The Civil Aeronautics Board Aircraft Accident Report did not rule out sabotage as the cause of the in-flight fire on United Flight 823. Page 14 of the report states: “The combustible material and source of ignition that started the fire are not known. Although attempts to determine if any passenger had carried any hazardous material aboard the aircraft did not reveal this had occurred, the possibility cannot be ruled out. Such a material, either innocently or with malicious intent may have been in the possession of a passenger. Leakage or spillage of a flammable fluid with accidental or intentional ignition is a possible situation.”
Page 13 of the report states: “Investigation of insurance purchased by passengers and crew members disclosed no suspect areas. Nothing unusual was noted regarding passengers or baggage that went aboard the aircraft and there was no known hazardous cargo aboard the aircraft.”
Nowadays, especially after the acts of terrorism that took place on September 11, 2001, when an airliner crashes or is involved in some sort of mishap; our initial reaction or judgment is that the cause is an act of terror. We have grown accustomed to thinking this way and we are not surprised whenever acts of terror are brought about by someone insane enough to use his own life to take the lives of innocent people.
The crash of United Flight 823 took place in 1964. People back then had a different way of thinking and had a regard for human life.
It has been said that our innocence as a country was lost when John Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. If one sees that as being the case, then it must be admitted that July 1964 was within the immediate aftermath of the so called loss of innocence. Simply put: People in 1964 had not yet begun to take part in suicidal exercises that involved taking the lives of others en masse. It would be two more years before killer Charles Whitman would wound thirty-two and take the lives of seventeen-most of whom near the University of Texas bell tower.
Those of us who were alive 50 years ago vividly recall the self-immolation of several Vietnamese Buddhist monks and a Buddhist nun in 1963, but these were political acts against the Diem regime in South Vietnam.
Prior to July 1964, only two hijackings had occurred on American soil and a mere handful of airplane hijackings had previously occurred worldwide-the first of which having occurred in 1932.
An interesting turn of events on July 9, 1964 involved United States Senator Herb Walters who was scheduled to fly on United 823 to Knoxville on his way home to Morristown, Tennessee. Due to a heavy workload, he cancelled his flight and took a flight to Knoxville later that same evening on American Airlines.
Whether or not the rumors that Senator Walters was the target of an assassination attempt had any influence on the Federal Bureau of Investigation-who were immediately on site in Parrottsville after the crash-I can't say. The rumors persist to this day.
I have given much thought to this particular rumor and have reached the conclusion that there is no basis for it.
Tests performed in the FBI lab on the free-fall man's clothing and various parts of the aircraft showed that there was no bomb residue found. These results, plus the fact that the aircraft did not explode in the air, as first reported, rule out the possibility of sabotage in the form of someone placing a bomb on the aircraft.
An assassination would have been best facilitated by using a bomb. A bomb would have also eliminated the need for the perpetrator to be present (on board)-which brings me to my next conclusion.
Wouldn't it make sense for a perpetrator to be familiar with the person whom he wished to assassinate and that he would make sure that the person targeted, in this case Senator Walters, actually boarded the plane? Page 9 of the CAB report tantalizingly mentions the can of flammable paint modifier. Robert Serling, in his book, Loud And Clear, mentions the can as being part of the cargo manifest. So, while it is tempting to consider the use of paint thinner as an accelerant to start a fire on board, its being part of the cargo and listed on the manifest would tend to eliminate the possibility that someone carried flammable liquid on board with malicious intent. I'm also assuming that Serling was privy to viewing the actual cargo manifest. The CAB report mentions that the can was crushed, with its label still intact, but fails to mention if the can was empty or not, or whether or not the cap was still fastened to the can.
To believe that sabotage, no matter the person targeted, or for whatever reason, as the cause of the fire that took place on United Flight 823, is to implicate every adult person on board the plane that day. I'm unwilling to do that, because the more I look into this possibility, the less I believe that sabotage is what took place.