Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

                  Thursday August 24 2:34 AM ET

                  NTSB: TWA Flight Downed By Fuel Tank 

                  By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer 

                  WASHINGTON (AP) - After a four-year, $36 million investigation the
                  National Transportation Safety Board closed its books on the crash of TWA
                  Flight 800 and recommended changes in aircraft wiring and better fuel

                  The board formally concluded on Wednesday that the Boeing 747 was
                  destroyed by an explosion in its center fuel tank, probably triggered by a
                  short circuit. It asked the Federal Aviation Administration to examine aircraft
                  wiring practices, review wiring design specifications and require

                  The FAA has 90 days to respond to the recommendations. Board Chairman
                  Jim Hall said that during the TWA investigation his agency has sent 11 other
                  recommendations to the FAA, and it has acted or is taking action on most of

                  Speculation on the cause of the crash off the coast of New York's Long
                  Island, which killed all 230 aboard, has ranged from maintenance problems
                  to a bomb, a missile, and even a meteorite. In a two-day hearing concluding
                  its investigation the board struggled to disprove those theories.

                  Joseph Lychner of Houston, who lost his wife, Pam, a former TWA flight
                  attendant, and his two young daughters, Shannon and Katie, in the disaster,
                  found little comfort at the hearing.

                  ``The presentation by the NTSB has been excellent but there have been no
                  surprises. The center fuel tank blew up and killed my family, and the loved
                  ones of the other family members. That is not supposed to happen, is it?''
                  Lychner said.

                  Michel Breistroff from Paris, whose son Michel, 24, had been about to join
                  the French Olympic hockey team, is not convinced the plane was brought
                  down by a mechanical problem. He said he had lingering doubts about a
                  missile or some other non-mechanical means.

                  ``They have been explaining to me but inside my head I don't fully believe
                  what they are saying. I wish I could be convinced so I could be free,''
                  Breistroff said.

                  The board spent much of Wednesday afternoon focusing on the missile
                  theory, stressing that no radar returns show the presence of a missile.

                  Eyewitness reports generally support the evidence of an internal explosion,
                  though a few mention a streak of light before the plane went down.

                  Investigator David L. Mayer said that the first explosion in the moving
                  airplane would have looked like a small, moving light followed, a few seconds
                  later, by a fireball as the plane broke up and fuel from other tanks went into
                  the blaze. The fireball then would break up as the pieces fell into the ocean.

                  ``There is a remarkable consistency of the accounts and most seem to be
                  describing the breakup of the accident airplane,'' Mayer said.

                  Some witnesses who reported seeing a streak from the ground didn't include
                  that in their first description, only adding it later after the idea had been raised
                  in the news, he added.

                  ``Witness statements only help solve the puzzle, physical evidence is almost
                  always the key,'' said board member John Goglia.

                  Earlier Wednesday the board raised the question of aging aircraft. The TWA
                  Flight 800 plane was 25 years old.

                  ``The longer an airplane is around, the more changes and modifications it
                  needs,'' said Hall, adding that it is not clear the industry is paying enough
                  attention to these problems.

                  The Federal Aviation Administration and the aviation industry have launched
                  aging aircraft programs to study the needs of older planes and how to deal
                  with them.

                  Goglia, a former aviation mechanic, stressed that the mere age of an aircraft 
                  does not mean it's not safe. ``A properly maintained airplane can last forever,'' he said.

                  Robert Swaim of the board's aviation engineering division said, however, that 
                  inspections of a number of commercial aircraft showed increasing problems as 
                  the planes got older.

                  ``We looked at other planes from other carriers and other countries,'' Swaim said.
                  Inspectors found worn insulation, improper wiring repairs, open splices that should
                  have been sealed and lint on circuit breakers.

                  Bernard Loeb, the board's aviation safety director, cautioned that investigators were
                  not saying the problem had reached the level of planes being unsafe. 

Home - Last Updated: