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FBI Enlisted Psychic in TWA 800 Investigation

News & Comment

Ben Radford

Volume 23.4, July / August 1999

According to a story in the May 9, 1999, edition of the Washington Post, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation used a psychic in an attempt to determine the cause of the TWA Flight 800 airplane crash.

The Boeing 747 aircraft exploded mysteriously off the coast of Long Island in 1996, engendering many conspiracy theories.

The psychic, who was not named, attributed the explosion to a bomb near the left wing. That claim corroborated the FBI’s initial conviction that the plane was downed in an act of terrorism, despite contrary evidence provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the National Transportation Safety Bureau, and the CIA.

In the end, the psychic was wrong: an exhaustive investigation showed that the cause was likely a center fuel tank malfunction. The psychic’s proclamation may have been used to justify prolonging the FBI’s $20 million investigation, thereby wasting taxpayer’s money. But perhaps more dangerously, airline passenger safety was compromised when corrective fuel tank recommendations were put on hold pending the outcome of the FBI’s investigation.

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Benjamin Radford, M.Ed., is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of seven books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is Mysterious New Mexico: Miracles, Magic, and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com.