Divers recover fuel probes from center tank
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal investigators working on the crash of TWA Flight 800 are studying two newly recovered fuel probes from the center fuel tank to determine if they played a role in causing an explosion on the ill-fated 747.
The fuel probes were recovered from the ocean floor late last week and are now in the labs of the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington.
Shelly Hazle, spokeswoman for the NTSB, says that the metal on the probes show "petaling," characteristic of metal damaged by an explosion. But she says investigators are cautious about what that petaling indicates regarding how the fuel tank itself blew up.
It could show signs that the metal was close to an explosion, or, an NTSB spokeswoman said, it could also be the result of superheated metal hitting the water after a fall from 13,000 feet.
Investigators have long said that an explosion in the fuel tank was a key factor in the crash of TWA Flight 800.
NTSB, FBI pressured to find answers
Lacking anything more specific than that, the FBI's Jim Kallstrom and NTSB chairman Jim Hall have come under increasing pressure to explain why the plane crashed July 17. The two now say they plan to review the direction of the investigation.
There are discussions between the two agencies that reportedly include the hiring of a private company to create a full-sized plywood mockup of the 747. Recovered pieces of the center section of the plane would then be attached to the model.
Such a plan is not without its detractors among those working on the plane's current reconstruction, but a similar rebuild was carried out on the remains of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, nearly eight years ago.
TWA head resigns
Meanwhile, the airline announced late Thursday that its president and CEO, Jeffrey Erickson, would step down in January after two years at the helm. Erickson will spend his last three months at the airline helping the board choose his successor.
Earlier Thursday TWA posted a $14.3 million quarterly loss. The Flight 800 crash date was included in this quarter, and the company blamed a drop in traffic following the crash for its loss. In the previous quarter, which ended just before the crash, TWA had reported a 400 percent gain in its earnings.
FAA says it looked into making fuel tanks safer
In the wake of news that the fuel tank on the flight may have exploded, the Federal Aviation Administration admitted Thursday that it explored avenues for making the tanks safer some 20 years ago.
The FAA said that in the early 1970s, the agency explored several avenues for improving the safety of aircraft by making fuel tanks less volatile during flights in which they were empty.
One solution considered was a procedure to reduce oxygen levels in the tanks by making them inert with nitrogen gas. The idea was never brought to proposal stage. Instead, attention was diverted to explosion-proofing the items attached to the fuel tank, motors and other wiring.
Still, the idea is one of several being kicked around by National Transportation Safety Board investigators looking into the July crash. There was an explosion in the Boeing 747's nearly empty fuel tank, but it has not yet been determined whether that was the primary explosion that brought the jetliner down.
Tom McSweeney, the FAA's director of aircraft compliance, says from what the FAA has seen so far of the ongoing investigation into the crash, "We do not have an overwhelming compelling need to start inerting fuel tanks."
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