Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

                  Tuesday August 22 11:02 AM ET

                Electrical Fault Likely Cause of TWA Crash 

                  By Jim Wolf

                  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. safety investigators on Tuesday ruled 
                  out a criminal act as the cause of the explosion that destroyed TWA
                  Flight 800 and killed all 230 people aboard four years ago, and said the most
                  likely cause was an electrical fault.

                  Capping the largest and costliest transportation accident investigation in
                  history, the National Transportation Safety Board dismissed various
                  conspiracy theories as it began a final review of a report into the crash at a
                  two-day public meeting.

                  National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Jim Hall ruled out
                  sabotage as the cause of the crash.

                  ``Had we found such evidence, we would have immediately referred the
                  matter back to the appropriate law enforcement authorities for their action,''
                  he said. ``Let me state unequivocally, the safety board found no such

                  Flight 800, a Paris-bound Boeing 747-100, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean
                  off the coast of Long Island 14 minutes after takeoff from New York's
                  Kennedy International Airport on July 17, 1996.

                  Bernard Loeb, director of the NTSB's office of aviation safety, said the most
                  likely cause of the crash involved electrical wiring leading to the center-wing
                  fuel tank.

                  ``Although the voltage in the fuel quantity indication system wiring is limited
                  by design to a very low level, a short circuit from higher-voltage wires, could
                  allow excessive voltage to be transferred to fuel quantity indication system
                  wires and enter the tank,'' he said.

                  ``We cannot be certain that this, in fact, occurred but of all the ignition
                  scenarios we considered, this scenario is the most likely,'' Loeb said.

                  Preliminary findings blamed the crash on a powerful blast in the nearly empty
                  center-wing fuel tank. But Boeing investigators, reporting on their own $32
                  million investigation, said this month that they had been unable to pinpoint
                  what sparked the explosion.

                  Theories ranged from a wiring fault to bombs or a shoulder-fired,
                  heat-seeking ``Stinger'' missile. The missile theory circulated widely among
                  conspiracy theorists after some witnesses reported seeing upward streaking
                  lights at the time of the crash.

                  To disprove the poorly corroborated witness reports, investigators fired
                  Stingers from a Florida beach in April. The idea was that their probe would
                  not be complete unless they made a detailed comparison between what
                  witnesses reported and the sights and sounds a missile would make in the
                  same atmospheric conditions and lighting as prevailed that evening on the
                  Long Island coast.

                  More than 95 percent of the TWA aircraft was retrieved from the ocean
                  floor in 727 pieces. Fitted to a 94-foot reconstruction at a hanger in
                  Calverton, N.Y., the debris ''provided the crucial evidence of the explosion
                  of the center-wing tank,'' Vernon Ellingstad of the NTSB's Office of
                  Research and Engineering said in October 1998.

                  Since, all efforts to track down what set off the chain of events apparently
                  have failed. The focus has been the conditions that produced explosive
                  vapors in the tank.

                  A Boeing report to the NTSB in April said no evidence had been found to
                  support the idea that a ``specific electrical system or component of the
                  747-100 fuel quantity indicating system ignited a fuel/air explosion.''

                  ``None of the recovered fuel system components inspected and analyzed
                  showed any evidence of being the ignition source that initiated the accident,''
                  Boeing said.

                  Even without knowing for sure what sparked the accident, the investigation 
                  has led to far-reaching changes in design and maintenance procedures that 
                  are said by experts to have made commercial aviation safer.

                  Armed with lessons from Flight 800, the Federal Aviation Administration has 
                  put out 40 separate safety directives ordering accelerated inspections or 
                  replacement of suspect parts, chiefly in fuel systems.

                  ``The crash of flight 800 graphically demonstrated that, even in one of the safest  
                  transportation systems in the world, things can go horribly wrong,'' Hall said.

                  During the meeting, the five members of the safety board will discuss -- section 
                  by section -- a still-secret draft report prepared by their staff.

                  After having reviewed all the issues, the board is to consider the staff's draft 
                  conclusions, probable cause determination and ultimate safety recommendations. 

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