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Officials Deny Claim That 'Friendly Fire' Downed Jet

November 09, 1996|From Times Wire Services

NEW YORK — Federal officials denied again Friday that "friendly fire" caused the TWA Flight 800 crash, a theory given new life by former newsman Pierre Salinger's claim that a Navy vessel accidentally shot down the jumbo jet.

"We can assure the American public and families of the victims that nothing--nothing--like that did take place or would take place," FBI Assistant Director James K. Kallstrom told reporters.

Bristling at the suggestion that the cause of the crash was covered up, Kallstrom said it is still unknown whether a bomb, a missile or a mechanical failure caused the July 17 explosion that killed all 230 people aboard.

Salinger, a former ABC News correspondent and spokesman for President Kennedy, told reporters in Cannes, France, on Thursday that he had obtained a document detailing how the Navy was testing missiles off Long Island and accidentally hit Flight 800 because it was flying lower than expected.

Investigators have said on several occasions there is no evidence to support the friendly-fire theory.

And again in a joint statement Friday, the FBI, the Navy and the National Transportation Safety Board said: "The so-called friendly fire explanation has been thoroughly pursued with the full cooperation of the U.S. Department of Defense and has been found to be totally without foundation."

On Friday, Salinger, 71, said he was told the document had been on the Internet for two months and acknowledged that his information was at least secondhand. He stood by the information nevertheless.

Salinger acknowledged that he had received the document, which he initially said came from a U.S. Secret Service agent, from an unidentified Frenchman "involved in various government things" who had met a U.S. agent.

A Secret Service spokesman said it had "absolutely no information" that anyone with official ties to the Secret Service was connected to any such document.

The Navy said a P-3 Orion patrol aircraft was on a routine flight about 80 miles from the crash site. It had dropped 39 sonar buoys, all of which were accounted for.

The nearest warship, the Normandy, an Aegis-type missile cruiser, was 185 miles from the jet and not conducting weapons drills.

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