On July 17, 1996, about 8:30 p.m., EDT, TWA 800, a Boeing 747, took off from JFK Airport in NYC bound for Rome, Italy with a stopover in Paris. About 12 minutes later, TWA 800 exploded and then crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island. All 230 passengers and 18 flight crew members died.

Many witnesses claimed they had seen a streak of light ascending to the same point as the fireball.

The FBI and National Transportation Safety Board initiated a parallel criminal investigation.

  • News reports and published books suggested the plane was downed by a missile and that the government covered it up—so as not to panic the public.
  • Even President Kennedy’s former press secretary Pierre Salinger claimed he had proof TWA 800 was shot down by friendly fire.
  • CNN gave credence to Salinger’s claim and soon suspicious ideas moved from Internet conspiracy theories to mainstream thinking.

The NTSB found the probable cause to be an explosion of flammable fuel/air vapors in a fuel tank, most likely from a short-circuit.

Conspiracy theories say the crash was due to a U.S. Navy missile test gone awry, a terrorist missile strike, or an on-board bomb.

Based on this true event, Nelson DeMille wrote a fictional account called Night Fall which debuted number one on the New York Times Best Seller List on December 12, 2004, and remained on the list for 11 weeks.

And that’s your Mystery Minute.