Wednesday January 17 4:04 PM ET
TWA Wreckage to Be Teaching Tool
at NTSB Academy
By John Crawley
ASHBURN, Va. (Reuters) - The investigation of the TWA Flight 800
explosion was the most expensive and highest profile crash probe ever
conducted by U.S. safety and law enforcement investigators.
But investigators believe they can use the debris recovered from the crash
the centerpiece of a new training facility.
It took more than four years and at least $35 million to determine that
buildup of fuel vapors likely caused an explosion in the jumbo jet's center-fuel
tank, a finding facilitated by the painstaking reconstruction of the wreckage.
That wreckage, so critical in determining probable cause of the crash that
killed 230 people in July 1996, is stored for $400,000 a year in a hangar
Long Island, abandoned by the carrier and insurers and now the
responsibility of the federal government.
But the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has plans to make
novel use of it as the centerpiece of a training academy set to break ground
on Thursday in Virginia.
``There was a tremendous amount of funds being spent for the housing of
wreckage,'' NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said of the 93-foot section of
reconstructed aircraft and boxes of other stored debris. ``We took those
funds and leveraged them into this new training academy.''
Hall will preside over groundbreaking ceremonies on his last day at the
board. He was an activist chairman who presided over the TWA
investigation and three other major air crash probes.
His permanent successor will be named by President-elect George W. Bush
(news - web sites).
The multimillion-dollar NTSB Academy will be built by George Washington
University on its satellite campus in Ashburn, Virginia. The federal
government will lease it for 20 years for $2.5 million per year. The school's
aviation institute, which studies safety and security issues, is located
The NTSB facility is scheduled to open in 2003, and will include a two-floor
building with classrooms, a lecture hall, laboratories, and office space.
Another building will house the TWA wreckage.
``TWA is a very large and very complex system,'' said NTSB project
manager Robert Gilson. ``It's a big vehicle and there are an awful lot
we can use it for.''
He and other officials at the NTSB stressed the academy will serve as an
investigative tool for U.S. and international investigators, not a museum
facility for the public.
``The goal is to teach people who will do these investigations -- what
for, what kind of questions to ask,'' said Gilson. ``The bottom line is
The NTSB is an independent agency that probes every civil aviation accident
in the United States as well as other transportation accidents. It reports
probable cause and makes safety recommendations.
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