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TWA not convinced of mechanical failure theory


May 8, 1997
Web posted at: 3:11 a.m. EDT (0711 GMT)

From Correspondent Christine Negroni

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The FBI may be poised to declare the crash of TWA Flight 800 a mechanical malfunction, and airline officials aren't happy about it.

At TWA's headquarters in St. Louis, the airline's spokesman called illogical comments by FBI Director Louis Freeh that a mechanical cause was likely because no evidence of a bomb or missile had been found.

Diagram of plane showing site of explosion

In fact, the airline's spokesman accused the director of not leveling with the American people.

"You don't leave the field by saying, 'Well, we haven't been able to prove theory A or theory B, therefore it's probably theory C, although we can't prove that one either, thanks very much,'" said Mark Abels.

But lawyers for the families of passengers who died aboard the flight felt their cases were bolstered by the director's words.

The attorneys believe a finding that the crash was caused when a mechanical malfunction ignited the plane's center fuel tank would strengthen their case against Boeing, the plane's manufacturer.


"We may never know whether it was a fuel probe or a fuel pump or some other complement part within the fuel cell that failed, but we do know that something sparked to cause the explosion and that's the failure in the product that's the defect," said plaintiffs' attorney Frank Granito III.

In nearly 50 lawsuits filed since the crash, lawyers claim Boeing was aware that in some situations fuel vapors in the tank got hot enough to create a volatile brew. Boeing claims it has designed all ignition sources outside the tank, thereby eliminating the risk of explosion.


Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board suggest the tank explosion caused the crash but so far have been unable to determine what ignited the blast.

While TWA argues that investigators are drawing conclusions without hard evidence, several legal experts say uncertainty may ultimately be to the airline's benefit. As long as the ignition source remains a mystery, it will be hard to make a case that TWA was to blame.


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