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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Chapter 9. Kooks and Terrorists

JULY 17, 1996—The Flight of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 started like many others: with a delay. It was a hot summer night, and the aircraft waited on the tarmac for more than 30 minutes before taking off. The Boeing 747 had 230 people aboard as it speedily departed from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and climbed over Long Island Sound. Then, roughly 30 minutes into the flight, something went terribly wrong. Witnesses on the ground reported seeing a small explosion, two objects flying through the air, and a second, much larger explosion. The jetliner plummeted more than 10,000 feet into the waters below. Everyone on board was killed.

Almost immediately, agents from the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating the explosion, describing the pieces of aircraft found floating as a watery crime scene. Wreckage, debris, and personal effects were taken to a huge hangar on Long Island, where investigators began the painstakingly morbid task of reconstructing the carcass of Flight 800. Within a few days, divers began searching the bottom of the sea for more evidence. Meanwhile, theories about the flight's destruction were circulating at a fast and furious rate, both inside and outside the Bureau. Soon it was clear that there were only three possible explanations for the crash: mechanical failure, a bomb, or a surface-to-air missile.

An unprecedented evidence collection effort continued over the following months. Twisted ...

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