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".

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
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
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
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

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried