Flight 800: Accident Or Terrorist Attack? - Part 2
Was Mechanical Failure Theory Wrong?

Joey Mac Lellan for Suffolk Life Newspapers

December 15, 1998

The National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB), with assistance from the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, has maintained that the cause of the explosion that downed TWA Flight 800 on July 17, 1996 was an electronic malfunction in the Center Wing Tank (CWT). However, Commander William S. Donaldson (Retired) author of the 109-page Interim Report on the Crash of TWA Flight 800 and the Action of the NTSB and the FBI is disputing those findings. The report was given to the Congressional Subcommittee on Aviation in July - two years after the FL800 incident. The NTSB office in Calverton declined to comment and no one answered the phone at the Washington D. C. office number Calverton provided.

Declining to comment on Donaldson's report, FBI Agent Joseph Valiquette said, "This was one of the most thorough investigations ever conducted by the FBI." Valiquette, a spokesman for the New York FBI office, added that the FBI's investigation on Flight 800 "for all intent and purpose is closed, but we still maintain contact with the NTSB and will jump back in if any criminal cause is found." Donaldson's group, Associated Retired Aviation Professionals includes such notables as Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, USN (Ret.) former chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff; Rear Admiral Mark Hill, USN (Ret.) former commander of the USS Independence; and Brigadier General Ben Partin, USAF (Ret.) who designed the Continuous-Rod Warhead for the BOMARC anti-aircraft missile. They are suggesting that FL800, carrying 235 passengers and crew members, was destroyed by two high powered anti-aircraft warheads - one fired from near the Moriches Inlet, and the other from an unidentified ship about 17 nautical miles off shore. "Like most Americans," said Donaldson, "I was concerned when TWA Flight 800 mysteriously exploded" and initially followed the investigation in the media because "it was so unusual for something like this to happen to a Boeing 747 without an obvious external cause."

In the report, Donaldson charges that the NTSB has used "propaganda" to convince the media and public that a Boeing 747, containing Jet-A fuel, could explode despite the fact that Jet-A fuel is non-flammable kerosene, that the tank was actually devoid of fuel in the first place, and that "not one single piece of center wing shrapnel has been located in Flight 800 baggage containers, water tanks or anywhere forward of the Center Wing Tank." The commercial Boeing 747 aircraft began its career in the seventies. Since that time, "there has never been an in-flight explosion in any Boeing built airliner of Jet-A kerosene fuel vapor/air mixture in any tank, caused by mechanical failure," wrote Donaldson. Yet, in congressional testimony and statements to the media, the NTSB "cited the loss of an Air Force 707 and 3 KC135 air to air tanker aircraft to fuel tank explosions as examples of mishaps similar to TWA FL800," wrote Donaldson, who was a flight instructor and Air-Wing Safety Officer in charge of crash investigation for mishaps ashore and afloat. Officials at the Air Force's safety center, out West stated "there is no record of a 707 loss, and all three KC135s were fueled with JP4, a fuel as volatile as automobile gasoline."

FL800 had Jet-A fuel "which is similar to regular kerosene [and] will not easily light with a match, unless the fuel is misted in the atmosphere or aerated by a fuel injector," according to Donaldson's report. Even after admitting publicly that it knows "little about the flammable properties of Jet-A fuel," the NTSB told the media that a CWT explosion had caused the Philippines Air 737 crashed in 1990. Donaldson, however, noted that video and still photography taken after the Philippines Air 737 fire was extinguished, "show the Center Wing Tank did not explode." The plane's "undercarriage, wheels and center wing box (tank) were structurally sound enough to carry the load of engines and fuel ... under tractor tow," he noted. "Had the Center Wing Tank actually exploded in the manner the NTSB leadership suggests, the aircraft would have dropped on the ramp ..." The latest data, shows "Jet-A fuel to be safer than previously described in the Aviation Fuels Handbook.

In other words, the inference that Jet-A fuel posed some heretofore-unknown risk factor has proven to be totally false," Donaldson states. "The amount of fuel vapor, and therefore the potential flammability in a tank is primarily dependent of the temperature of the liquid fuel in the tank," wrote Donaldson. The liquid fuel temperature in the Boeing 747's CWT can be easily taken through the tank's low point drain while the plane is on the ground. This is often done, he said, to check for water ice or contaminants "in a simple two-minute procedure at virtually no cost." Despite this information, the NTSB recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration impose "multiple safety recommendations that would have cost billions if implemented," the report states. "All were based on the assumptions that B747 lightly fueled Center Wing Tanks are dangerously flammable during warm weather and that FL800's loss was initiated by a spontaneously exploding tank."

Like the unsubstantiated flammable nature of Jet-A fuel, the NTSB, according to Donaldson, misled the public and commercial airline industry when it also claimed that the CWT has a tendency to heat up. In October 1997, Donaldson said he took the temperature of a Boeing 747's CWT from an aircraft turning around at JFK for return trip to Europe. "The temperature was 69 degrees Fahrenheit, one degree hotter than ambient air temperature, despite the fact all the air-pacts had been running for the hour the aircraft had been on the ground" awaiting takeoff. In an effort to support its CWT accident theory, the NTSB and the FBI had secret tests conducted in the United Kingdom.