NEW YORK -- The FBI's lead investigator in the crash of TWA Flight 800 said yesterday that he now believes it is "less likely that a bomb or a missile" caused the plane to explode, killing all 230 people on board.
His statement represents the first time that the FBI has backed away from its long-held position that a criminal act was as likely a cause for the crash off Long Island as a mechanical failure.
Because 95 percent of the jet's wreckage has been recovered and none of it shows clear evidence of a bomb or a missile, James Kall-strom, FBI assistant director, said it was now "mathematically less likely" than it was even several weeks ago that investigators will find evidence of a criminal act.
"From a logic standpoint, there is less of a chance we'll find what we need to prove a criminal act," he said yesterday. "That is not to say we can't find bomb damage or missile damage in the missing 5 percent."
Since the crash July 17, the FBI had steadfastly refused to favor publicly one possible cause of the crash over another. But Kall-strom's remarks put him in line for the first time with a growing chorus of National Transportation Safety Board investigators, who say that a mechanical failure will ultimately emerge as the explanation for the crash.
In Washington, James Hall, chairman of the safety board, said, "We know a lot more about the accident than we knew before, but until we are able to say exactly what happened, we will continue to investigate all three of the theories."
But another senior official at the safety board said he believed Kallstrom's statement could suggest that the FBI was preparing to exit the investigation.
In a new push for clues, investigators have started a round of interviews with "everyone who touched the plane" as it waited on the ground at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Pub Date: 11/21/96