For additional information contact:
Attorney for Plaintiff
JOHN H. CLARKE, Esq. Telephone: (202) 332-3030
Capt. H. RAY LAHR
(310) 459 2232
Lisa Michelson remembers the moment she saw the CIA’s video animation depicting TWA Flight 800’s death throes and the seconds in which her son was dying aboard the Paris-bound jumbo jet in July 1996.
“I don’t understand aeronautics but when I saw the CIA film of the nose coming off and the plane climbing over 3,000 feet I wanted to vomit,” the West Hills, California mother said. “I thought, ‘How can they pull this off?’
“In my own naïve way I thought about a hunter shooting a bird and hitting it in the head and him going back to the lodge and telling his hunting buddies how he shot this bird and it started flying up, up, up. I wonder how many of his buddies would have believed that fable. I didn’t believe the CIA either. I’m not a scientist but I do know what does and doesn’t make sense.”
On Dec. 15, a Los Angeles Federal Court judge will hear arguments about how much evidence U.S. officials must reveal to support their claims that a decapitated Boeing 747 could soar thousands of feet after 80,000 pounds of nose and cockpit were blown off. The suit seeking the information comes six years after the FBI presented the CIA-produced animated hypothesis of Flight 800’s last seconds and the National Transportation Safety Board subsequently presented its own versions.
The issue is important because the FBI, using the CIA’s analysis, and the NTSB concluded that hundreds of witnesses did not see a missile streaking toward the TWA jumbo jet off New York’s coast on July 17, 1996. The agencies’ officials said that what the witnesses saw was flaming fuel from the crippled airliner as it soared upward after its nose was blown off by a hypothetical catastrophic series of mechanical mishaps.
The FBI announced that there was no evidence a bomb or missile struck TWA Flight 800 and caused the deaths of all 230 passengers and crew members aboard. FBI officials said that although scores of witnesses believed they had seen some upward-bound object hit the plane, the observers were deceived by the disintegrating plane’s death spiral upward.
That so-called “zoom climb” was impossible, retired United Airlines pilot and captain H. Ray Lahr of Malibu said. It’s his suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, that’s being heard in Los Angeles.
Lahr, a former aviation accident investigator and safety officer, filed the suit after the NTSB refused to give him the information and calculations it used for its own “zoom climb” analysis or the information and calculations the CIA used.
“I don't believe the zoom-climb ever happened,” Lahr said. “Boeing provided before-and-after data to the NTSB, and it was published in the accident report. Eighty thousand pounds of nose and cockpit were blown off. This shifted the center-of-gravity far aft and generated about 6,000,000 foot-pounds of nose-up torque. The aircraft immediately pitched up and stalled.
“The wing probably failed right then since its center box structure had been blown apart,” he continued. “But using Boeing's data, I calculated that even if the wing had held together, the most the plane could have climbed is a few hundred feet, not the 3,200 feet claimed by the CIA. That is why I want the data and calculations that were used to produce the CIA and NTSB videos.”
Lahr said he tried to get the information at the NTSB’s final public hearing about the Flight 800 crash but was cut off by NTSB director Dr. Bernard Loeb. Lahr said he then exchanged letters with NTSB Chairman Jim Hall but got no answers. Lahr then filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA. The CIA said it used data and conclusions provided by the NTSB. The NTSB said it couldn’t release the information because it was proprietary to Boeing. A Boeing press release said it provided “basic aerodynamic information to assist in the CIA’s analysis of the airplane’s performance (but) we are not aware of the data that was used to develop the video.”
“My appeal of the NTSB decision was refused, so my only recourse was a lawsuit,” Lahr said.
The retired pilot has an engineering degree from the University of Southern California. As a member of the Air Line Pilots Association Safety Committee, he investigated eight major accidents that involved large jet airliners or freighters. Two involved aircraft that crashed into deep ocean water, just as Flight 800 did.
Lahr said other pilots who were eyewitnesses to Flight 800’s crash and aloft at the time refute the zoom-climb hypothesis. Two have filed affidavits in support of Lahr’s suit.
Retired Air National Guard helicopter pilot Maj. Fred Meyer, a Vietnam War combat veteran and an attorney, said he saw a streak of light with a trajectory like a shooting star explode near the airliner. Based on his combat experience, he said, the light was an explosive projectile, “definitely” a military warhead. He and the rescue helicopter crew, which happened to be on a nearby training mission, watched the fireball immediately plummet to the water as they raced to look for survivors. There was none.
Eastwind Airlines pilot David McClaine’s aerial view of the Flight 800 fireball made him the first person to transmit the message of the tragedy to authorities. He was piloting a Boeing 737 when he saw a light ahead of him in the sky explode into a ball of flames, divide into two large streamers, and immediately fall to the water. Had Flight 800 zoom climbed, it would have done so right through McClaine’s course.
