A NEW DIRECTION?
SEPTEMBER 19, 1996
TWA Flight 800 crashed into the waters off of Long Island July 17th, killing all 230 people on board. Investigators have yet to determine what caused the plane to go down. Now, perhaps, the investigation is taking a new turn.
JIM LEHRER: We get an update on the investigation now from Adam Horvath of Newsday, who's been covering this story from the beginning. Adam Horvath, welcome again.
ADAM HORVATH, Newsday: (New York) Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Is there one working theory now on what happens?
MR. HORVATH: No. There are--I'm sorry to tell you--the same three that there have been since the beginning, and that is a bomb on this or a mechanical failure. And while the pendulum has swung, I guess between these three points during the time that investigators have been working for two months on this crash, it's--it has not rested in any one of these three places.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let's go through them again one more time and where they--the bomb theory. Where does that rest at this moment?
MR. HORVATH: Well, the difficulty with the bomb theory is that there have been explosive residues found that would be consistent with various, various explosive devices, including bombs, but they've been found in different parts of the plane, and they are different explosives, themselves. Nothing's been found together blasted into the plane's wreckage in a way that would clearly indicate this is a bomb, and for some time investigators have been saying--some of them have--that without this evidence, with so much of the plane recovered, it really casts doubt on the question of whether you'll be able to conclude that it was a bomb that downed the plane.
JIM LEHRER: Now, residue, it does not mean paraphernalia, right? In other words, they have not found any kind of sign of an explosive device, am I right about that?
MR. HORVATH: That's right. They found residues of chemicals that are used in explosives. They haven't found what's most important to them, such as the distinctive pitting, the signs in the metal of the plane or the bending of metal that only occurs in a high energy explosion.
JIM LEHRER: Now, meanwhile, does the investigation about the possibility of a bomb go on? In other words, beyond the scientific investigation, looking for--in terrorism organizations, looking at possible suicide, murder, all of that, is that going on anyhow?
MR. HORVATH: Yes, it has been going on. It's been going on. It's been proceeding all the while, and also has not turned up anything, or at least anything that investigators have told us about, or that we have been able to learn from sources. And so that, again, is something that, that casts doubt on the bomb but doesn't say it didn't happen.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Now, the terrorism thing, that has not been eliminated, right? I mean, a foreign terrorist organization, that's still on the table?
MR. HORVATH: No. Nothing has been eliminated. I think it's confusing to people because at various times one piece of evidence or one theory grabs someone's attention, even among the groups of investigators who come from different agencies, and sort of have different tastes, themselves, on how to interpret evidence and what's the most important thing to look at, and so different things kind of come up, all up to the surface, at different times from the investigation, and it looks like the investigation has taken a turn or a twist. Some of the history of it is we reported at Newsday about a month ago that investigators who were frustrated with the lack of signs of a bomb were concentrating more on the possibility that mechanical failure such as in the center fuel tank brought down the plane. A day later it turned out that there were some explosive residues that a lot of investigators hadn't known about, and the New York Times even wrote then that that seemed to make the idea of mechanical failure a fantasy. Well, then today based on other things and investigators kind of turning in other directions, the New York Times, the Washington Post writing that again mechanical failure seems like it could be more likely than had been written about before.
JIM LEHRER: And what's the evidence on mechanical failure?
MR. HORVATH: Well, the evidence mostly centers around the central fuel tank where an explosive did occur, and it's the one thing that--
JIM LEHRER: They know that.
MR. HORVATH: It's the one thing that investigators seem to all agree on, and they'll say affirmatively there was an explosion there. What they don't know is what caused it. It could have been something that's, that's part of the plane, an electrical spark, some kind of malfunction that set off the vapors in that tank. Something like that doesn't really have any precedent. There's been an explosion in a plane on the ground that came from wiring; there's been an explosion in a plane in the air that may have come from lightning, in any case was in a wing tank. There's nothing that exactly leads to that.
JIM LEHRER: So if that, in fact, happened, this will be the first time it's ever happened. Is that what you're saying, Adam?
MR. HORVATH: Similar things have happened, but pretty much anything, and I think I said this when I was on the show before, that pretty much anything that happened, whether a bomb, missiles, or mechanical failure, probably will be the first exactly of its kind to take down a U.S. aircraft.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the missile thing, is that still--is that legitimately alive in a real way?
MR. HORVATH: You know, almost what takes away from the credibility, the credibility of the missile theory is how many people who don't have information seem to subscribe to it, and, and add to kind of the rumors about it.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. HORVATH: But at basis they do have eyewitnesses that say they saw something consistent with a missile. They do have radar that's not conclusive, but could be interpreted in that direction. Uh, they firmly said that it was not a friendly fire missile, something from a U.S. military vessel, which a lot of people have talked about that possibility.
JIM LEHRER: Just fired by accident? I mean, it was on some other--some other mission, and it just happened to hit that plane?
MR. HORVATH: Well, right. I mean, of course, that would be a catastrophe, and the kind of thing that--
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. HORVATH: --you wouldn't really expect there to be able to be a cover-up that would last this long with all these different agencies involved, and all the kinds of leaks that have come out of the investigation about different aspects.
JIM LEHRER: There's been increasing talk between, between the lines, and some of it even publicly, that they might not ever find out what caused this plane to go down, is that, is that possible in your--based on everything that you know?
MR. HORVATH: Uh, I think there--they've been worried about it for some time, and there are cases that have not been solved, both on U.S. soil and around the world. This could be one of them; when you start with the plane going down over deep water, you start from a bad situation in terms of trying to find a cause, and there has been a lot of talk among investigators that that may be the case or it could be years, some chance discovery a long time from now having nothing to do with what they're trying to do at the moment could be the only thing that would eventually give them the clue they need.
JIM LEHRER: But wouldn't--just thinking it through--wouldn't that kind of eliminate murder, suicide, even the terrorism thing? I mean, those kinds of things eventually you would think would show up, would they not?
MR. HORVATH: Uh, I'm sorry. I didn't quite--
JIM LEHRER: I'm just saying that if, if it was murder-suicide--in other words, if a man-made, intentional act, wouldn't there be that eventually come to the fore, that would--in other words, somebody would have a reason and that reason would eventually come out?
MR. HORVATH: Well, yeah. I mean, that's kind of one of the things they're hoping for, and something that hasn't shown up so far, even though they've spread the net around the world, and, as I say, the wires are quiet on this issue.
JIM LEHRER: What about, quickly, the tension among the investigative agencies? You said there are three of them working on it. Is that tension real? Is it getting any better? How bad is it?
MR. HORVATH: Well, it's--I think it's something that can't be discounted when you talk about their ability to come together on what the cause of the crash is. The agencies involved, the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration, uh, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, and FBI, you know, all have sort of different expertise, different experience, and different outlooks on the crash and very often the investigators in those different agencies look at evidence very different ways.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MR. HORVATH: And it's hard to see how that wouldn't cause them a problem in trying to get to the conclusion.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Adam Horvath, thank you again for being with us.
MR. HORVATH: Thank you.