On the evening of July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 left JFK International Airport for Paris with 230 on board. Minutes later, the plane exploded, broke in two and fell into the ocean leaving no survivors. A four year National Transportation Safety Board investigation officially concluded the cause to be a fuel tank explosion most likely due to a short circuit. Speculation and conspiracy theories as to the real cause of the crash have plagued it ever since. It was even the subject of Nelson DeMille’s 2004 mystery-suspense novel “Night Fall.” “TWA Flight 800” is a thought provoking documentary reexamining the crash produced by EPIX cable television channel. It is available on Roanoke Cox Cable Epix On DEMAND through October 31.
This is the first film written, directed, and produced by Kristina Borjesson, an Emmy and Murrow award winning former CBS investigative journalist. She had contributed information to CBS on the crash, but the movie came about largely through the efforts of Tom Stalcup. This citizen researcher happened upon an internet article while working on his doctorate degree in physics that sparked him to contact witnesses and begin a lengthy investigation of his own.
The documentary definitely adds fuel to the conspiracy theory fire but also makes an undeniable case for those less informed on the crash and its aftermath. It effectively combines computer graphics, highlighted text, audio recordings, CSPAN footage of the investigation hearings and still photos. But the most compelling element is the interview segments that make up most of the film. Former NTSB investigators tell of how they were shoved aside by the FBI and how their findings contradict the official determination. Numerous witnesses tell of something like a missile flying into the plane and of the FBI silencing their stories. Even medical examiners state that most of their input was either not desired or discarded.
“TWA Flight 800” could have provided a cleaner introduction rather than just diving in. Those unfamiliar with the crash will have to play a little catch-up. Yet it engrosses you quickly and makes a strong case for taking another look into it. Indeed, that is the aim of Stalcup and his three main NTSB investigator sources. The doc ends with them presenting their findings to family members of the crash’s victims and asking them to join in signing a petition for reconsideration to the NTSB.