A MISSILE fired by a US navy warship accidentally shot down TWA Flight 800 off New York on July 17th, Mr Pierre Salinger, a former aide of the late US president, John Kennedy, said near Nice in France yesterday.
Mr Salinger (71), Kennedy's former press spokesman, told 150 airline company officials at the Cannes Airlines Forum that an agent of the US secret service gave him a document in Paris showing the airliner had entered an area where the navy was carrying out missile tests.
"It was a terrible accident," Mr Salinger said later in a telephone interview.
"The US navy often carries out missile launching tests, and on that day the TWA plane should have been flying higher. That was what the navy thought but the aircraft was flying lower than planned because above it another plane was beginning a descent to Providence, Rhode Island."
Mr Salinger said he had made his statement "to tell the truth about this business". He said he had passed on his information to an unspecified US television network which did not broadcast it. He accused the US government of clamping a news blackout on the crash.
He added: "I learned that the file had got into the hands of a certain press and it was going to come out in any case.
The investigation into the crash, which killed 230 people, has concluded that the centre fuel tank of the Boeing 747 exploded, and fire damage was found in the right wing's fuel tank.
The Fifth Cannes Airline Forum, organised by the Air Partner Group, brought together officials from a score of different airlines.
Mr James Kallstrom, the FBI official heading the investigation, denounced the so called "friendly fire" theory last month, calling it an "outrageous accusation".