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NTSB begins review of TWA crash probe

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Panel expected to blame fuel tank explosion

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The National Transportation Safety Board begins two days of public meetings Tuesday to review its investigation into 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800.

The NTSB is expected to rule that the center fuel tank caused the crash when it exploded. Boeing officials have told reporters the cause of the explosion itself could not be pinned down.

The probe was one of the longest and most intense in the agency's history.

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CNN Aviation Correspondent Carl Rochelle looks at the 4-year investigation

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"This investigation I believe was unprecedented in terms of the amount of wreckage recovery that was undertaken, the wreckage reconstruction, the amount of testing that was done as a result of the investigation," said Ron Hinderberger of Boeing.

All 230 passengers and crew were killed when the Boeing 737 crashed into the Atlantic off Long Island, New York, on July 17, 1996.

Investigators concluded early on that the plane was brought down by the fuel tank explosion.

An early belief that terrorists may have been responsible brought the FBI into the investigation. The safety board member in charge of the investigation denied reports that there was any tension between the two agencies.

"It was enormously valuable to have hundreds of FBI people up there on Long Island. If the NTSB had been trying to do that by themselves, we would have been there for an awful lot longer," said former NTSB vice chairman Bob Francis.

Investigators took a hard look at dozens of possible causes, both criminal and mechanical.

Among the tests they conducted, was the blowing up of the center fuel tank in a 747 to see the characteristics of an explosion, and asking the military to fire Stinger missiles for comparison with eyewitness descriptions of tracking the jetliner.

"We've looked at everything," said Hinderberger. "We've suspected any possible mechanical device or possible electrical system as a potential ignition source in the tank."

The search for clues to the TWA explosion has made flying safer after the FAA ordered 40 changes to fix potentially unsafe conditions in aircraft fuel tanks.



RELATED STORIES:
Specials: TWA Flight 800

Missiles test-fired to rule out TWA 800 theory
June 1, 2000
Boeing delayed handing over study of fuel tanks to TWA 800 investigators
October 30, 1999
FAA proposes rules to reduce risk of fuel tank explosions
October 28, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization
National Transportation Safety Board
The Boeing Company
FAA
TWA
Aviation Safety Institute

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