Witnesses Mislead By What They Saw - Optical Illusion Fools Public into Misinterpreting What They Saw
Most of those alleging a "missile shootdown" of the 747 misinterpreted the events observed by the witnesses because they assumed the Massive Fireball explosion was at 13,800 feet and that the fiery streak that immediately preceded and tracked to it was a missile.
But there is clear and compelling documented evidence that the Massive Fireball exploded far later in the sequence of events and far lower in the sky. The key to understanding what the witnesses actually saw is the altitude of the Massive Fireball explosion.
In a letter to the FBI's James Kallstrom dated 28 March 1997 confirming earlier communications, the CIA stated in part as follows: [Note - the portions in bold print are supportable by eyewitness reports but the portions italicized are not and appear to have arisen out of inept and incomplete FBI "302 form" interviews, a subject that will be covered in more detail later in this review.]
Just after the initial explosion at 8:31.07.5 PM, the aircraft pitched up abruptly and climbed several thousand feet from its cruise altitude of 13,800 feet to a maximum altitude of about 17,000 feet. This is consistent with information provided by National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing engineeers indicating that the front third of the aircraft, including the cockpit, separated from the fuselage just two to four seconds after the initial explosion. This significant sudden loss of mass from the front of the aircraft caused the rapid pitch-up.
The initial explosion was not seen by any known witnesses but the subsequent fire trailing from the aircraft was clearly visible to many of the closest eyewitnesses on the land and sea, and some of the witnesses in other aircraft. The rising, burning aircraft is consistent with what some eyewitnesses described as "an ascending, bright white light resembling a flare or firework".
Shortly after Flight 800 reach the apex of its ascent - about 15 seconds or so after the initial explosion - a SECOND explosion occurred. This explosion was clearly visible to many witnesses, and often was described as "a small fireball". It was not as loud as the initial explosion, but was clearly audible more than 10 miles away.
Following this second explosion, the aircraft went into a very steep and rapid descent, falling 2 miles and traveling horizontally almost 2 miles in less than 25 seconds. As the aircraft descended, it produced an increasingly visible fire trail. When it reached an altitude of about 1 mile - 42 seconds after the initial onboard explosion - the aircraft's left wing separated from the fuselage, releasing the unburned fuel in the left wing's fuel tanks. The fuel's subsequent ignition and burning produced a dramatic fireball visible to eyewitnesses more than 40 miles away, and detected by an infrared sensor aboard the US Defense Support Program (DSP) missile warning satellite.
About 50 seconds after the initial explosion - eight seconds after the left wing detached - the aircraft and detached wing hit the water.