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TWA 800 Radar Blip Was Navy Plane, FBI Says

March 21, 1997| From Associated Press

NEW YORK — A mysterious blip on the official radar tape of the sky just before TWA Flight 800 exploded belongs to an unarmed Navy plane passing 7,000 feet above the jetliner, the FBI's chief investigator said Thursday.

Former ABC-TV correspondent Pierre Salinger and other friendly-fire theorists claim to have obtained authentic radar tapes showing a missile racing toward the flight moments before it blew up.

But James K. Kallstrom, in his first public explanation of the blip, said the official tape shows an unarmed Navy P-3 Orion flying at 20,000 feet, with the knowledge of air traffic controllers but without a working transponder, an instrument that allows controllers to monitor and identify an aircraft.

"When your transponder is not on, it shows on the radar screen as a solid line. And if you look at that, I guess if you're a school kid, you could say that looks like a missile or a cigar or a pencil," he told business executives at a luncheon at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Kallstrom said the line makes it appear to the untrained eye as if the planes nearly intersected, although the Boeing 747 was flying at only 13,600 feet when the P-3 crossed overhead moments before the explosion off Long Island last July 17.

All 230 people aboard the Paris-bound flight were killed.

Kallstrom refused to talk about anything being examined by a grand jury in Brooklyn that is probing how Salinger and his freelance team of investigators may have obtained the tapes.

Again attacking Salinger and others trying to prove a Navy missile doomed the plane, Kallstrom called the theory "total nonsense" and an "absolute charade on the American public."

Kallstrom said the missile theory remains on the board in part because there were 200 reports from citizens saying they saw flares or tracks of light in the air before the explosion.

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