Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

   Source: FDCH Political Transcripts, 08/22/2000

   AUGUST 22, 2000


   [*] (JOINED IN PROGRESS) HALL: ... many private citizens who made
   valiant efforts in the immediate hours and days after the aircraft
   went down. I would also like to thank the Coast Guard, the Navy, the
   FBI, NOAA, and the many other state and federal agencies that assumed
   major roles in the search and recovery effort. I would like to note
   the encouragement and support we have received from the White House
   and Congress in providing the resources needed to conduct what has
   become the most extensive, complex and expensive investigation in the
   Safety Board's 33 year history.

   From the beginning, the scope and dimensions of this investigation
   have been extraordinary. The salvage effort, organized by the Navy,
   one of the largest diver-assisted salvage operations ever conducted,
   extended from July to November, 1996.

   The Navy divers worked in very difficult and dangerous conditions and,
   for a time, their efforts had to be halted because of the onset of the
   Atlantic hurricane season.

   When the diving operations were completed, there followed months of
   work by contracted fishing trollers that scoured hundreds of miles of
   the ocean floor.

   In the end, we recovered the remains of all 230 victims, and more than
   95 percent of the aircraft. The reconstruction of the 93-foot segment
   of the fuselage, including the center wing fuel tank, was unique both
   in size and scope. More than 30 people worked meticulously for many
   month to sort through innumerable pieces of wreckage and assemble the
   wreckage in an effort to better understand what happened to flight

   The number of organizations, public and private, that played a
   significant role in this investigation is extensive. I want to pause
   for a few minutes, so you can see the almost 500 names of those
   entities and individuals that contributed to the investigative
   process. I direct your attention to the screens in front of you.


   HALL: ... to study the temperatures and environment inside the
   aircraft's center wing tank. We also conducted extensive research into
   the composition and explosive characteristics of jet A fuel. In
   addition, we conducted tests and computer simulation work to study
   flame and pressure propagation in the center-wing tank.

   Earlier on in the process, investigators began looking at what roll
   electromagnetic interference from external emitters or sources
   internal to the aircraft may have played in the crash.

   The investigation also included the most extensive radar data study in
   the board's history, including a review of several hundred thousand
   radar returns from nine radar locations in five states.

   The investigative team also spent a great deal of time organizing and
   carefully analyzing the summaries of witness interviews, the Federal
   Bureau of Investigation provided to the board.

   We will be reviewing the work done by the witness group and many of
   the others in the course of this meeting. All of the investigative
   work undertaken as part of this investigation, was extremely complex.
   Because of the need for precision, and in some cases, the danger posed
   to those performing the test, the work had to be painstakingly done to
   make sure that it was done properly, safely and accurately.

   And of course, it was not inexpensive. We are fortunate to secure the
   assistance of a broad array of institutions, including the Department
   of Defense laboratories at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and the
   Navy's China Lake and Patuxent River facilities. Important work was
   also done at NASA's Langley Research Center and the Sandia
   Laboratories, among others.

   We also contracted with private institutions, such as the California
   Institute of Technology, and the University of Nevada-Reno, and
   various specialties to conduct research.

   Experts from other countries, including the United Kingdom, Norway and
   Canada, also assisted us. And the French aviation authorities
   participated under the terms of the Convention on International Civil

   Much has been learned over the course of the past four years. And the
   five board members seated before you will be examining and discussing
   the results of the staff's work during this sunshine meeting.

   I must emphasize that, over the next two day, you will observe some
   extremely technical discussion about the issues raised in the
   investigation. In preparation for this meeting, the board members each
   read the 684-page report and the 177 pages of information that were
   provided in party submissions.

   The extensive record of this investigation now approaches some 15,000
   pages, and is available to everyone in the board's public docket. The
   investigative group's factual reports can also be found on our Web
   page, the other supporting documentation is available in CD-ROM

   During the course of this investigation, the board received a great
   number of suggestions and comments from many individuals and
   organizations on possible causes of the crash of flight 800, and
   recommendations for possible lines of investigation.

   Much of this commentary has been well-informed and we appreciated
   receiving it. Safety board staff has reviewed all of this material and
   took those ideas that appeared to have a scientific basis and offered
   a reasonable line of inquiry into account as the accident
   investigation progressed.

   In the early months of the investigation, it became clear that an
   explosion of flammable vapors in the aircraft's center-wing tank
   initiated the break-up and subsequent crash of Flight 800.

   In December, 1996, based on the board's conclusion, that heated
   flammable vapors in the aircraft fuel tank poses a serious risk to
   safe flight, the board recommended that the Federal Aviation
   Administration study design changes to deal with this problem and, in
   the interim, they require operational exchanges to enhance safety. In
   April, 1998, the board issued another set of recommendations focused
   on aircraft wiring and the fuel quality -- quantity indication system.

   During this meeting, we will be assessing what has been done in
   response to those recommendations, as well as what remains to be

   More broadly, the flight 800 investigation has uncovered and focused
   the attention of the aviation community on some very important safety
   issues: fuel tank protection; the vulnerability of aircraft wiring;
   and a number of aging aircraft issues.

