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
likely cause was an electrical fault.
Capping the largest and costliest transportation accident investigation
history, the National Transportation Safety Board dismissed various
conspiracy theories as it began a final review of a report into the crash
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
likely cause of the crash involved electrical wiring leading to the center-wing
``Although the voltage in the fuel quantity indication system wiring is
by design to a very low level, a short circuit from higher-voltage wires,
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
center-wing fuel tank. But Boeing investigators, reporting on their own
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
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,''
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
put out 40 separate safety directives ordering accelerated inspections
replacement of suspect parts, chiefly in fuel systems.
``The crash of flight 800 graphically demonstrated that, even in one of
transportation systems in the world, things can go horribly wrong,'' Hall
During the meeting, the five members of the safety board will discuss --
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
conclusions, probable cause determination and ultimate safety recommendations.
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