A documentary which premiered this week about TWA Flight 800 on the 17th anniversary of the airplane disaster echoes some of Pierre Salinger’s argument about the tragedy. He spoke and wrote about the 1996 mid-air explosion in several outlets, including the Georgetowner newspaper in 1999.
Among his many accomplishments, Salinger is best known as President John F. Kennedy’s press secretary. A World War II Navy veteran, Salinger was appointed a senator from California, serving for five months. Living in Europe, he also distinguished himself as a journalist for ABC News, winning an Emmy. Salinger is also known for his accusations that a missile took down TWA flight 800 off Long Island on July 17, 1996, killed all 230 persons on board. Despite first referring to an unsubstantiated document found on the Internet which caused some embarrassment, Salinger stood by his claim.
On July 17, the premium TV network Epix premiered “TWA Flight 800,” a documentary about the Boeing 747 that exploded just 12 minutes after taking off from JFK International Airport. It questions the conclusion by National Transportation Safety Board that the airplane’s fuel tank exploded because of an electrical spark inside the plane and argues that a missile hit the aircraft. The documentary features interviews with key members of the original TWA 800 investigation team, including retired NTSB senior accident investigator Hank Hughes, retired chief accident investigator for TWA Bob Young and Air Line Pilot Association representative and investigator James Speer. Film co-producer and investigator Tom Stalcup along with Hughes filed a petition urging the NTSB to reopen the matter in June.
The NTSB has reaffirmed its original conclusion which had come after four years of an investigation that used the resources of 19 federal agencies. A year after the accident, the FBI said no terrorism was involved. The NTSB went so far as to hold a press conference last month in Asburn, Va., to go over the evidence one more time.
Salinger died in October 2004 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A Salinger museum in Le Thor, France, is managed by his fourth wife Nicole “Poppy” Salinger Le Cesne at her bed-and-breakfast, La Bastide Rose. A large photo of Salinger in the Oval Office with President Kennedy, senior staffers and John Kennedy, Jr., hangs on the wall in the publisher’s office at the Georgetowner in Washington, D.C.
Pierre Salinger was a columnist for the Georgetowner from 1998 to 2001. During the 2000 presidential campaign between George Bush and Al Gore, Salinger famously wrote in his column, “If Bush wins, I’m going to leave the country and spend the rest of my life in France.” And he did.
The following is an abridged May 27,1999, Georgetowner column by Pierre Salinger:
TWA 800: The Truth Is Out There; Tell It
It is very sad that almost three years after TWA flight 800 exploded over Long Island, the United States government has not come out with a final solution on what happened to that plane.
I am also very sad about what happened to me. When I announced in November 1996 during a speech in Cannes in southern France that TWA 800 had been shot down accidentally by a U.S. Navy missile, my life was cut back by the FBI. The U.S. media said that I had told a lie and that I had lost my credibility. It is now clear that many people around the U.S. who are investigating TWA 800 have discovered that the plane was shot down by a missile. Both the FBI and the media had no right to attack me. At that time, Jim Kahlstrom, the FBI regional director who was leading the TWA 800 investigation, was still saying daily that it was possible a missile had shot down the plane. And, in retrospect, I think the media had no right to attack me because I have been an experienced journalist for 35 years, involved in the important stories of our times. I still do some journalism from time to time.
But Kahlstrom had done some very wrong things. He had cut off 375 witnesses who said they had seen missiles going into the air when TWA 800 went down. He said there was no Navy ship in the area that could have shot down the plane. And yet, we have now a tape where he is talking to someone else and where he said there were three Navy ships in the area which could have shot down the plane.
The most important thing that happened early last year was when former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Thomas Moorer came out with a statement on TWA 800. He was not covered by any of the important newspapers in the United States. This is what he said: “All evidence would point to a missile. All those witnesses who saw a streak that hit the airplane – you have to assume it was a missile. It absolutely deserves more investigation, a lot more.” He called for a new Congressional hearing into TWA 800. Late in 1998, Moorer ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, but that wasn’t covered by the press, either.
A little more than two weeks ago, on May 10, the Senate formally investigated the matter. The senate judiciary subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), released testimony that a bomb or missile had downed the plane. Grassley said that the FBI crash investigation was “a model of failure, not success.”
Meanwhile, another important person, retired Navy commander William Donaldson has also come out with a new view: TWA 800 was shot down by a missile – fired not from a Navy ship but a terrorist group.
What is interesting is that a majority of Americans and French believe that what I said was true. I am constantly congratulated for what I said about how TWA 800 was shot down…
…Of course, the United States government has not yet come out with a solution to what happened to TWA 800. With the FBI no longer investigating, the National Transportation Safety Board continues to look into the case. In November 1997, it held a five-day conference in Baltimore, which looked into the possibility that it was a fuel tank explosion. There is a lot of information which refutes this hypothesis. The TWA pilot, who flew the aircraft in question from Athens to New York before TWA 800 started on its final flight from New York to Paris, had done an extensive test of the fuel tank and had concluded that it was in great shape and could not have exploded.
[After speaking at a meeting in Atlanta regarding a future Olympics site] I learned that TWA 800 had crashed. I immediately went back to the hotel and watched television for five hours. Each of the TV shows was showing that it was a missile that had shot down TWA 800. Later, they did not again run those tapes they had shown—probably at the request of the FBI.
Let us now arrive at a government solution, once and for all, so that the surviving family members of the 230 people who died on TWA 800 will finally get the truth.