Public hearings on TWA 800 crash start Monday
December 5, 1997
A large part of the investigation included the painstaking process of reconstructing the plane
Web posted at: 10:14 a.m. EST (1514 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The explosion of TWA Flight 800 in July
1996 will be dissected in painstaking detail at a safety
board hearing in Baltimore next week. But people still
hoping to hear an exact cause for the July 1996 crash likely
will be disappointed: No such announcement is planned.
There has been no precise answer as to what ignited the fuel
and air fumes in the center fuel tank of the Boeing 747 that
led to the explosion off New York's Long Island. All 230
people aboard were killed.
On Sunday the National Transportation Safety Board will issue
the investigative docket, over 4,000 pages of data gathered
by the federal agency and by U.S. and international research
laboratories working under contract.
Starting Monday, panels of investigators will face questions
from both NTSB technical experts and the board of inquiry
headed by agency Chairman James Hall.
CNN Interactive will make available the full NTSB report after it is released Sunday and webcast live the hearings next week.
The investigation has cost the NTSB more than $27 million so
far, and is the most expensive, extensive air crash probe
ever. About $6 million went to the Navy for recovering the
wreckage from the ocean floor.
Despite the investment of effort, the NTSB says investigators
still have months of work ahead of them.
Special Web site set up
Experiments like the explosion of this Boeing 747 in England generated data for the probe
Nevertheless, hundreds of victims' families, journalists and
lawyers will descend on Baltimore Convention Center for the
most detailed data so far. Flight 800 plunged into the
Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from Kennedy
Two of the more illustrative exhibits to be presented at the
hearing are videotapes. One, shot with a camera placed in a
smaller-scale model of the 747 fuel tank, shows what a tank
explosion and fire look like. The second is an animated
simulation of how the plane came apart.
Like a similar tape released by the FBI, the NTSB's
simulation is based on the best guesses of aerodynamics
experts and information about where pieces of the plane
landed in the Atlantic.
Hundreds of experiments, like a test explosion of an old 747
in England, generated so much data that the NTSB has created
a special Web site to disseminate it. Documents prepared for
the hearing will be available on CD-ROM. There are so many
that "it would take a moving van to get the papers up there"
to the hearings, former NTSB Vice Chairman Susan Coughlin
NTSB: TWA Flight 800 Public Hearing
FBI still influencing investigation
There is disagreement over red residue found on a few airplane seats
While the FBI pulled out of the investigation two weeks ago,
citing a lack of evidence to suggest that the crash had
criminal roots, the agency remains in the picture.
It has succeeded in convincing the safety board not to allow
testimony from crash eyewitnesses, nor to discuss the results
of chemical tests of red residue found on a few of the
plane's passenger seats.
Writer James Sanders stirred up controversy by obtaining
scraps of the seat fabric, then writing in his book, "The
Downing of TWA Flight 800," that he had had them analyzed and
found that the residue was missile fuel. Missile fuel
residue would support a discarded FBI theory that a missile
may have shot down the airliner.
"There wasn't a reddish-orange residue from throughout the
airplane," Sanders said. "It was in three rows. I had it
The FBI says the residue is adhesive. In a letter, FBI
Deputy Director James Kallstrom told the NTSB that charges
may soon be brought against those responsible for the theft
of the fabric from the hangar where the 747 was reassembled.
Although federal investigators still don't know exactly what
caused the explosion, they hope what has been learned so far
will show aviation experts how to prevent a similar accident.
Correspondent Christine Negroni and Reuters contributed to this report.