TODAY | June 20, 2013
>>> we want to begin this half hour with detail s on a story we brought you on wednesday. it is claimed that twa 800 was brought down by a missile 17 years ago. people are speaking out in a new documentary and petitioning the nts go. re-examine the case. in a moment, we will speak to the produce other that have film and mat hon led the fbi 's investigation. we begin with nbc's tom costello. good morning to you.
>> reporter: hi, savannah. important to note only one member of this group is a former ntsb member himself, investigator. twa 800 was flying from jfk to paris, all 230 people on board died when it exploded. the ntsb says it will look at the petition to re-examine the findings but it says its investigation was exhaustive and have to see compelling new evidence before it reopens the case. july 18, 1996 , the "today" show opened with terror terrible news.
>> off the south coast of long island, search and rescue crews are hard at work this morning.
>> reporter: the night before, twa 800 , a 747 bound for paris you had exploded 12 miles out over the atlantic. soon, eyewitnesses reported a missile brought down the plane. the fbi , atf, cia and ntsb all launched investigations. but as forensic teams recovered then painstakingly reassembled the plane, investigators came to a different conclusion. an electrical short had touched off a fuel vapor explosion in the 747's senter fuel tank . the missile sightings had likely been an optical illusion .
>> you report an explosion is that correct, sir?
>> yes. it blew up in the air and then we saw two fireballs go down into the water r were now, a new film claims the government ignored or covered up witness accounts and radar evidence of a mills. hank hughes was an ntsb highway investigator called in to help on twa 800 .
>> i believe that the twa flight 800 exploded as a result of an explosion exterior from the outside of the aircraft there's no physical evidence to support that the center fuel tank exploded.
>> reporter: hank hughes is one of just six people making you the allegation. the others include a twa investigator, investigators from the pilots and flight attendants ' unions, the chief medical examiner and outside forensics consultant but the former head of major investigations at the ntsb says it simply isn't true.
>> there is no evidence anything from the outside penetrating through the tank, no evidence to of a bomb inside the fuselage itself and just looking at all the wreckage, you don't see any indications of a missile impact or a missile detonating at close range.
>> reporter: ntsb investigation is viewed as the most exhaustive in its history. it lasted four years, included 17,000 pages of documents. today, the reassembled twa 800 sits at the ntsb academy to help train investigators. savannah?
>> tom costello, thank you. tom stolkops producer of this flight 800 film and is petitioning to reopen the case. good morning to you. as which heard, this is a four-year investigation, $40 million, literally took pieces of the wreckage from the bottom of the sea and reasell belled them in a hang gar. this does not, at first glance, scream coverup.
>> sure it may not at first glance, but if you look de details it really does. what we have shown in this document very corroborating the eyewitness reports, i have to remind you not one of the 670 eyewitness was ever allowed to testify, that does scream a little bit of a coverup. base delicious radar evidence confirm theirs accounts of a streak moving toward the aircraft consistent with the trajectory of that streak, a detonation that exploded out the right side of the aircraft. not only confirms their accounts but refute the ntsb theory.
>> why? what possibly would be the moat vagts to not say if it was in fact, a terrorist attack , come right out and say that?
>> that's very good question now, not going to answer that what we really want to do is reopen the investigation to get these questions answered because i know that's on the public's mind now.
>> wait a minute, isn't motive important here? you are alleging that the federal government and multiple agencies perpetrated a huge crowd on the american public, isn't the motivation important here?
>> we have evidence of that coverup, it's clear. it's documented in our documentary. the motive cause knows speculate. i can have my speculate -- i can give ideas of what i think they were thinking at the time but i can't get in the heads inside of james, coming up next who, by the way, who stopped the eyewitnesses from testifying. he should answer that when he is on.
>> we will ask him about that. let me ask you about the investigators that are part of your documentary there are six of them. one of them is a former ntsb member, a highway investigator who was called in. they waited 17 years to come forward and tell their story. if this was so important if they believed that was terrorist attack , how could they wait so long?
>> well, hank hughes testified before the senate in 1999 . the senate didn't do anything. charles grassley listened to hank hughes talked about the fbi coming in, smashing wreckage with a hammer y did they do that? hank said i had no idea. grassley should have continued the investigation at that point.
>> other members you talked to, other investigators did wait though, he didn't they wait until they retired?
>> some did, yes. bob young . again, he was with twa and again, not easy being a whistle brother this country. some of these whistle brothers don't get a fair shake.
>> a thought-provoking documentary. thank you so much. we want to turn to the former assistant director of the fbi who led the bureau's investigation. mr. cal strom, good morning to you, sir.
>> good morning.
>> what is your response to these allegations that you and other members of the federal government conducted a huge coverup and that, in fact, it was a missile potentially that took down twa flight 800 ?
>> nothing he just said is true. i mean, that's my reaction. we had a massive investigation. the fbi was there because of title xviii u.s. code with a criminal investigative agency. 747s don't blow up in fireballs did we know it was an act of terrorism? certainly not. was there a chance? yes, there was. so, we eventually --
>> did you look into that, right?
>> we spent a year and a half with 1,000 fbi agents , experts from the military on missiles. we took the missile theory extremely serious. we interviewed all the eyewitnesss, some numerous times. and we took it very serious. we knew in the fbi there were shoulder-fired man pad missiles available, that they were stolen from arm ries, that they were left on battlefields in afghanistan and other places. so, we took it extremely serious. then we got pierre salinger talking about the " uss normandy " we did a military investigation of alls aast sets in the area. it didn't happen.
>> i think one thing that confounds foam this day is,is hundreds of people, hundreds of witnesses felt they saw a light streaking up toward the plane. how do you account for that?
>> well, i account for it that they certainly saw something. the vast majority of the witnesses, when we interviewed them, heard the bang and then looked up in the sky.u and it's simple physics they heard an event that happened somewhere between 30 seconds and 55 sends before they heard the bang, the speed of sound , the speed of light . so they were looking at a plane in distress that was breaking apart. and probably climbing 3,000 feet. so they saw things going up, they saw things coming off. and plus, you know, i don't mean to degrade the witnesses, they reported what they saw and they are good -- they are good americans and we appreciate their participation but eyewitness testimony is traditionally not very accurate.
>> in the ten seconds i have left, sir, what do you think about the impact of reopening this, re-examining it, all these years later?
>> well, you know, we always said at the closing press conference that we are 99% sure that we -- this was not an act of terror. you know, wie had to prove a negative. ntsb 's conclusion of the center fuel tank exploding is their summary of the investigation r the plane is still in a hangar in virginia. so if they have got this magical evidence, you know, we can certainly look at that.
>> james kallstrom, thank you very