Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
TWA Flight 800
On July 17, 1996, the plane on the route, N93119, a Boeing 747-131, exploded off Long Island in mid-air and crashed into the ocean, killing all 230 people on board, including the French guitarist Marcel Dadi. The cause of the explosion is still unknown.
The flight number was retired after the crash, although TWA continued to operate flights between New York and Paris. In Spring 2001, TWA merged with American Airlines.
After what has been billed as the longest and most expensive accident investigation in American aviation history, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation found that the flammable fuel/air mixture of the center wing fuel tank probably ignited due to electrical failure in the center fuel tank, causing the plane to explode in flight. The FBI agreed that there had been no criminal act after examining all the plane's wreckage that had been recovered.
The NTSB subsequently made several recommendations to the FAA with an eye toward reducing the potential for future fuel/air vapor explosions in fuel tanks. In February 2004, the FAA indicated that it would start the (rather long) process of ordering airlines to install a fuel tank inerting system in most of their aircraft. It was stated that the order would probably actually be issued within two years, and then the airlines would be required to install the devices over the subsequent seven years. The FAA stated that, including the TWA Flight 800 crash, there had been three fuel tank explosions in airliners over the previous 14 years (the two others having occurred on the ground), and that based on this statistic, fuel tank inerting devices could eliminate about 4 accidents over the next 25 years.
Boeing has stated that it will install its inerting system in all aircraft starting in 2005.
The terrorist theory was as usual one of the first to be mentioned, especially due to the fact that the accident happened during the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, where a bomb exploded ten days later (see Centennial Olympic Park bombing).
Cmdr. William S. Donaldson, a retired Naval officer who conducted an independent investigation, disagrees with the official theory. According to Commander Donaldson, "jet airliners built by the American aerospace industry have logged at least 150 thousand years of flight time. Not once has there ever been a spontaneous fuel tank explosion on any fuel tank while airborne." (Letter to NTSB 11-14-97).
Donaldson concluded that the airplane was shot down by missiles. He interviewed hundreds of witnesses and said he reconstructed the flight paths of these missiles by triangulating the eyewitness accounts. Soon after, a photo that a passenger of a North American Airlines plane arriving at JFK supposedly took, seemed to support the missile theory because the "photo" showed a "missile" missing the NA Airlines jet narrowly.
Pierre Salinger, a former White House press secretary to President John F. Kennedy and ABC News journalist, prominently and repeatedly claimed he had proof that the flight was downed by a missile from a U.S. Navy ship. The documents on which he relied were later found to be rumors that had been distributed over Usenet, with attributions only to many "unnamed experts". Some people briefly gave the name of Pierre Salinger Syndrome to the tendency to believe things that one reads on the Internet.
There have also been persistent rumors that the plane was downed by a bomb (see Mohammed Samir Ferrat for one theory). In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, these alternate explanations have been revisited, as some officials and commentators have mentioned this disaster among lists of terrorist attacks.
Various groups and individuals continue to maintain that the plane was downed by a bomb or missile, and that there was a subsequent cover-up to disguise the real cause of the crash.
For instance, the following affidavit, dated Jan 2003 (and which looks very much like information that was passed around the internet shortly after the crash), is being listed as one of the articles of evidence in recent FOIA suits pressed by Captain Ray Lahr against the National Transportation Safety Board: . This document states he viewed radar tapes and took part in phone conversations which convinced him Flight 800 was a victim of friendly fire, and that he later passed on this information to Pierre Salinger (Note such anomalies as the doubling of every statement in the affidavit, the second half being a reworded version of the first half).
Yet another theory has the United States Navy conducting tests of submarine-to-air missiles, accidently hitting Flight 800, and then covering up the fatal error. After initial denials, the U.S. Navy later admitted that USS Wyoming (SSBN-742), commissioned only days before, was conducting sea trials in the area, and that USS Trepang (SSN-674) and USS Albuquerque (SSN-706) were conducting unspecified operations in the area. However, submarine operations in the U.S. Navy are routinely classified and any confirmation of submarines operating anywhere in the region around the TWA 800 crash site would violate that classification. It should also be noted that all three of these submarines lacked any surface to air missile armament as part of their standard munitions loadout. It is possible that any of the three subs could have been carrying MANPADS missiles, however all three subs were more than 50 miles away from the crash site, very far outside the range of any MANPADS missile in the world.
Another possible alternate theory involving the U.S. Navy is that a missile was fired from the USS Normandy (CG-60), operating 180 miles south of the TWA 800 crash site. It is theoretically possible that an SM-2 Block IV ER missile may have had sufficient range to reach TWA 800 in flight. However, at such range the missile would no longer be in 'boost' mode, but in 'glide' mode and thus have no visibile vapor trail making such a missile inconsistent with the eye witness reports used by Cmdr. Donaldson above. Inventories of USS Normandy's missile complement immediately following the crash of TWA 800 showed no missiles missing from the inventory, according to the U.S. Navy.
Regardless of the possibility of any number of missiles and missile launch platforms being in the vicinity of TWA 800 at the time of the accident, no evidence of a missile impact exists within the recovered wreckage according to a study conducted by the Department of Defense's Office of Special Technology.
A number of alternate theories surrounding TWA 800 rely on eye witness accounts as collected by the FBI. However, very few of the witnesses were within five miles of TWA 800 at the time of the accident, according to a witness map provided by the NTSB. The vast majority of the witnesses were too far away from the accident scene to discern any significant details, and some witnesses describe events that are well beyond the visual acuity of homo sapiens.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details