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S P E C I A L   S E C T I O N TWA Flight 800: One Year Later

Sources: TWA tests to probe missile theory

twa.investigation July 16, 1997
Web posted at: 1:35 p.m. EDT (1735 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Federal investigators have requested a test to see whether TWA Flight 800 could have generated enough heat to be detected by a heat-seeking missile, sources close to the investigation told CNN.

It was not immediately clear if the test had been conducted. The FBI and the Defense Department have requested the test to learn more about how heat-seeking missiles could threaten passenger flights.

A National Transportation Safety Board source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the test was designed to detect areas where the temperature might be hot enough to attract a heat-seeking missile.

Investigators have used a test plane this week to retrace the flight pattern of the jumbo jet that exploded over Long Island, killing all 230 people aboard. The one-year anniversary is Thursday.

According to sources, a Defense Department van with advanced signal-processing equipment was to shine infrared sensors at the test plane to see if air conditioners, located below the center fuel tank, gave off a heat signal that could be detected by a heat-seeking missile.


An explosion in the center fuel tank brought down the plane, but what caused it remains a mystery. Investigators have said it was most likely a mechanical failure, but have not ruled out the possibility of a bomb or missile.

The plane's engines would be the most likely target of a heat-seeking missile. But each was found intact after the blast.

Two test flights were launched Tuesday, including one that recreated TWA 800's exact flight path after idling for two hours on the Kennedy Airport tarmac with its air conditioning at full blast.

Investigators have theorized the air conditioners could have overheated fuel vapors inside and created a potentially dangerous situation.

The test flights will continue over the next two weeks. Information from test flight sensors will be analyzed at Boeing's facilities in Seattle. Test results will not be available for days.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 TWA employees were expected to attend a memorial service Wednesday for the 53 colleagues killed aboard the doomed flight.

TWA Flight 800
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