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Electrical problems a new focus in TWA crash

animated wire short November 26, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Christine Negroni

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Crash investigators say they may have a new lead in the TWA Flight 800 crash: a series of problems with an electrical device in the plane's fuel system.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are closely considering a theory that faulty wiring triggered an explosion in the center fuel tank.

The doomed aircraft experienced electrical problems in the fuel system with "some frequency" according to an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board who did not wish his name to be used.

The investigator told CNN that repeated problems with the electronic aircraft refueling system and with the fuel flow indicator raises the possiblity that there were electrical shorts in the plane's wiring.

Minutes before the crash on July 17, the flight engineer is heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying that a fuel gauge is sticking.

Originally this was not considered significant because the flight data recorder showed all engines were fueled and operating normally.

Now, investigators think some sort of electrical short could have ignited the fumes in the fuel tank.

"If the wiring and insulation gets brittle, it begins to crack. The protective covering is worn away, so the likelihood of shorts is pretty high," said independent crash investigator Michael Hynes.


A senior investigator with the NTSB says static electricity in the fuel tank is another possible ignition source.

What investigators find most frustrating is that even after spending four months looking at the evidence, all of the theories being explored depend on a series of unlikely events. Several experts, including independent investigator Jerry Grey, believe the cause of TWA 800's crash may never be confirmed.

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While the NTSB pursues a mechanical explanation, FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom is telling reporters the criminal investigation also has an ignition theory. A mechanical problem, he said, could have been the result of sabotage.

All 230 people on Flight 800 died in the crash.


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