TWA Flight 800 alternative theories, advocated by independent investigation groups and individuals, including 6 members of the original National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation team, allege that the crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 (TWA 800) was due to causes other than those determined by the NTSB. The NTSB stated that the probable cause of the crash of TWA 800 was an explosion of flammable fuel/air vapors in a fuel tank, most likely from a short-circuit. Alternative theories state that the crash was due to either a U.S. Navy, terrorist missile strike or an on-board bomb. On June 19, 2013, a documentary alleging that the investigation into the crash was a cover-up made news headlines with statements from six members of the original investigation team, now retired, who also filed a petition to reopen the probe.
TWA 800, a Boeing 747-131, was a scheduled international passenger flight from New York City, New York to Rome, Italy, with a stopover in Paris, France. At about 20:31 EDT, on July 17, 1996, about 12 minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), TWA 800 exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York. Of the 230 passengers and crew on board, no survivors were found, making TWA 800 the second deadliest aircraft accident in the United States at that time.
While investigators from the NTSB arrived on scene the following day, many witnesses to the accident had seen a "streak of light" that was usually described as ascending, moving to a point where a large fireball appeared. There was intense public interest in these witness reports and much speculation that the reported streak of light was a missile that had struck TWA 800, causing the airplane to explode. Consequently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initiated a parallel criminal investigation alongside the NTSB's accident investigation.
One of the first widely reported criticisms of the official investigation was by Pierre Salinger, who on November 7, 1996, held a press conference in Cannes, France. He stated he had proof that TWA 800 was shot down by friendly fire, and the incident was being covered up by the government. Salinger said "he was basing the claims on information he saw in a document given to him six weeks ago by someone in French Intelligence with close contacts to U.S. officials", but refused to name his source. CNN quickly found Salinger's document to be "a widely accessible e-mail letter that has been circulating for at least six weeks on the Internet's World Wide Web." Salinger's evidence was actually an e-mail from Richard Russell, a retired airline pilot.
Salinger's previous position as White House Press Secretary, as well as long time correspondent for ABC News, initially gave credence to his statements, transforming them from "internet conspiracies" into the mainstream. However, under scrutiny, his allegations, and the reports issued with his collaborators, became the subject of much criticism in the media. Bob Francis, the vice chairman of the NTSB, was quoted as saying "He was an idiot, he didn't know what he was talking about, and he was totally irresponsible.
On April 9, 1998, Elaine Scarry's article in The New York Review of Books, titled "The Fall of TWA 800: The Possibility of Electromagnetic Interference", was published. Scarry, a professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard, proposed that electromagnetic interference, also referred to as "High Intensity Radiated Fields" (HIRF), could have been the cause of the TWA 800 crash, specifically energy emitted from a U.S. military craft. Later that year, The New York Review of Books published a series of letters between Scarry and NTSB Chairman James Hall discussing the possibility of HIRF being causal to the accident, and what steps the NTSB was taking in its investigation to determine if it was a factor.
After the adoption of the Final Report, Scarry published another article in the New York Review of Books titled "TWA 800 and Electromagnetic Interference: Work Already Completed and Work that Still Needs to be Done". While praising the initial research done by the NTSB into HIRFs, she also stated that much more additional research was needed. Scarry criticized what she felt was a bias in the investigation to the "meticulous" detailing of events inside the airplane, while not fully exploring the electromagnetic environment outside the airplane. Scarry focused on a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion close to TWA 800 as being a possible source of electromagnetic interference and cause of the CWT explosion on TWA 800.