MORICHES INLET - Numerous eyewitnesses and members of the investigation into what made TWA Flight 800 explode claim that the official explanation for the disaster is flat-out wrong.
At 8:31 p.m. on July 17, 1996, 230 people died when TWA Flight 800 exploded mid-air and fell into the ocean just south of Moriches Inlet. It is one of the deadliest airline crashes to ever happen over the U.S.
After a four-year joint investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI and the CIA, the official report concluded that a spark in the 747's center wing fuel tank likely caused the explosion.
Henry Hughes was the senior accident investigator for the NTSB at the crash site. He says radar traces show pieces of wreckage rocketing away from the jet at three to four times the speed of sound. He also points to chemicals found on seats and portions of the fuselage. The government called it glue. He says it was explosive material.
Hughes believes there's no doubt: Something hit TWA Flight 800.
"That's an explosion that occurred external to the airplane. And we know that from looking at the victims and the interior," says Hughes.
More than 200 people say they saw a fast-moving light arch up and move toward Flight 800. None of those witnesses were allowed to testify at the NTSB public hearing into the crash.
Fred Meyer is a retired Air National Guard helicopter pilot and decorated Vietnam veteran. He was flying a practice approach at Gabreski Airport near Westhampton the night of the crash.
"Directly in front of me, my scan picks up a rocket plume moving about 10 degrees above the horizon…Those were clearly four missiles, the explosions of four missiles or anti-aircraft weapons," Meyer tells News 12 Long Island.
Critics of the official findings point to some of the damage in the fuselage as more consistent with a missile strike than an internal explosion. However, Jim Hall, chairman of the NTSB at the time, still stands by the report, saying "the smoking gun was not found."
"Our agency did an outstanding job at the time. I don't know what purpose some of these people have in keeping the matter alive," says Hall.
Twenty years has done little to calm the waters between the official findings of the government and those who remain on board with the missile theory.