On the night of July 17, 1996, when TWA Flight 800 was shot down, I was in New York City, working on the crew of a Hebrew National hotdog commercial.
At about 10PM, I received animated calls from my friends who were out on the beach, where we were all renting a shack on Fire Island together. They told me they could see fire floating on the ocean’s surface and a clamor of rescue helicopters.
Not long afterwards, the local news began to report that a plane had crashed into the ocean, right in front of the beach where we were staying.
A week or so after the plane crash, I was back at our beach shack when a sketchy-looking detective in a cheap suit waltzed through the open door without identifying himself, asking us if we had seen anything. We told him we hadn’t.
This guy looked like the ‘Bad Lieutenant’. We didn’t think we should talk about the many reports from people who saw what looked like a missile striking the plane before it went down.
The wreckage washed up on the beach for the rest of the summer. There were reports of passengers washing up further east, still strapped to their seats.
Several trucks bearing various federal insignia were on the beach every day to cordon off areas, as the bigger chunks washed in.
A black pickup truck with a fake magnetic sign slapped to its side, purporting to be that of a local business was the only vehicle I saw receiving the pieces of wreckage to haul them away.
The rest of the summer, we were sad about the hundreds who’d died in the crash and paranoid about the creepy Feds crawling all over the beach.
This angst was compounded by the most active hurricane season in 46 years,. The ocean breached over the dune right under our shack, which was on stilts. The vegetation around it turned brown and stayed brown all summer and everything just looked dead.
The hurricanes were incredible for surfing but you might get slammed in the face by an industrial luggage bin if you weren’t careful.
The flotsam and jetsam from Flight 800 kept churning up from hurricanes and kept getting spit out all over the beach all summer long.
That same night of July 17, 1996, William Teele III was an Operations Specialist (OS) aboard the Guided Missile Frigate USS Carr off the coast of Fire Island doing battle exercises with another Navy vessel when he heard communications that a commercial airliner had been hit. He joins Stew Peters to talk about what really happened on the night that the crash of Flight 800 took the lives of 230 passengers.
Teele recalls, “On the headset…a few minutes into the transmission, there was a little bit of silence…I heard somebody say, ‘Oh no. We hit an airbus.’ And about two minutes later, I heard, ‘Radio silence!’ That means, ‘Everybody be quiet on the net.’
“And the two guys I was standing in between were looking at each other, like, ‘Oh no! This is a horrible mistake! Something really bad just happened. We couldn’t just hit an airbus!’
“And I asked him, ‘What is an airbus?’ and he said, ‘That’s a commercial aircraft.’ And I said, ‘You mean we hit a commercial aircraft?’ and he told me, ‘Be quiet. Just be quiet.’
“And then a radio went off from the ship that actually fired and they called our captain. Our captain came up to CIC [Combat Information Center] and walked in and got on the red phone and had a conversation. I could hear in the background the conversation of him saying, ‘These have got to be the most dumbest idiots in the world to not recognize a white missile and a blue missile. How are you on the bridge wing and not see that we’re not supposed to fire? You’re supposed to see a blue training missile come up on the rail!’
“And they went back and forth about the conversation and the captain left…At that time, we stopped the drill and we were told were going to go into a high speed evasive maneuver…we was told ‘Go back down to the berth. Don’t say nothing at all.’
“We get into Bermuda about a day later and that’s when we were told that, ‘No one’s allowed to leave the ship, There’ll be no communications,’ and that, ‘Some people are coming onboard and they’ll be taking care of some some things that need to be done.’
“They brought all the OSes and everybody else involved inside CIC and…that’s when they instructed us then, that what happened didn’t happen and that we are not to discuss it and that some people were coming onboard and we need to stay out of combat.
“So I was told, right when we were getting evacuated to leave the space, my OS1 told us, “I need you to grab all the log books, close ’em all up, tape ’em up, initial ’em…place everything in this box. Someone’s coming to collect it.
“After they came onboard with the items, we went back to the CIC, my OS1 was sitting in a chair and he’s explaining to me clearly that, if I open my mouth about what had happened, the government will ruin my life, based on my Social Security Number…
“We left Bermuda a few hours later, we went back out to sea to go back to Norfolk, Virginia. So it was never discussed amongst us again but we cracked jokes about it throughout the ship, about a logbook and about somebody being dumb and actually putting the keys in and actually firing a real, live missile for a simulation.”