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Flight 800 lawsuit puts focus on fuel pump

pump December 26, 1996
Web posted at: 9:40 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A lawsuit stemming from the crash of TWA Flight 800 is targeting the manufacturer of the fuel pump used in the Boeing 747 aircraft.

The suit, filed by the estate of Flight 800 passenger Susan Hill, alleges that Hydro-Aire of California designed a faulty pump that contributed to the explosion that destroyed the plane July 17, killing all 230 aboard.

Boeing and TWA were also named as defendants in the suit. Nearly two dozen lawsuits have been filed since the crash.

The TWA flight from New York to Paris that exploded off the coast of Long Island carried two of Hydro-Aire's pumps in its center fuel tank. Both of those pumps were later tested by NASA experts who found no evidence that they contributed to the explosion of the fuel tank.

This is not the first lawsuit that Hydro-Aire has faced. In 1989, it was charged with falsifying the test results that are intended to demonstrate a fuel pump can run without overheating.


The suit followed a 1988 crash of a B-52 bomber made by Boeing that exploded after a pump allegedly malfunctioned, igniting the fuel vapors in the plane's rear center fuel tank.

The suit was settled with no determination on the accuracy of the allegations. But the Air Force was concerned enough to ask Boeing to supervise additional tests of the Hydro-Aire pumps.

Boeing has expressed concern about the safety of the fuel pumps. In a memo obtained by CNN, a Boeing engineer recommended that Hydro-Aire pumps on the B-52s be replaced.

In the early 1990s the Air Force did just that and began using pumps made by another company. But Dick Zeigler, a spokesman for Boeing's military aircraft division, said that the company's concern about the B-52 pumps was not applicable to the pumps used in the 747.

The B-52 pumps "were not believed to be sufficiently similar to any pump used on our commercial products to warrant talking to civilian regulators," Zeigler told CNN.

The Air Force also examined the Hydro-Aire pumps used on military 747s including Air Force One and determined that the pumps were significantly different in design from the B-52 pumps and do not pose a similar risk.

Hydro-Aire President Raymond Boushie told CNN that "the B-52 crash was an Air Force maintenance problem."


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