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FBI Denies Newsman’s Claim Navy Missile Shot Down TWA Flight 800

November 8, 1996 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Navy and FBI officials today denied a claim by veteran newsman Pierre Salinger that a Navy vessel accidentally shot down TWA Flight 800 while conducting missile tests, killing all 230 people aboard.

Salinger, a former ABC News correspondent and former spokesman for President Kennedy, told reporters in Cannes, France, that he was willing to give the FBI a document containing ``very important details that show the plane was brought down by a U.S. Navy missile.″

This morning at the seaside Carlton Hotel he displayed two crumpled pages which he said was the document he received five weeks earlier. He would not let reporters read it.

Salinger said it showed the Navy was testing missiles off the coast of New York and was told planes would be flying higher than 21,000 feet. The Navy was unaware that Flight 800 was flying at 13,000 feet because another commercial plane was flying above it, he said.

FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who is heading the criminal probe into the explosion, said investigators ``have looked at this thoroughly and we have absolutely not one shred of evidence that it happened or it could have happened.″

Kallstrom urged Salinger to give the document to the FBI ``as soon as possible.″

Asked if he was prepared to hand it over, the 71-year-old Salinger said: ``Yes I am.″ He said the FBI had not contacted him directly, although he said agents had visited his house in Washington, D.C. He said he planned to spend the weekend in Paris, then travel to Boston on Tuesday.

Investigators have said all along that they do not know whether a missile, mechanical failure or a bomb caused the July 17 explosion that brought down the Paris-bound plane shortly after it left Kennedy Airport.

They have, however, said on several occasions there is no evidence to support the idea of ``friendly fire″ from either a U.S. ship or aircraft.

The FBI has received dozens of calls from people claiming to have seen a missile at the time of the explosion. Rumors that the aircraft was shot down by friendly fire also have abounded on the Internet.

Lt. Cmdr. Rob Newell, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, said the Navy’s only aircraft in the area at the time was a P-3 Orion anti-submarine plane, which does not carry missiles.

He said the nearest warship, the USS Normandy, an Aegis-type missile cruiser, was 185 miles to the south and was not conducting weapons drills. Its computer-driven, long-range radar system was on ``low power,″ reaching out only 130 miles, and ``couldn’t even see the TWA plane,″ Newell said.

The Normandy’s Standard anti-aircraft missiles, which are linked to the radar by computer, have a maximum range of about 90 miles, he said.

Salinger, former vice chairman of Burson-Marsteller, a Washington-based public relations firm, first made his remarks at an aviation conference in Cannes on Thursday. ``The truth must come out,″ he told some 150 executives of the Air Promotion Group. About 40 airlines, including American carriers, are linked to the group.

``The original document was written by an American but it was given to me by someone in French intelligence in Paris,″ he said. The American ``was tied to the U.S. Secret Service and has important contacts in the U.S. Navy.″ He refused to elaborate.

Salinger said the document was dated Aug. 22 and was posted on the Internet in September. He did not know the letter’s Internet site and said he hadn’t seen the site himself.

At least one Internet posting in September included a letter attributed to an unidentified former ``safety chairman″ of the Air Line Pilots Association. The letter said Flight 800 ``was shot down by a U.S. Navy guided missile ship which was in area W-105″ off the southeast coast of Long Island, which it said was used by the military for missile firings.

An ALPA spokesman has called the claim far-fetched. Officials have denied any Navy ships were conducting missile tests in the area at the time.

Salinger said he decided to go public after the media ignored a story in Paris Match magazine last week that examined the missile theory.

The article prominently featured a photograph taken the night of the explosion that appeared to show a cigar-shaped object crossing the sky. The Associated Press examined the picture in July and recognized that in order for the photographer to have captured the view from the deck of the Long Island restaurant where it was taken she must have been facing north _ away from the crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

Linda Kabot, who was photographing a party, conceded at the time the photo ``couldn’t show anything in relation to the actual crash.″

Salinger said ``some very important people″ he showed the document to had told him to wait until after Tuesday’s U.S. elections because officials ``probably won’t tell the truth until after the American election.″

``If the news came out that an American naval ship shot down that plane it would be something that would make the public very very unhappy and could have an effect on the election,″ he said.

Asked if he thought the White House knew about the information and covered it up, he said: ``No. I have no idea.″