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First autopsy report released from TWA 800 crash

twa.800 January 3, 1997
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST

HAUPPAUGE, New York (CNN) -- The Suffolk County medical examiner has released the first autopsy report on the victims from TWA Flight 800.

The report on passenger Susan Hill, a homicide detective from Portland, Oregon, was received by her estate's Chicago attorney this week. The medical examiner, Dr. Charles Wetli, had to get permission from federal agencies investigating the crash before releasing it.

All 230 people on board the Boeing 747 were killed when the New York-to-Paris flight exploded and plunged into the Atlantic on July 17. Among the families of the 215 victims whose bodies were recovered, about 80 have sought the official explanation of how and when they died, Wetli said. Remains of 15 victims were never found.

Until now, the autopsy reports have been withheld pending an official determination of what caused the explosion. That determination still has not been made, and it's possible it never will be.

The reports are being sought by the families for legal purposes. For example, if an autopsy suggests a victim lived beyond the initial explosion and may have suffered as the plane went down, additional damages might be sought, if a lawsuit were filed.

But Watli has said since early in the investigation that he believes the victims either died instantly or were rendered unconscious when the plane exploded. On Friday, he again said he believed most of the victims died after suffering "the ultimate whiplash," separation of the spine from the skull.

He also said some of the victims were found to have carbon pigments or water in their lungs.

Records from the medical examiner's office also are being subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York for possible presentation to a grand jury, if investigators confirm the crash resulted from a criminal act.


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