David McClaine:October 20, 1997 The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA.
Eastwind Airlines pilot David McClaine's aerial view of the Flight 800 fireball made him the person to transmit the first known message of the tragedy to authorities.
, piloting a Boeing
737 jetliner, had just leveled off at 17,000 feet on the plane's commuter run from Boston to Trenton, N.J.
had been watching a strange yellow light gradually ascend from the direction of Kennedy Airport.
The light was different, he
said, not the bright white light that jetliners' landing lights give off.
had never seen a similar light in his
30 years as a military and commercial pilot.
thought it might be flames but heard no radio traffic, saw no smoke and decided it wasn't fire.
The object moved up past 10,000 feet, where pilots normally turn off the lights they use as aerial warning beacons, but this one kept burning.
gaze on it for more than a minute, he
said, and decided it was time to flick on his
landing lights because his
737 would pass to the object's left.
could reach the switch, the yellowish light exploded into a ball of flames.
"It blew up, just one big explosion," McClaine
No more than a second later, two streamers came out of the bottom, flames trailing about 4,000 feet, he
did not actually see TWA 800's fuselage; smoke and flames trailing the plane blotted out the aircraft's debris as it fell 2 miles to the ocean.
immediately called Boston air traffic control with news of the in-flight explosion but got no response.
repeated the call twice more.
A Boston controller told pilots to stand by for a roll call and orally ticked off the known aircraft.
"They called TWA 800
"I said,"Boston, I think that's them".
And they said, "That's right.
thought at the moment that some "on-board incident," possibly a bomb, blew the plane apart, an opinion he
had not changed his
original conclusion because he
could not say the yellow light was a missile or drone.
The incident held a special footnote for McClaine
As a youngster, he
took the TWA flight often while traveling between the United States and Saudi Arabia where his
dad worked for the Arab American Oil Co.
FBI investigators talked to him a few days after the disaster but he
hasn't been contacted since, he
said earlier this month.
was initially asked if he
saw anything like the trail of a missile headed toward the plane but said he
David McClaine: Eastwind 507 Pilot