Searchers begin lifting TWA engines from ocean
French authorities asked to investigate crash
August 9, 1996
HAMPTON BAYS, New York (CNN) -- Investigators will soon be able to study the engines of TWA Flight 800, the jumbo jet that exploded without warning and crashed into the Atlantic last month, killing all 230 people aboard.
National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis told reporters Friday that search teams had pulled out the first of the four engines from the ocean and were hoping to hoist the third one soon. The first engine was mounted on the far left of the plane's wing; the third engine was on the right wing, nearest the fuselage.
"They've located what they believe is part of a third engine," Francis said. "Hopefully, the fourth engine will be under what is still a substantial amount of wreckage under (USS) Grasp."
Recovered and identified portions of the plane
Navy and police divers, who have been working 12-hour shifts, will be given 24 hours rest between shifts, instead of the 12-hour breaks allowed since the crash three weeks ago, Francis said.
One diver said swimming through the wreckage field was like "diving in razor blades," Francis recounted. "There will be a slight slowdown, so these guys can catch their breath," he said. "They certainly deserve it."
Experts estimate that between 40 and 45 percent of the Boeing 747 has been recovered since the July 17 crash; 34 bodies are still missing, Francis said.
A surprising find
A source who has seen pictures of the underwater debris from the flight says there's a large and surprising find in the debris field closest to John F. Kennedy International Airport that is now the focus of crash investigators.
This area contains many small pieces of wreckage from the front of the Boeing 747, including the nose cone, sections of the first class compartment and front landing gear. But the pictures in question show a 20-by-50-foot section of the aircraft that came from behind the wings.
No one is sure why this piece from so far back on the aircraft would be with the earliest debris. But representatives from the aircraft's manufacturer, who viewed the pictures, said the section came from the right side of the plane, behind the wings.
Investigators believe the explosion occurred in the front of the plane, but it was still not known whether the blast was caused by a bomb, a missile or mechanical failure. Evidence was still being sought that might prove any of the three prevailing theories.
The Paris-bound flight exploded in a fireball shortly after taking off from New York's Kennedy Airport. Most of those aboard were citizens of the United States and France.
French probe possible
In France, two French families whose children died on the plane have asked French authorities to investigate the crash, the families' said. Under French law, citizens may request a probe of French deaths aboard international flights.
Forty-eight French nationals were among those killed when the Paris-bound jet crashed shortly after takeoff.
Attorney Gilles-Jean Portejoie said in Clermont-Ferrand, France, that she was acting on behalf of the families of Alexandre Estival, 16, Noemie Richter, 15, and Anne-Lyse Richter, 17.
The investigation could conclude the deaths were the result of an accident, manslaughter or murder.
A memorial Mass for crash victims was celebrated Friday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the New York City borough of Queens. Among the 500 people in attendance were victims' families and representatives from TWA and other airlines.
After the Mass, 230 white balloons were released, one for each person who died in the disaster. A tree also will be planted at the airport to commemorate the dead.
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