By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
MONTOURSVILLE — Former investigators are pushing to reopen the probe into the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, saying new evidence points to the often-discounted theory that a missile strike may have downed the jumbo jet.
But it’s a theory that some borough residents firmly believe to be true: that the government has lied about the cause of the crash, and that there is an ongoing massive cover-up.
The New York-to-Paris flight crashed July 17, 1996, minutes after it took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing all 230 people on board. Twenty-one of those passengers were from Montoursville: 16 French club students from the high school and five adults who went along as chaperones.
“Understand, I did not have family on the flight,” said Kathryn Burns, of Montoursville. “I just had neighbors and friends who lost loved ones.”
Burns drives around town with an “NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) Lied” sticker on her car and is not at all squeamish about expressing her feelings.
“I have always believed, along with many other people, that there was a cover-up,” she said Thursday. “A number of people around here feel that way. The government lied. Those cover-ups affect us on a daily basis. Look, we are a community that still hurts. No one will forget here what happened.”
How can you deal with the loss of a child or a spouse, Burns said, “and then to have your federal government lie when they have eyewitness after eyewitness, including airline pilots, talking about a possible missile strike. My heart hurts for those whose wounds will be reopened if they investigate again, but perhaps there will be closure in knowing their loved ones didn’t die without justice being served.”
At a tavern near Loyalsock Avenue and Broad Street, William O’Connor, also of Montoursville, agreed with Burns and said he believes the government is keeping the truth hidden.
“I don’t know why,” he said. “But the American people — not just those of us here — need to know the truth, and maybe this documentary will put some pressure on our government. People outside of this town think opening the investigation again would be like pouring salt on a wound. But what you don’t understand is, the pain never stops. You never get over losing someone. My best friend lost a daughter. And he still tells me he wants to know what happened that night at JFK.”
A block away from Broad Street is the Gen. John Burrows Historical Society, where a Flight 800 room, filled with mementos from parents of the victims, has been established.
June Grube, society secretary, said it has taken years and tears and the community coming together to get through the tragedy.
“My son graduated in 1996, the year that this happened, and a half a dozen or so of his good friends were on board that flight,” Grube said. “We live close to the high school, and the night that it happened, my husband and I heard people getting out of cars sobbing. I thought, ‘Isn’t this odd?’ I thought somebody had a fight near the school. We went back to sleep, and in the morning, the phones started to ring and people were calling to ask if my son was all right. But he didn’t go on that trip, thank God. You see these parents heartbroken and it could have been my boy. Why was I so fortunate?”
Grube’s son went to the high school that night, where everyone was gathering. After a few hours, he returned and named the kids who were on the flight. “I was amazed how much it hurt,” she said. “And every name I heard a name, it was like someone was sticking a dagger in my heart, because I knew how it was going to affect their families. It was just a hard time, and even now when you see these parents, I don’t know what to say to them.”