Seen from below, it would resemble a missile strike - mostly because the eyes would record the incoming trail, without being able to fully analyze the trajectory.
I know from experience meteorites occasionally hit the earth with substantial mass still intact. The results can be mind-boggling !
In 1950, I was riding in the back of a truck near Kingston, New York ( Catskill region ), when I saw a brief "plunging flash", followed by a greenish "fireball" that lit up the northern sky, and that looked like a nuclear blast. ( Months later,when the US conducted the hydrogen bomb tests at Eniwietok , published photos showed the same greenish glow.)
The explanation was given out as a meteorite fall, in the northernmost bays of Canada - (though most of the thousands who called police and emergency services that night were convinced it was some sort of huge bomb. )
I raise this story only as one of the possibilities-even though the comments by experienced airline pilots suggest strongly there might have been an on-board bomb. ( How about a miniaturized thermobaric bomb ? )
Hundreds on witnesses on LI saw a missile rise from the horizon to strike the plane. Triangulation of their reports consistently leads to a spot or two a few miles south of Long Island. These reports are totally inconsistent with a meteor strike.
That was actually one of the theories the investigators looked at. The problem with it was that the breakup sequence and damage clearly shows the breakup started in the CWFT. But there is absolutely no path that a meteorite could have followed to penetrate the tank. To clarify: Imagine the tank as a box, inside a larger box that is the skin of the plane. Both boxes are in pieces, but investigators put them together. When they do, there is no straight path for a projectile such as a meteorite to follow into the tank. Anti-aircraft missiles kill by fragmentation, so if the tank blew up it must have been compromised from outside, if a missile OR a meteorite did it. But it didn't (it's trivial to tell whether a piece of metal was damaged by a projectile going in or a fuel/air blast going out). You can't get here from there. I guarantee Cashill doesn't mention that little fact in his book -- none of the conspiracy nutballs do. When confronted with physical evidence, which is still in existence, that renders their theory impossible, they start raving that the evidence was faked, or that the guy pointing out the evidence is an agent of ZOG, or something.
An SA-7 or Chinese HN-5 could not have overtaken the plane from the ground, and has to be locked on and fired from the rear aspect. The more sensitive stinger can be fired from ahead, but would still be at the very limit of its range (or beyond). FYI the Afghan mujahideen always trained to fire stingers in volleys, because one isn't that reliable. As another poster pointed out, it's a means for infantry to defend against low-flying ground attack aircraft. Missiles that hit planes at 13,000 feet are BIG.
45 Psi differential would be all it would take for the tank to fail, and a spark and residual Jet A fumes would do that. There have been two other Boeings go bang (one before 800, one after) on the ground. If the tank failed, it would fail up into the cabin, rather than down (the skin below is stronger than the floor above, to oversimplify).
Like all these guys, Cashill starts with a conclusion and then marshals only the "evidence" that supports it. If you are going to read his book, also read the official NTSB file and see how selective he has been in picking stuff that supports his idea and discarding facts that don't fit. "If the results don't match you theory, the scientist changes the theory. The hack changes the results".
I've read all this stuff, which you can also get on a CD-ROM: it's a mountain of .pdf files. It includes, for instance, the witness reports, and a lot of investigation into the missile possibility. Conclusion: it can't be possible. Missile fragments don't hyperspace through a/c structure without leaving evidence. Bombs don't go off without evidence, either.
By the way, NTSB does review its work, recently they changed the probable cause of a Colorado Springs 737 accident as they discovered a flaw in 737 rudder actuators that was very, very rare. See, we have designed out most of the things that cause planes to crash... so when a crash is caused by something mechanical these days, it's naturally a rare event caused by a bizarre chain of coincidences. (AA 587 is looking even weirder than TWA 800).
Finally, who would benefit from downing TWA 800, how, and how does this fit their usual MO? And, if it was the "Navy Mistake" that the gummint-haters on the extremist right and military-haters on the extremist left imagine it to be, how does a whole ship, or task force, maintain a cover-up? Also... the Navy has laid some pretty big eggs in the past (sinking the Japanese ship... shooting down the Iranian Airbus...) and what happened in those cases? The Navy came clean, and hammered the individuals responsible.
As you can see, I'm very skeptical of Cashill and the other agenda-driven conspiracy merchants. He has a handful of "my cousin's neighbor's a pilot and says you rule, dood" testimonials but the credentials of the people who participated in the investigation -- including the engineers that designed and built the plane and its motors and equipment -- are unimpeachable. To believe that they are participating in a coverup (a metallurgist? Who doesn't even know what the significance of his report to the overall investigation is? Come on!) requires a zealot's commitment to believe an a priori conclusion.
Oh, yeah, if it's a big conspiracy all those people in theinvestigation (most of the folks involved are not NTSB or government employees, too) are in on it, too.
Criminal Number 18F