I got involved in one of the two great media scandals of our time – the Obama ascendancy being the other – fully by happenstance.
In the year 2000, investigative reporter James Sanders came to Kansas City to talk about his research into the fate of TWA flight 800, the plane that crashed into the waters off Long Island on July 17, 1996, sixteen years ago today.
Sanders chose Kansas City because the town had historically been the headquarters for TWA. As a result, many pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants still lived there. The audience was filled with them. Almost to a person, they believed what he was saying – the plane had been shot out of the sky.
Afterwards, I went out to dinner with James and his wife, Elizabeth, and a dozen other people. I sat next to Elizabeth, a sweet, unassuming former TWA flight attendant and trainer of Philippine descent. She told me in painful detail how at one of the many memorials she attended after the crash – 53 TWA employees were among the 230 killed – she ran into an old friend, Captain Terrell Stacey.
Stacey had flown the 747 that would become TWA Flight 800 from Paris to New York the night before it was destroyed. In fact, he was in charge of all TWA 747 pilot activity within the airline. So it was logical that he would be among the first TWA employees assigned to the crash investigation.
Elizabeth thought of Stacey as “a straight arrow, go-by-the-rules kind of guy” and respected him for it. After a phone introduction arranged by Elizabeth, James Sanders and Terrell Stacey agreed to meet. “What he told me over those first hours,” Sanders would later tell me, “was one thing: ‘I know there’s a cover-up in progress.’”
As a result of that one introduction, the FBI arrested Elizabeth and oversaw her conviction on federal conspiracy charges. James and Stacey had been arrested, too. The crime? Stacey had sent Sanders a tiny piece of foam rubber to have tested. The Sanderses were still on probation when I met them. When I heard this story from Elizabeth, I thought maybe there was something there worth pursuing.
As a video producer, I talked to the Sanders about creating a documentary, but, as I explained, I had no interest unless they could prove to me beyond a doubt that the plane was shot down. They could, and they did. The result was a documentary called Silenced, which has been inexplicably removed from YouTube. It is still available, however, through my website. To explain how I know the plane was shot down would take a book, which James Sanders and I proceeded to write. The result,First Strike, is available through Amazon, including on the Kindle.
In the way of summary, on the night of July 17, 1996, and into the early morning hours of the 18th, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Deputy National Security Adviser Sandy Berger huddled fretfully in the family quarters of the White House.
The election they thought was in the bag no longer was.
The air-traffic controllers had already reported in. The radar data told a story of an unknown object striking the plane seconds before it exploded. And now, eyewitness reports were flooding in.
The explosion had taken place right at sunset, just 10 miles off the coast, on a perfect night, with thousands of people looking out over the sea from Long Island’s popular south shore. FBI witness No. 73, an aviation buff, watched a “red streak” with a “light gray smoke trail” move up toward the airliner, and then go “past the right side and above the aircraft before arcking [sic] back down toward the aircrafts [sic] right wing.” She even reported the actual breakup sequence before the authorities figured it out on their own.
High-school principal Joseph Delgado told the FBI that he had seen an object like “a firework” ascend “fairly quick,” then “slow” and “wiggle,” then “speed up” and get “lost.” Then he saw a second object that “glimmered” in the sky, higher than the first, then a red dot move up to that object, then a puff of smoke, then another puff, then a “firebox.” He drew a precise image of the same.