   We will pursue each of these items in some detail over the next two

   This is a lot of ground to cover, but before moving ahead, I would
   like to make one additional comment. I know that. at the outset, many
   believe that the crash of flight 800 was caused by a criminal act and,
   for many, the efforts of the times, the ongoing court trials and the
   aftermath of the World Trade Center bombings in New York, and the
   heightened concern about terrorism at the 1996 Olympic games in
   Atlanta, seemed to lead a certain credence to the notion.

   Certainly, the nature of the event, and its rarity, led some to
   question whether the crash of flight 800 was really an accident. As
   many of you know, a substantial law enforcement investigation was
   conducted in parallel with the safety board's investigation.

   After conducting a thorough investigation, the FBI suspended its
   investigation in November, 1997, indicating that no evidence had been
   found to indicate that a criminal act was the cause of the tragedy of
   TWA Flight 800.

   Despite this finding, by our nation's law enforcement agency, the
   Federal Bureau of Investigation, some have urged the safety board to
   assume, in effect, a law enforcement role, to prove or disprove, their
   assertion that the crash of flight 800 was the result of a bomb or a
   missile. That is beyond this agency's mandate and authority.

   Our focus is safety. Our people are aviators, engineers and
   scientists. I believe some of the best in the world. But they are not
   criminal investigators.

   However, even though our law enforcement -- even though our employees
   are not law enforcement personnel, they examined every piece of
   wreckage, for any physical evidence that the crash -- that the crash
   of flight 800 could have been caused by a bomb or amissile.

   Had we found such evidence, we would have immediately referred the
   matter back to the appropriate law enforcement agencies for their

   Let me state unequivocally, the Safety Board has found no evidence. To
   the families of flight 800, I would like to add this comment. It is
   unfortunate that a small number of people, pursuing their own agendas,
   have persisted in making unfounded charges of a government cover-up in
   this investigation. These people do a grievous injustice to the many
   dedicated individuals, civilian and military, who had been involved in
   this investigation. Some 75 NTSB members have participated in this
   investigation. I'll pause while their name are listed on the screens
   in front of you.


   that massive effort symbolizes the extent to which this investigation
   has gone, and leaving no stone unturned.

   Al Dickinson, the investigator in charge, will be discussing the
   on-scene portion of the investigation in his opening remarks, so I
   will not go into detail about that at this time.

   What I am going to do is to summarize the significant findings of our
   investigation. This will be just an overview. More detailed
   explanations will be provided by investigators during their individual
   presentations over the next two days. But I think an overall summary
   of what you will be hearing would be valuable to put things in

   First, we knew almost immediately after the accident that TWA Flight
   800 had experienced an in-flight breakup. This was strongly suggested
   by the radar data. There was a loss of transponder returns, and the
   primary radar returns indicated that pieces had departed the airplane
   and were fairly widely dispersed in the ocean.

   The wreckage recovery locations made it evident relatively early in
   the investigation that the in-flight breakup was initiated by an event
   in the area of the fuselage near the forward part of the center wing
   tank. Specifically, pieces from the forward part of the center wing
   tank and adjacent areas of fuselage were recovered from the
   westernmost portion of the wreckage field, the portion of the wreckage
   field closest to JFK Airport, from where Flight 800 took off. This
   first wreckage area is referred to as the Red Zone.

   The recovery of the pieces from the Red Zone indicated that they were
   the first pieces to separate from the airplane. The nose portion of
   the airplane was found further to the east and what was labeled the
   Yellow Zone, indicating that this portion of the airplane separated
   later in the breakup sequence. And most of the remaining wreckage was
   found in the eastern-most portion of the wreckage field farthest from
   JFK, which was labeled the Green Zone.

   Further, analytical studies of the trajectories of the departing
   pieces of the airplane were consistent with the wreckage recovery
   findings. This basic evidence, the radar data and the wreckage
   recovery locations, indicated that the airplane broke up inflight and
   that the breakup initiated in the area of the fuselage near the
   forward part of the center wing tank. On the basis of this initial
   information, we considered several possible causes for the initiation
   of the in-flight breakup: a structural failure and decompression; a
   detonation of a high-energy explosive device, such as a bomb or
   missile warhead; and a fuel/air vapor explosion in the center wing

   We found no evidence that a structural failure and decompression
   initiated the breakup. A thorough examination of the wreckage by our
   engineers and metallurgists did not reveal any evidence of fatigue,
   corrosion or any other structural fault that could have led to the

   As a side note, I would like to mention that there was absolutely no
   evidence of an in-flight separation of the forward cargo door, one of
   the many theories suggested to us by the members of the public. The
   physical evidence demonstrated that the forwardcargo door was closed
   and latched at water impact.

   We also considered the possibility of a bomb or missile. However,
   high-energy explosions leave distinctive damage signatures on the
   airplane structure, such as severe pitting, cratering, hot gas washing
   and petalling. No such damage was found on any portion of the
   recovered airplane structure. And as you know, more than 95 percent of
   the airplane was recovered.

