FACTUAL ERRORS IN AC360’s Re-airing of “No Survivors”

The CNN No Survivors program on the crash of TWA Flight 800 presented invalid analyses and misleading information in support of the government’s theory while dismissing and ignoring real evidence pointing to other reasons for the jetliner’s demise.

CNN Crash Sequence Animation

CNN’s animation of the jetliner flying onward and upward after it exploded conflicts with the hard evidence provided by the many radar sites that recorded the crash. The radar sites show Flight 800 maintaining or slightly increasing its ground speed immediately after losing electrical power. This means that Flight 800 descended immediately after exploding. Gravity accelerated the jetliner as it went down, just as a bicyclist increases speed going down hills.

This means that the climb shown in CNN’s animation and in government simulations are invalid. Indeed, every government simulation and animation released to date conflicts with the radar data at precisely the point when Flight 800 is alleged to have climbed. Independently run simulations showing that Flight 800 descended immediately, fit with the radar data.

So why show Flight 800 climbing? The government used the climb to explain the accounts of nearly 200 eyewitnesses who reported seeing a rising streak of light or flare before the crash. Without the climb, the government’s theory does not account for the rising streak of light seen before the crash. CNN’s animation, which also includes a climb, does not fit with what the hard data shows.

The Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization [FIRO] publicly reported the discrepancies between the radar data and government flight simulations in an August 1999 press conference in Washington DC that C-Span and other national news outlets covered. FIRO’s findings were based on the official radar-recorded trajectory of the aircraft. After the FIRO press conference, the NTSB conducted several more simulations, none of which matched the radar data. To date, the NTSB has not done any simulation that matches the radar data.

If the NTSB admitted that Flight 800 did not climb—which is what the hard evidence or radar data shows—it would not be able to explain why hundreds of eyewitness reported seeing a rising streak of light moments before the crash. So, the NTSB has stuck with the climb scenario and maintained that the rising streak seen by so many was the aircraft itself. Again, the hard data—the radar evidence—shows otherwise.

NTSB Chairman Hall addressed the data showing that Flight 800 did not climb during the final hearing on TWA Flight 800 in August 2000. Hall asked Witness Group Chairman Dr David Mayer: “Now, if you could show that the airplane did not climb after the nose departed, will that change your analysis?” Mayer responded, “No sir…” Chairman Hall did not ask Mayer why his analysis would not change if the evidence showed that Flight 800 did not climb.

When Hall asked Mayer if he would change his conclusion if the evidence indicated that a different scenario was valid and Mayer responded that he would not, Mayer was being scientifically dishonest.

The Missile Theory

No Survivors producer David Mattingly used the government’s flawed reasoning to dismiss the missile theory. The government, through Mattingly’s leading questions, said that there was no evidence of a missile anywhere on the plane. However, according to the NTSB’s own lead TWA 800 investigator, former Aviation Safety Director Dr. Bernard Loeb, the localized re-crystallization of metal on the center wing tank could have been caused by a missile. Indeed, the NTSB did not rule out a missile as the cause of that damage, according to Loeb. Was Mr. Mattingly aware of Dr. Loeb’s conclusion?

In No Survivors and in government reports, attention was drawn to small shoulder-fired missiles. Mattingly assumes that since there was no evidence of damage from these small missiles that there was no evidence of any kind of missile. Mattingly’s statement, “Missiles leave pockmarks on metal” is misleading because it is out of context. He should have said that small, shoulder-launched missiles leave pockmarks. And the segment should have made it clear to the audience that only this small type of missile was being considered and could be ruled out. A key question Mattingly could have asked was: Was there damage on the aircraft consistent with other types of missiles? By failing to ask that question, Mattingly fell for the “look here, not there” ploy.

The pockmarks are caused by extremely hot gases and material ejected from a bomb or warhead that is very close to aircraft aluminum when exploding. Many types of larger missiles explode much further away from the aircraft and do NOT leave pock marks.  These other missiles leave different types of damage signatures—signatures that were in fact present in the Flight 800 wreckage.  These signatures include high and low velocity holes found through the aircraft’s structures, and some in the fuselage skin itself, directed inward from the outside.

