consistent with our practice, if during this investigation information comes to our attention that might affect the security of the public in general or the traveling public specifically, that information has been and will continue to be expeditiously shared with the appropriate agencies and organizations for whatever action is deemed necessary.
Based upon the evidence to date, investigators cannot conclude whether this tragedy was the result of a criminal act. Consequently, at this time, the National Transportation Safety Board remains the lead agency in charge of the investigation. The investigation will continue until its appropriate conclusion. Thank you.
REPORTER: Any results of any of the--some of the metallurgy tests that you're doing--uh, would provide additional information?
JAMES KALLSTROM: I said in my statement that other things like, you know, scarring or pitting, things would be the type of thing that we would be looking for, so obivously things like that would be extremely helpful.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Kallstrom was then asked what these new findings do to the theory that the explosion could have been caused by a missile?
JAMES KALLSTROM: I said a minute ago the missile theory is still on the board, continues to be, and when we find out where we're here from the standpoint of which theory proves to be correct, we'll delete the other two.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He was also asked: Are there ways for such traces to get aboard an aircraft other than explosion?
JAMES KALLSTROM: Yes, sir, I believe there are.
REPORTER: Such as--
JAMES KALLSTROM: Well, I suppose somebody could bring chemicals like that and put ‘em on the aircraft. I mean, it's not inconceivable that this chemical could be available through some other means other than through an explosive device and be left on the airplane. There will be a lot of opinions whether that's highly improbable or highly unlikely or, you know, people will put percentages on what they think about that, but the reality is you don't get to 100 percent based on trace evidence.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Kallstrom answered this question: "Could it be assumed from his statement that other evidence has not made itself known yet or are investigators looking at certain other things that may give other evidence?"
JAMES KALLSTROM: We're looking at everything we can look at as quickly as we can look at it. We're waiting for the rest of the airplane to break the surface of the ocean out there so that we can, you know, put this tragedy to at least one level of a conclusion. We want to do that. The NTSB wants to do that.
If it's a criminal act, we want to move on and we want to find out who the perpetrators are, who the people are that would do such a horrific act, so we have absolutely no reason to do anything but what I just described to you. But we must do it correctly, we must do it in the rule of law, we must do it professional. It's to no one's advantage for us to stand up there and hypothesize based on unclear evidence, you know, what this is and where it's going. It's to no one's benefit.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, there was a question about the timing of today's announcement.
JAMES KALLSTROM: Well, I think it's fairly obvious. There were a number of reports in the news media today that, that had different versions of, of the facts as we know them. And we thought it would be the correct thing to do to advise the public through the news media, advise the victim families that are watching, advise the American public as to what the facts are, and as to why we're operating the way we're operating. That's why we did it today.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The investigators said portions of the wreckage are being sent to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. They will be examined by the NASA investigators who probed the Challenger space shuttle disaster.