Rumor vs. fact: the Internet's role in TWA crash probe
December 8, 1997
Web posted at: 12:25 p.m. EST (1725 GMT)
(CNN) -- The Internet, where rumors abounded not long after
last year's fiery crash of TWA Flight 800, is now the place
to find massive amounts of information released by
On Monday, the National Transportation Safety Board began a
week of televised hearings, which are being Webcast live on
CNN Interactive. The hearings got under way one day after
the NTSB released more than 4,000 pages of findings on its
investigation into the crash and the loss of 230 lives.
The documents, which can be viewed on both the NTSB and CNN
Web sites, include some information that had not previously
been made public:
- Analysis of victims' autopsies revealed that as many as 47
of the 230 people on board the 747 may not have been killed
instantly by the center fuel tank explosion that felled the
The NTSB concluded that 15 people may not have died instantly
and four passengers definitely weren't killed by the
explosion. In the cases of another 28 victims, the NTSB was
unable to determine whether they might have lived for a short
time after the explosion. But at least 183 of the passengers
were killed instantly, the NTSB says.
CIA Animation graphic
- The NTSB conducted simulations trying to recreate the
conditions that existed inside the plane before the crash.
They showed that temperatures in the center fuel tank of the
plane were well above explosive levels, even before takeoff.
That finding would seem to bolster the conclusion of federal
investigators who suspect that volatile vapors collecting in
the center fuel tank may have exploded and brought down the
The simulations showed that the temperature in the center
fuel tank reached 145 degrees. Explosions can be touched off
at 100 degrees.
Airing, discrediting conspiracy theories
By getting the news out via the Net, the NTSB is making
information available to millions of people -- just as
conspiracy theorists did soon after the Boeing 747 blew apart
and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.
The first postings were speculation about the cause of the
July 17, 1996, crash, but in the world of the Internet, where
every viewpoint gets equal airing, the rumors took on an air
of possibility, if not believability.
CNN Interactive is offering a live webcast.
Read selected portions of the NTSB report
In the hearings, investigators will be under oath as they answer questions from experts and safety officials. Members of the general public, including friends and relatives of victims, will be in the audience.
Former ABC News correspondent Pierre Salinger accepted and
then promoted a theory that circulated on the Internet
claiming that Flight 800 was downed by a U.S. Navy missile
and that the accident was covered up by the government.
Salinger later said he was giving up his independent
investigation after the co-author of the friendly fire
report, Ian Goddard, said his findings were "reckless and a
The "best antidote" for a conspiracy theory is to "insert
facts into the rumor mill," says Lori Fena of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation. The San Francisco-based organization
works to promote access to public resources and
responsibility in online media.
The NTSB is to be praised for releasing its findings, Fena
told CNN. "We feel very strongly that the best thing is --
rather than censor speech -- actually more speech."
Correspondent Brian Nelson contributed to this report.