U.S. investigators conclude TWA 800 downed by explosion in fuel tank

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The Independent US

Four years after TWA Flight 800 plunged into the ocean, killing all 230 people aboard, U.S. investigators have reached "the inescapable conclusion" that the plane was brought down by an explosion of fuel vapors in its center wing tank.

Four years after TWA Flight 800 plunged into the ocean, killing all 230 people aboard, U.S. investigators have reached "the inescapable conclusion" that the plane was brought down by an explosion of fuel vapors in its center wing tank.

"A fuel-air explosion ... was more than capable of generating the pressure needed to break apart the center wing tank and destroy the airplane," said Bernard S. Loeb, director of aviation safety for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Loeb summarized the investigators' findings as the board began a two-day session discussing the crash, its causes and possible safety measures that need to be taken.

Loeb indicated the investigators have yet to determine exactly what ignited the blast, but said an electrical short appears the most likely cause.

"The crash of Flight 800 graphically demonstrates that even in one of the safest transportation systems in the world, things can go horribly wrong," said NTSB Chairman Jim Hall.

Speculation about the cause of the crash has ranged from a spark in electrical wiring to turbulence caused by another aircraft to bombs and even a missile.

Both Loeb and Hall stressed that bombs and missiles have been ruled out.

"High-energy explosions leave distinctive damage signatures such as severe pitting, cratering, hot gas washing, and petaling. No such damage was found on any portion of the recovered airplane structure," said Loeb.

Hall added, "It is unfortunate that a small number of people, pursuing their own agendas, have persisted in making unfounded charges of a government cover-up in this investigation." The Boeing 747 crashed on July 17, 1996, shortly after taking off from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York en route to Paris.

The long, costly investigation has led to extensive changes in design and regulation that are expected to improve safety in the years to come.

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