Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

18254 Coastline Drive
Malibu, CA  90265-5704

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Case No.:



       Plaintiff is a resident of the State of California, County of Los Angeles with a mailing address of 18254 Coastline Drive, Malibu, CA 90265-5704, and lives within the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for Central California. District courts have exclusive jurisdiction to “enjoin the agency [the NTSB] from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the complainant” – FOIA 5 U.S.C. Art.552(a)(4)(B)&(C).

       On the evening of July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded off the shoreline of Long Island, New York, and all 230 passengers and crew were lost. The FBI interviewed about 750 eyewitnesses, most of whom only saw the latter stage of the crash. However, about 100 eyewitnesses saw a bright streak rising towards TWA800 prior to the explosion. In order to explain away the bright streak, the CIA proposed that the 100 eyewitnesses saw the stricken aircraft zoom-climbing from 13,800 feet to 17,000 feet.    This CIA scenario required that all of the 100 eyewitnesses missed seeing the initial center fuel tank explosion which blew off the nose of TWA800, and they only looked up in time to see the noseless aircraft zoom-climbing and trailing flames prior to a secondary explosion which occurred precisely at the top of the zoom-climb. Now that requires imagination. Never mind that the witnesses saw the streak rising from the surface and not a point two and a half miles in the sky. Furthermore, two very well qualified pilots were looking directly at the aircraft when the fuel tank exploded, and they are adamant that the wreckage fell downward out of the fireball, not upward.  Nevertheless, both the CIA and the NTSB prepared animated cartoons depicting this hypothetical zoom-climb.

       Plaintiff is a former Navy pilot, a graduate engineer, and a retired airline captain.  Based on his knowledge and experience, such a zoom-climb was aerodynamically impossible. The reason is as simple as the teeter-totter that we played on as kids (Exhibit A). To keep a teeter-totter in balance, a heavy rider sits close to the center of the board and a light rider sits near the opposite end of the board. The same principle of balance applies to an aircraft. The aircraft’s center-of-gravity (CG) is slightly ahead of the wing’s center-of-lift (CL), and a downward balancing force is generated by the tail of the aircraft. This balance principle applies to all aircraft from a toy balsa wood glider to the supersonic Concorde. Now we all know what happens to a teeter-totter if the heavy rider jumps to the opposite side of the board. The board pitches up and both riders slam to the ground.  That is what happened to TWA800.  When the nose was blown off, the CG jumped to the other side of the CL. TWA800 immediately pitched up, stalled, and fell out of the sky. There is no way that TWA800 could have remained in a balanced attitude so that the wing could develop enough lift to climb 3,000 feet. The zoom-climb never happened.

       Boeing provided the pertinent weight and balance information to the NTSB and the NTSB published it in the TWA800 accident report. PLaintiff used this Boeing information to make the calculations shown on Exhibit A. Then the Plaintiff presented the results to the NTSB and repeatedly asked the NTSB how it had calculated its zoom-climb. The NTSB refused to discuss the zoom-climb claiming that it involved information proprietary to Boeing. Concsequently, Plaintiff submitted FOIA requests for the zoom-climb information to both the CIA and the NTSB. The CIA responded that, “We have researched this matter, and have learned that the pertinent data, and resulting conclusions, were provided by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)” Exhibit B.  The NTSB responded that it couldn’t release the information because it was based on data that was proprietary to Boeing. Exhibit C.  But when the CIA cartoon was shown on national television, Boeing issued a press release saying, “While we provided basic aerodynamic information to assist in the CIA’s analysis of the airplane’s performance, we are not aware of the data that was used to develop the video.” Exhibit D.

       All of the trails to the source of the zoom-climb calculations lead back to the NTSB. Normal accident investigation procedure required that the NTSB form a group to analyze the TWA800 flight path, including the hypothetical zoom-climb. Since the zoom-climb was one of NTSB conclusions, all of the parties to the investigation such as ALPA and TWA and Boeing should have participated in that conclusion, and the report of that group should have been a part of the public record. However, the NTSB did not form such a group. Instead, the NTSB seems to have assigned this task to only one individual within the NTSB. This is what the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) had to say in its 43 pages of comments to the NTSB. Exhibit E. “Furthermore, although ALPA does not doubt the technical capability of the NTSB, we are concerned that this analysis was essentially accomplished by only one individual at the Board, with little or no party input or participation.”  There was no peer review of the zoom-climb calculations.  That is an abysmal breech of accident investigation procedures.

       The FOIA provides some exceptions whereby an agency may withhold disclosure of requested information.  However, the only reason advanced by the NTSB for withholding disclosure of the zoom-climb calculations was that some of the data used by the NTSB is proprietary to Boeing (See 49 U.S.C. 1114(b).  However, the important Boeing data (the weight and balance information and the moment of inertia) had already been released by the NTSB.

   That Boeing data plus Newton’s laws of motion prove that the zoom-climb was impossible.  Frankly, in light of Boeings previous public disclaimer about any knowledge of the data used for the zoom-climb, Plaintiff doubts that Boeing submitted additional secret data to the NTSB supporting the zoom-climb, and that Boeing considers the secret data to be proprietary, and that Boeing refuses to release the secret data to the public. That is not the way Boeing usually operates in a public accident investigation. But the laws of physics are not unique to a Boeing 747.  Any aircraft under similar circumstances would have immediately stalled and fallen out of the sky.  There is nothing “proprietary” about the way an aircraft reacts when the nose is blown off and the center-of-gravity moves well behind the center-of-lift.

       Plaintiff has written a series of letters and appeals to the principal officers of the NTSB, to his Congressional representatives, and even to the President. In a letter dated March 20,2002, Ronald S. Battocchi, NTSB General Council, advised Plaintiff that “you have exhausted your administrative remedies under the FOIA system”

Exhibit F. It is with reluctance that the Plaintiff now turns to the legal remedies offered under the Freedom of Information Act 5 U.S.C. @552 (a)(4)(B)&(C).  Exhibit G. The relief sought by Plaintiff is the method used by the NTSB to calculate the zoom-climb of TWA800 after the nose was blown off in its fatal accident on July 17, 1996. If Boeing objects to this disclosure on the basis of secret “proprietary” data, then Plaintiff asks that the NTSB show how any commercial aircraft could have zoom-climbed under similar circumstances. The public is entitled to know how the NTSB came to its erroneous conclusion.  The public deserves to know the truth about TWA800. Plaintiff seeks no monetary rewards or damages.


Dated:   March 29, 2002                     Respectfully submitted,




                                    Captain H. Ray Lahr

                                    Plaintiff in pro per       

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