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Source: Traces of 2nd explosive found in TWA debris


RDX was used in 1988 Pan Am bombing

August 30, 1996
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EDT

SMITHTOWN, New York (CNN) -- Investigators have found traces of the chemical RDX in the wreckage of TWA Flight 800, CNN has learned. The substance was one of the ingredients in the deadly bomb that exploded aboard Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Investigators admitted Friday that they had found traces of a second chemical on pieces of wreckage from the July 17 TWA crash, but wouldn't say what the substance was or where it was found.

But two sources close to the probe told CNN it was RDX. RDX and PETN -- traces of the latter were found on TWA debris earlier this month -- combine to make Semtex, the explosive used in the Pan Am crash in 1988 that killed 270 people. That crash was blamed on terrorists.

FBI scientists found the trace of PETN on a section of flooring from the center of the TWA Boeing 747 jetliner.

According to one source, the RDX was found on a curtain used in the cargo compartment of the jumbo jet. This source said the curtain was thought to have come from a cargo hold at the rear of the plane.

Officially, the cause of the explosion aboard TWA 800 remains undetermined and the FBI says its latest trace findings are not enough to declare the crash a case of sabotage.

FBI and National Transportation Safety Board officials said in a joint statement Friday: "Based on all of the scientific and forensic evidence analyzed to date, we still cannot conclude that TWA Flight 800 crashed as the result of an explosive device."

The investigators said evidence of "physical damage or patterns characteristic of a detonation" still must be found before they can say with certainty that a bomb or missile brought down the flight.

'Striking damage'

A safety board official told CNN Friday that investigators found "striking damage" to two seats in Row 23 on the right side of the plane; the two rows behind them -- 24 and 25 -- were missing. The row 26 seats were found.


"There's no question that's interesting, but it does not get us to the end game," a federal investigator said.

A separate source identified the damaged seats as Nos. 9 and 10, the far right seats nearest the wing and over the center fuel tank. He described the damage as fist-sized holes in the steel-plated back supports.

"There are holes in those seats," the source said. But, "there is no conclusion to be drawn from that evidence at this time."

Families questioned

The FBI has begun questioning families of passengers who were assigned seats in the missing rows 24 and 25.

Authorities want to know more about the background of those victims, where they may have traveled overseas in the past, and who their friends and associates were.

Rows 23-26 were located just a few feet behind the front edge of the right wing, where the wreckage shows the greatest amount of fire damage.

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