So the sequence where Mattingly holds up wreckage from a government test involving a small, shoulder-fired missile and asks an NTSB investigator if damage like that occurred anywhere on the aircraft illustrates how improper and incomplete research leads to bad reporting. When the investigator answers “no” to Mattingly’s questions, viewers are left believing that there was no damage to the aircraft consistent with any type of missile. This is incorrect.


CNN interviewed Naneen Levine, who drew a picture of what she saw in front of CNN’s cameras: a red dot of light heading nearly straight up and arcing to the right before exploding at Flight 800’s position. Naneen’s account is consistent with hundreds of other witnesses, and her description of the red dot’s trajectory is completely inconsistent with any stage of Flight 800’s break up.

The dot went straight up and curved to the right. From Naneen’s perspective however, Flight 800 went to the left and curved downward. CNN did not address this important distinction that rules out the notion that the dot she drew was any part of TWA Flight 800 flight path.  Nonetheless, CNN left discredited government official, former FBI Assistant Director James K. Kallstrom, to explain that what Levine saw was most likely the plane on fire. This is clearly impossible considering Flight 800’s initial trajectory, the radar data, and the debris field locations. CNN’s No Survivors producers apparently were not aware of these important distinctions and did not ask government officials about them.

CNN interviewed two airborne eyewitnesses who saw Flight 800 explode but who were not among the hundreds who reported seeing a streak of light. CNN chose not to interview the two Air National Guard pilots, Captain Chris Baur and Major Fred Meyer, also airborne witnesses, who were the first to arrive at the crash site. Baur and Meyer described seeing a missile, streak of light, or some flying pyrotechnic device explode at the position in the air where TWA Flight 800 was traveling. Major Meyer flew over-land rescues in Vietnam and has seen missiles before. He says he is certain what he saw was a missile and that the subsequent explosion was military ordinance. Why didn’t CNN interview these witnesses or attempt to explain their accounts?

Smoking Gun Evidence Neglected

Just as egregious as the misleading and incorrect information CNN presented, was the information it neglected.

Immediately after Flight 800 exploded, wreckage was blown out the right side of the plane at apparent super-sonic speeds. Radar data shows that this wreckage was hurled out about one-quarter of a mile from where the jetliner exploded and at an average speed greater than 500 mph relative to the airframe. Given the incredible force of air resistance, this wreckage most likely exited–and was calculated to exit–the airframe at a supersonic speed. It traveled nearly perpendicular to the flight path, continuing on before losing its horizontal momentum about one-half mile south of Flight 800’s easterly track.

This debris does not fit in the official theory. Officially and according to NTSB Sequence Group Chairman James Wildey, nothing exited Flight 800’s airframe at subsonic, never mind supersonic speeds at that time. However, the radar data from multiple FAA radar sites showing this debris completely contradict Wildey’s claim.

On the other hand, this wreckage is consistent with witness reports of a southbound missile before the crash. It is unlikely that FAA radar would record the smooth, rounded surfaces of an unexploded missile. Radar could, however detect jagged missile parts after detonation. Also, any pieces of Flight 800’s airframe that may have been ejected as a result of the detonation would contain adequate reflective surfaces to be picked up. This is precisely what the radar information shows: high-speed wreckage and/or missile parts exiting on a very fast, southerly trajectory just after the initial explosion.

The government has no explanation for this hard radar evidence. This critical evidence would not have been ignored in a responsible report on TWA 800’s demise.


The No Survivors documentary was poorly researched and inadequately fact-checked. The above lists just a few areas of reporting in the show that were erroneous and misleading. The radar, debris field, forensic, and eyewitness evidence is compelling and consistent. It fits well into a theory involving a missile, while completely contradicting the government’s theory. CNN’s producers relied on discredited government sources and invalid data to present a program that is seriously flawed and full of misinformation about one of our nation’s worst air disasters. CNN could do better. The American public deserves better.