I always wonder how and why witnesses are so unreliable. I know not everyone knows about aircraft, but how hard is it to fully understand and comprehend what you’re seeing? Just weird how so many people claim to see fire and smoke when they really didn’t. I know I know it would be a very intense situation to see an aircraft crash in front of you, but still.
Now I will say IF this witness is right and there was smoke, then that changes things a lot here.
There are lots of reasons why humans are unreliable witnesses, and lot of science to back up why that is. Here's a good summary (focused on criminal trials), but the same things would be true of an airplane crash: https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/07 ... ten-wrong/
While human vision is good, there are plenty of conditions—low lighting, distance, and sudden actions—that make it difficult to accurately perceive what's going on. And we don't always focus on the things that would make us a good eyewitness; if someone's waving a gun around, we tend to look at the gun, not their face. And even if they're not waving a gun, we may believe that they were if the visual information we recall is ambiguous, but we know there was a robbery happening.
Faced with partial information, research indicates that our brain's response isn't to commit what information we do have to memory. Instead, our brains attempt to create a coherent picture that makes sense. This often involves filling in details using past experience as a guide. The resulting memory may be satisfyingly complete, but it can come at the cost of incorrect information.
So, you get a situation like this, where someone sees a plane crash. They know that's not supposed to happen, and their memory can 'fill in' details about smoke or something else based on their own incomplete memories.
The part about the gun is also relevant. When someone is startled like this, they tend to focus on a specific thing and will often miss lots of other details. There's the classic gorilla suit and the basketball team experiment, too - people focus on one thing and can completely miss other very obvious things: http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/gori ... iment.html