Paul Beaver, a missile specialist for the British military publishing house Jane’s, said both accounts sounded like a missile striking the passenger jet.
Lahr’s is one of two TWA-related FOIA suits moving through Federal Court.
On the East Coast, another engineer has taken the FBI to court in an attempt to acquire the forensic evidence about hundreds of foreign objects the FBI seized from the bodies of the crash victims during their autopsies. The evidence was never shared later with the coroner nor requested by the NTSB.
Graeme Sephton, who works at the University of Massachusetts, said he realized that, “unlike other evidence collected from the bottom of the Atlantic, the foreign body evidence is definitive because there is no chain-of-custody ambiguity. It cannot readily be explained away.”
Sephton filed his FOIA in 1998. In early 2000 the FBI said it could find only 23 pages of responsive documents relating to the objects that were removed from 89 of the victims. In July 2000, Sephton sued the FBI for its apparent withholding of documents. That three-year litigation has produced documents confirming that substantial forensic lab data were withheld from the NTSB and the coroner. Among the 550 pages the FBI has submitted to the Federal District Court in Springfield, Mass, the FBI has surrendered only one page of actual forensic results.
One of the FBI affidavits to the court acknowledged that the FBI had not and would not do a simple keyword search in either of the two computer databases that a former FBI scientist identified as most likely containing the responsive records.
In August 2003 the District Court reaffirmed its 2001 judgment in favor of the FBI and returned the case to the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston for final review. On Oct. 24, (2003) the First Circuit rejected the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case back to Springfield District Court. The First Circuit directed the lower court to now finally “resolve the FOIA issues raised by Sephton.”
A new hearing date is pending.
Apart from the single page released to Sephton, the FBI has released only one other forensic autopsy laboratory report out of those missing hundreds, Sephton said. That report, originally classified “Secret” by the FBI, was an analysis performed by Brookhaven National Lab to evaluate 20 small (~1/4” diameter) pellets removed during autopsy of the person identified by the medical examiner as case 96-5037. The pellets were designated Item “1B-28.”
The lab report showed that a sample pellet was composed mostly of aluminum with traces of titanium, zirconium, cerium and barium.
Such compounds are consistent with incendiary pellets used in some missiles, Sephton said. The report merely concluded “unknown origin.” The details of 1B-28 were among more than 200 fairly innocuous pages of documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from another independent researcher, Don Collins, in California.
Even if the remarkable incendiary components could be explained, Sephton said, the official low-velocity type fuel explosion could not shatter aluminum into small pellets.
In Los Angeles, the federal suit to dislodge the NTSB’s data about Flight 800’s alleged “zoom climb” is scheduled before Judge A. Howard Matz on Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. in Courtroom 14 at U.S. District Court, 312 N. Spring St.
Lisa Michelson is supporting Lahr’s suit in hopes she will get more information about the death of her son, Yon Rojany, who was 19 at the time of the Flight 800 incident. He was on his way to Italy to try out for the Italian basketball league.
“I never could, and still don’t, understand how our government can discount so many eye witnesses,” Michelson said. “I also couldn’t understand why these people were not allowed to testify at the NTSB hearing. Too many things just didn’t add up. The majority of people to whom I spoke thought me to be a conspiracy nut so I just stopped talking to them and tried to find out as much as I could on my own. Ray Lahr’s suit will help.”
INTERNET SITES PROVIDING FOIA SUITS INFORMATION AND FLIGHT 800 CRASH RESEARCH DATA. These websites are in public domain and can be published.
http://webpages.charter.net/raylahr Website provides updates about U.S. Federal Court lawsuit seeking data and documents about alleged “zoom-climb” of TWA Flight 800 after the Boeing 747’s nose and First-Class area detached following mid-air explosion. Contains charts, graphics, calculations, court documents, history of suit, etc.
http://www.twa800.com Association of Retired Aviation Professionals’ website. Contains updates of legal issues, eyewitness reports, charts, graphics, calculations, media reports, coverage, etc. at TWA Flight 800 explosion and crash. ARAP members include former military, civilian and aviation professionals who are committed to independently investigating the crash. ARAP requested the Congress conduct its own investigation.
http://www.flight800.org Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization website. Includes eyewitness accounts and sketches, legal and court updates, charts, graphics, illustrations, and information about radar, debris and explosives evidence relating to TWA Flight 800 incident. FIRO, founded by physicist Dr. Tom Stalcup, was formed in 1999 by a group of citizens concerned with the course of the official investigation into the crash.
www.ntsb.gov/events/TWA800/exhibits/Ex_4A_appZ.pdf contains the transcript of Capt. David McClaine’s eyewitness account of TWA Flight 800’s destruction. McClaine was an Eastwind Airlines pilot whose jetliner was in Flight 800’s area. He radioed the first known report of Flight 800’s mid-air explosion.