TWA flight 800 'missed safety checks'

The doomed American jet may have been unsafe after service with the Shah of Iran. Chris Blackhurst reports on the latest theory

Flight 800, the TWA Boeing 747 that crashed off Long Island last summer, killing all 230 people on board, may have escaped officially recommended safety changes because at a crucial period in its history the aircraft was owned by the late Shah of Iran, and was in private hands.

This theory for the still unexplained disaster has emerged from investigations by attorneys acting for the victims' families in New York. If true, it raises serious concerns about the way in which aircraft not owned by airlines are able to avoid inspections ordered by the air safety authorities. It also serves to bring home the age of the TWA aircraft.

The lawyers have discovered that the plane was bought by TWA from Boeing in 1971 and sold to the Imperial Iranian Air Force, for use by the Shah, in 1975. The aircraft left the US for Iran on 15 December 1975.

A year later, on 14 December 1976, the aircraft was bought back by TWA. However, shortly before its sale to Iran, the Federal Aviation Authority issued a series of airworthiness directives for 747s. Lee Kreindler, from New York law firm Kreindler & Kreindler, maintains those checks were never applied because by the time they came into force the Boeing was sold to the Shah and was outside official control.

"They [the checks] would not have to be because it was not in the hands of an airline. My guys think nothing was done," said Mr Kreindler.

Nor, he claims, when the aircraft returned to commercial use with TWA, were the checks then enforced. "The mandate requires a full engine survey. This one was re-certified immediately, without a survey. It was stamped and approved in a day," said Mr Kreindler.

As further evidence for his claims that the Iranians failed to follow safety changes meted out to airlines, Mr Kreindler points to another Boeing 747 which exploded near Madrid on 9 May 1976, killing 15 passengers. The aircraft, which had been converted into a freighter, was also owned by the Imperial Iranian Air Force and was on a military flight. According to an official accident report, "Witnesses observed lightning strike the aircraft followed by fire, explosion and separation of the left wing".

Mr Kreindler believes the coincidence of two Boeing 747s, both of which once belonged to the Iranians exploding in mid-air, albeit years apart, is remarkable. If nothing else, he claims, it shows that some 747s were prone to explosion.

Despite the witnesses' claim to have seen lightning hit the aircraft, accident investigators were unable to establish for certain the cause of the disaster. In their report, they said that "one hypothesis is that an explosion in a fuel tank destroyed the left wing and that lightning- strike currents ignited the explosion". But, the investigators went on: "Another credible hypothesis is that severe turbulence was encountered which caused the wing to fail as a result of structural overloads." They were at a loss to say for definite why the fuel tank was so vulnerable to lightning.

The Madrid disaster, argues Mr Kreindler, shows the Iranians had not heeded the mandate issued to airlines in 1975.

US investigators appear to be no nearer determining the cause of the Long Island explosion. Meanwhile, in the absence of an explanation, Mr Kreindler, who represents the relatives of 49 of those on board, has launched a law-suit against TWA. The first, preliminary hearing in what promises to be a protracted case, took place in Manhattan two days ago.

Mr Kreindler pooh-poohs the idea of bomb or missile, claiming there is no firm evidence to support either theory. The fault, claims Mr Kreindler, lies with TWA for failing to pursue the necessary safety and maintenance checks.

This is hotly disputed by the airline. John MacDonald, TWA's public affairs chief, described Mr Kreindler's law suit as "baseless". His airline's plane, said Mr MacDonald, "met all the applicable airworthiness directives and all the safety standards at the time it left JFK".

For 21 years after it was returned to TWA, the aircraft had flown without incident, Mr MacDonald pointed out: "That is a very impressive safety record for that aircraft."

The lawsuit also implied a mechanical failure. In fact, admitted Mr MacDonald, "we are no nearer knowing what happened. If we were, Mr Kreindler would not have a law suit".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Lars Ulrich of Metallica performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform