TWA Flight 800

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The remains of the plane.
Some dare call it
Icon conspiracy.svg
What THEY don't want
you to know!
Sheeple wakers
The conspiracy-type people who are still out there saying we were wrong... we knew we were right, and I got tired of arguing with people who had their minds made up. So I just turned away from TWA and didn't talk about it for a long time.
—Retired NTSB metallurgist James Wildey, interviewed for Mayday

TWA (Trans World Airlines) Flight 800, a Boeing 747-131, exploded over the Atlantic in 1996, en route to Paris from New York. It was the second-deadliest airline accident in U.S. history, killing 230 people.

According to the official accident report, released in 2000, the plane went down after a fuel tank exploded, most probably as the result of a short circuit.[1] The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and 6 former NTSB investigators dispute the claim that explosion was an initial event.[2]


The event became the subject of a conspiracy theory, perhaps the first one to gain popularity by means of the Internet. The conspiracy theory was bolstered by journalist and former White House Press Secretary Pierre SalingerWikipedia after a weeks-old hoax document was emailed to him by a former pilot, leading to the coinage of the term "Pierre Salinger Syndrome", a term for someone who uncritically believes everything they read on the Internet.[3] Fortunately, all the conspiracy theory did was lead the FBI on wild goose chases while the NTSB found evidence of the actual cause, but it had the potential to turn the investigation into a repeat of Arrow Air Flight 1285R,Wikipedia[note 1] preventing lessons from being learned and leading to more fuel tanks going boom.

The official investigation of the accident was the most costly and largest one of its kind. Some conspiracy theorists question the findings of the NTSB report[4] and allege that the plane was brought down either by the US Army or by terrorists, by means of either firing a missile at the plane or exploding a bomb on the plane.[5] Eyewitnesses claimed that they saw a streak below the jet that they thought could be a trail of a guided missile.[citation needed] The streak is also visible in low-quality film footage of the explosion.[citation needed][note 2] There is otherwise no evidence to suggest that any missiles were involved in the accident.[6]

In 2013, as a documentary film about the investigation was being released, a group of former investigators was working to re-open the investigation into the causes of the crash, claiming that the original report had been falsified.[7] While it is entirely possible that something other than or in addition to the fuel tank explosion may have been involved, this would likely have been the result of a mistake in the report rather than a conspiracy.

In 2021, a civil lawsuit Krick et al v. Raytheon Corporation was filed, claiming that the airliner was shot down with an SM-2 (though it does not state what model SM-2 it was shot down with).[8] The claims are that military radar had detected a "high velocity" projectile heading towards the aircraft twenty-eight seconds before the break-up and that eyewitness accounts of a missile that differed from the NTSB explanation and other eyewitnesses shown a "flare" heading towards the flight and then an explosion. The claim is that the US Navy accidentally shot down the aircraft during a routine test. They then cite a claim that an individual claimed to be on the boat that shot the missile and then claimed that the FBI removed all records of the launch. The NTSB and the defendants deny this. It is also important to note that the current forensic evidence suggests a fuel tank explosion. Most of the original eyewitnesses also did not see a missile. Only 13 of the 230 next-of-kin of the TWA 800 accident are in this lawsuit. The case is still ongoing. No official documents were released as proof of a cover-up yet, though a plaintiff in the lawsuit claims to have proof from a "Freedom of Information Act"Wikipedia request.

"Evidence" and their explanations[edit]

It is important to note that TWA 800 'truthers' dismiss most contradicting evidence (forensic metallurgy, explosive tests by the FBI, CVR sound spectrum studies showing no missile sound signatures) as simply fabricated, akin to how Creationists may claim that the half-life of carbon-isotopes or the expansion of the universe proving an old one was fabricated by God, or how a 9/11 'truther' believes that the Pentagon was hit with a missile and claims evidence of a plane to be fabricated.

TWA 800 conspiracy theories also tend to use an appeal to authority due to a former NTSB investigator (who is not required to look at evidence himself, only to relay how the investigation is going to the public) and the physicist Ray Lahr (whose work expands to literally anything except aviation and aeronautics) claiming that they believe that the investigation had falsified results. Almost all other NTSB employees, including the chief of Fire and Metallurgy, believe the NTSB version of events to be true.

TL;DR: TWA 800 conspiracy theories like to cherry pick and listen to experts commenting on the crash in other fields who do not have degrees in anything related to aviation. Don't waste your time arguing unless they are unsure of their own belief.

"Eyewitnesses saw a missile!"[edit]

Out of the six-hundred-seventy witnesses, fifty-six eyewitnesses saw a 'flare' appear from the surface followed by disappearing at a spot for some time, then exploding.

Rebuttal: The eyewitness accounts that are quoted and referenced were ambiguous as to the actual origination point of the missile. Many of the witnesses only reported an object that merely looked like it was coming away from the ocean.[9] Another point of contention is that the colour of the 'flare' is different from known missile colours. Eyewitnesses generally described the explosion as a "reddish-orange dime"[10] and the ones cited as proof of a missile from the water/surface describe it as "pinkish-red" or "orange-reddish."

Missiles almost always have black smoke as a streak due to the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons which creates the soot seen in the exhaust of missiles,[11][12] which does not match with the eyewitness accounts of a differently coloured after-streak, especially white, which would be only visible from the location near launch when the hydrocarbon-based fuel didn't have enough time to combust to produce the black colour. The actual flame near the missile body is usually white or orange as tested within the NTSB missile visibility study which actually launched a missile and told observers on ships up to five nautical miles away to see if they could see the missile body and color of flame. The most common reported flame colours were white and yellow, with only one describing it as any sort of mix (yellow-red)[13]

The NTSB missile visibility study also gives us an idea of whether or not the witnesses could realistically actually see the missile body or not. No participants from one to five nautical miles away from launch did. This is because missiles are small compared to the rest of the sky, which is something that TWA 800 'truthers' appear to not be able to process.

All of the above doesn't even touch the iceberg of the incorrect missile physics claimed by TWA 800 'truthers' which is detailed more in the final NTSB accident report (section 2.22), which goes into detail about incorrect timing between the flashes of light and explosion versus actual timing discrepancies of real missiles and many more things that we won't mention ourselves in order to prevent this section from being the entire size of Wikipedia.[14]

"The Cockpit Voice Recorder has not been released. This means they are covering up evidence of an explosion."[edit]

Rebuttal: The NTSB is legally not allowed to release the CVR of any accident or incident aircraft.[15] The airline of a reported aircraft is allowed once the investigation is over, but these releases have only occurred during civil litigation between airlines and families and are also usually never released outside of a courtroom voluntarily by the airline. The NTSB is required to release a transcript, though.[16]

What is important to note is that the CVR transcript shows faulty fuel readings being commented on by the pilot, which would strengthen the NTSB's case of a CWT explosion.[17] It's then no wonder that focus is put on this to discredit the CVR as much as possible.

"The CVR recorded a huge spike in the last milliseconds of the CVR recording. This is indicative of a missile."[edit]

A sound-spectrum study by the NTSB was done that compared the CVR's of Air India 182 (bombing), United 811 (cargo door breakup) Pan Am 103 (bombing) and Philippine Air 143 (CWT explosion) and saw the sound signatures they made. It is well documented that certain failures of an aircraft can be spotted from the sound signature, acting as a marker for a cause of a structural break-up due to both the unique sounds caused, but also noise from the fuselage shaking and breaking, which can cause the microphone to vibrate somewhat in a unique pattern.[18] The TWA 800 showed the biggest similarity to the Philippine Air 143 CWT explosion. CWT explosions are characterized by a small and loud peak in the last microseconds of a CVR, while the bomb CVR recordings were generally more drawn out and lasted for more time before termination of the CVR, up to the milliseconds. The cargo door failure did not destroy the aircraft, and it was an initial peak, followed by a similar pattern to the bombing CVR's, then dropping out of audible range.


  1. This was a case where new CASB appointee Les Filotas muscled his way into the investigation, refused to accept the majority conclusion of icing, tunnel-visionedWikipedia on Lebanese terrorists claiming they bombed the plane, and published a minority report with three cronies citing an in-flight explosion despite evidence specifically ruling that out. The majority were unable to shut Filotas and his merry band up because nobody survived to say that the plane wasn't flying properly, the smoking gun evidence had melted, and the CVR recording was unusable. The fiasco caused the majority's recommendations to improve de-icing procedures to not be taken seriously, leading to further ice-related crashes.
  2. Of course, low-quality footage is rich grounds for apophenia and/or pareidolia due to the brain being forced to "fill in the blanks" to compensate for the image quality being shit; see also the Face on Mars "debacle" for another example of that sort of thing.