Conservatism, Sorted
Kids These Days

TWA 800: Skepticism Revived

Well, this story came as a bit of a shock. It's been 17 years now since flight TWA 800 mysteriously exploded shortly after taking off from JFK Airport. When I saw the headline it took me a moment to remember what it referred to.

At the time of the event I was a member of an email list that focused on the scandals of the Clinton administration. (The Web, remember, was far from what it is now.) There was a certain amount...ok, a good deal...of loony fringe stuff on the list. But among the participants there was also a number of people who were clear-headed and analytical and knowledgeable in various fields (or at least claimed to be--of course I had no way of verifying it, but they seemed generally credible and non-nutty). And they were skeptical from the beginning about the official story on TWA 800. They didn't believe that the fuel tank could have exploded as claimed, and more importantly they thought the post-explosion behavior of the plane was wildly inconsistent with that theory. I had, again, no way of knowing if their objections on various technical grounds were justified. But they didn't seem like cranks, and it made me wonder about the official story. And now experts who participated in the investigation are emerging to say the initial report was false.

Anyone who is skeptical of the official story of an event like this runs the risk of being accused of being a "conspiracy theorist." But there is a huge difference between skepticism and theorizing. You can doubt one story without proposing another. If I walk out one morning and find my car missing, and when I report the apparent theft to the police they tell me that Harvey the rabbit was seen heading north on U.S. 98 in my car at 4am, I don't have to have an alternative explanation in order to be doubtful of that one.

One does of course naturally an explanation. If the official TWA 800 story is false, what did happen? Terrorism is an obvious possibility, but wouldn't terrorists have claimed responsibility? There wouldn't be much point in engaging in an act of terror and keeping silent while it was explained away as an accident. Some terrible military accident, maybe? I don't have any ideas. But the credentials of the doubters in this case are pretty hard to dismiss.


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