   Our investigators, together with many outside participants from the
   parties to the investigation, closely examined every piece of
   recovered wreckage. All of the participants agreed that none of the
   wreckage exhibited any of the damage characteristic of a high-energy
   explosion. That is, of a bomb or a missile.

   Further, no missing portions of fuselage were large enough to
   represent the entry of a missile. You may have noticed that some of
   the photographs of the reconstruction show what appear to be several
   large missing areas, such as those that are shown on the screen now.

   However, almost all of the fuselage structure in these areas is
   actually attached to the adjacent pieces but has been folded back or
   crushed in such a way that it does not cover its original area.
   Therefore, these large gaps that appear to exist in the reconstructed
   fuselage do not represent areas of damage that could have been caused
   by a missile.

   In addition, we found no localized area of severe thermal or
   fragmentation issues and no localized severe damage or fragmentation
   of the seats, as such as would be expected if a high-energy explosive
   device had detonated inside the airplane. The injuries to the
   occupants and the damage of the airplane were fully consistent with an
   in-flight breakup and subsequent water impact. In light of all this
   evidence, a bomb or missile strike has been ruled out as an initiating
   event of the in-flight breakup.

   The FBI did find trace amounts of explosive residue on three pieces of
   the wreckage. However, these three pieces contain no evidence of
   pitting, cratering, hot gas washing or petalling, which would have
   been there had these trace amounts resulted from abomb or missile.

   Further, these trace amounts could have been transferred to these
   pieces in various ways. For example, in connection with ferrying
   troops during the Gulf War or during dog-training explosive detection
   exercises that were conducted on the accident airplane about one month
   before the accident.

   There is also the possibility that the explosive residues could have
   been deposited on the wreckage during or after recovery operations as
   a result of contact with the military personnel ships and vehicles
   used during those operations. We don't know exactly how the explosive
   residues got there, but we do know from the physical evidence I've
   just discussed that the residues were not the result of the detonation
   of a bomb.

   Unlike the other two scenarios I've just mentioned, a structural
   failure or high-energy explosive, the third scenario we considered, a
   Jet A fuel/air explosion in the center wing tank, was consistent with
   the physical evidence. Specifically, as I've already mentioned, the
   wreckage recovery locations indicated that the first pieces to depart
   the airplane were from in and around the front of the center wing

   Based on these recovery locations and damage characteristics, the
   investigative group led by Jim Wildey, known as the Metallurgy and
   Structure Sequencing Group, determined that the earliest event in the
   breakup sequence was an overpressure inside the center wing tank that
   caused structural failure of its forward part. This overpressure event
   started the breakup sequence that ultimately resulted in the
   destruction of the airplane.

   I would like to emphasize that all of the parties to the
   investigation, as well as numerous outside experts and researchers,
   have agreed with the findings of the sequencing group. Jim Wildey will
   be explaining the breakup sequence a little later today.

   The point I would like to make now is simply that the initial breakup
   sequence and early departure of pieces from in and around the center
   wing tank clearly indicate that the breakup was initiated by an
   overpressure inside the center wing tank. Given that there was no
   high-energy explosion in this or any other area of the airplane, this
   overpressure must have been caused by a fuel/air explosion inside the
   center wing tank.

   However, questions were raised early in the investigation about
   whether the conditions necessary for a fuel/air explosion could have
   existed inside the accident airplane's center wing tank; and also
   whether a Jet A fuel/air explosion could generate sufficient pressure
   to break apart the fuel tank and destroy the airplane.

   To address the first issue, the Safety Board conducted flight tests at
   JFK in July of 1997 using a 747 leased from Evergreen Airlines.
   Several test flights were conducted under conditions similar to those
   experienced by Flight 800. The fuel/air vapor inside the center wing
   tank was measured at various locations during the flight. The
   temperatures inside the center wing tank at the altitude at which the
   accident occurred, approximately 13,800 feet, ranged between 101 and
   127 degrees Fahrenheit. Extensive work done by scientists at the
   California Institute of Technology showed that the Jet A fuel under
   the conditions experienced by Flight 800 would have been flammable at
   these temperatures. In fact, their work demonstrated that fuel vapors
   under those conditions may have been flammable at temperatures as low
   as 96 degrees. Dr. Joseph Kolly will be talking more about this
   research later today.

   The second issue, whether an explosion of Jet A fuel could generate
   sufficient pressure to break apart the fuel tank and destroy the
   airplane, was also put to rest in the investigation. Laboratory tests
   and quarter-scale tests under the direction of scientist at the
   California Institute of Technology demonstrated the pressures
   exceeding the structural limitations of the forward portion of the
   center wing tank were produced from the combustion of a Jet A fuel/air
   mixture similar to the one that existed in the center wing tank of TWA
   Flight 800.


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   Source: FDCH Political Transcripts.
   Item Number: 101814474880

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