GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | Charles Millman speaks at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport Sunday morning.
Toward the end of a presentation on his investigation into the TWA Flight 800 crash, Mattituck resident Charles Millman was asked what he thought caused the plane to go down just 12 minutes after takeoff on July 17, 1996.
“I think it was not the center wing [fuel] tank,” Mr. Millman said, contradicting the official report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board, following its investigation into the crash that left 230 people dead.
Mr. Millman, a retired aircraft engineer who once served as a maintenance manager at John F. Kennedy International Airport, worked as a consultant for the NTSB in the aftermath of the TWA Flight 800 crash over the Moriches Inlet in East Moriches. Now, 17 years later — and after a recent documentary offering alternative theories into the crash of the Boeing 747-100 headed from JFK to Paris, France has made headlines — Mr. Millman says he believes the federal government should reopen its investigation.
“I don’t know what happened that day,” Mr. Millman said during his presentation to the Men’s Club of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport Sunday. “I do know that I think the investigation should be reopened and looked at carefully.”
The NTSB announced June 28 that it’s currently reviewing a Petition for Reconsideration of the Board’s findings and probable cause determination regarding the flight. The petition was received four weeks prior to the world premiere of the documentary, “TWA Flight 800,” on the EPIX television network. The film, which features six retired NTSB investigators who say the government’s explanation was a cover-up and the jet was actually downed by a missile, has since screened at the Stony Brook Film Festival and will also be shown Aug. 8 at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington.
Mr. Millman, who has not yet seen the documentary, said the pristine condition of several items recovered from the crash and the NTSB’s inability to replicate an explosion of a center wing fuel tank during its investigation have led him to dispute the government’s official position on the crash.
As part of his presentation to more than two dozen people at the synagogue Sunday, Mr. Millman shared the NTSB accident report, which states the explosion of the center wing tank as the probable cause of the crash. The report says the explosion was most likely caused by a short circuit outside of the tank.
“That doesn’t seem to make too much sense to me,” he said.
Mr. Millman also passed around photographs, newspaper articles and notes from the investigation.
Conspiracy theories have surfaced since the day of the crash, with more than 100 eyewitnesses having told investigators they saw a streak of light headed toward the aircraft moments before it exploded in the sky.
The government has maintained that what those witnesses actually saw was a piece of the aircraft falling from the sky, a theory Mr. Millman disagrees with.
“Common sense says that if hundreds of people say they saw [the streak of light] ascending, then it was ascending, not falling,” Mr. Millman said.
The investigation into the crash lasted more than four years and is reportedly the most expensive crash investigation in U.S. history.
Two men who attended the presentation Sunday said they had sons who were witnesses to the crash. Jed Clauss of Mattituck said his son, Josh, was surfing in Westhampton when debris from the plane landed near him.
Mr. Clauss said Josh returned home with a piece of plastic that surrounded one of the plane’s windows. They called the FBI to report the discovery and an investigator was sent to the house, he said.
“He asked Josh if he noticed a Grady-White [boat] headed in the opposite direction,” Mr. Clauss said. “I always found that curious.”
Mr. Clauss says he’s always believed kinetic energy from a missile shot in the direction of the plane caused the explosion.
Mr. Millman said he hasn’t dwelled on what caused the crash, since he doesn’t exactly know, but he thinks the time has come for the government to take another look.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said, “but 230 lives were affected and when you also consider [all their family members], a tremendous amount of people were hurt by this crash.”