Thursday August 24 2:34 AM ET
NTSB: TWA Flight Downed By Fuel
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
short circuit. It asked the Federal Aviation Administration to examine
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
recommendations to the FAA, and it has acted or is taking action on most
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?''
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,''
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
the blaze. The fireball then would break up as the pieces fell into the
``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
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
Flight 800 plane was 25 years old.
``The longer an airplane is around, the more changes and modifications
needs,'' said Hall, adding that it is not clear the industry is paying
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
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,
inspections of a number of commercial aircraft showed increasing problems
the planes got older.
``We looked at other planes from other carriers and other countries,''
Inspectors found worn insulation, improper wiring repairs, open splices
have been sealed and lint on circuit breakers.
Bernard Loeb, the board's aviation safety director, cautioned that investigators
not saying the problem had reached the level of planes being unsafe.
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