Hopes rise for clues as fuselage is found

TWA crash: Relatives hold memorial service on shore as more bodies are recovered from sea

John Carlin
Monday 22 July 1996 23:02

A large chunk of the fuselage of Flight TWA 800 was found by deep-sea divers yesterday in the Atlantic Ocean, providing hope that investigators may discover the cause of the crash last Wednesday which left all 230 people on board dead.

"God works in very strange ways," New York's Governor, George Pataki, told victims' relatives at a memorial service on the seashore yesterday. "While we were here, a major part of the fuselage has been found, additional bodies have been located and we're hopeful that your agony, struggle, will come to a quicker end."

The agony he was referring was that until yesterday, more than four days after the Boeing 747 exploded in mid-air, only 101 of the bodies had been recovered. Whether the agony of the investigators hoping to establish the cause of the crash will be over soon remains to be seen.

Last night CNN said investigators had detected what they believe to be bomb residue on the wreckage within 48 hours of the crash. "Well-placed sources" were reported as saying chemical residue on a wing-tip was believed to be of a type used in an explosive device. But the Justice Department was still insisting last night that there was no conclusive evidence of a bomb.

The fuselage may still contain clues as to whether the explosion was mechanical or manmade. The "black boxes" containing flight data and cockpit voice recordings are also missing. They should emit sounds easily detectable by sonar detectors, but not one ping has been heard yet.

The longer it takes to answer the questions the less likely it is that the culprits, if culprits there are, will be caught. "It frustrates me," Jim Kallstrom, the FBI assistant director in charge of the investigation, said on Sunday. "The reality is, I need this forensics evidence. Because if I do have a terrorist here, and I'm not saying I do, but if I do, it's another day's head-start that this individual has to do whatever he's doing, to cover his tracks."

Mr Kallstrom's hopes have been dashed by choppy seas and, most frustrating of all, by what appear to be deficiencies in the video-camera and navigational equipment used in the salvage work.

But yesterday's discovery ought to provide succour to the bereaved, some whose grief has been compounded by the prospect of their relatives' bodies never being recovered. By yesterday afternoon 55 bodies had been positively identified, 33 of which had been passed to relatives for burial.

The State Department said it had seen no credible claims of responsibility for the crash.

The CIA has asked Israel to check the Athens-New York passenger list of the TWA plane for people with links to "terror" groups, an Israeli newspaper said yesterday. "The American intelligence agency gave Israel's Mossad [secret service] the passenger list of the TWA plane from Athens to New York and asked that it check the passengers' backgrounds, to reveal if one of them had connections to a terror group," Yedioth Ahronoth.

The unsourced report said the CIA had made the same request to Jordan and Egypt.

Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment. Israeli security sources would not confirm or deny the report but one said: "There is co-operation."

US investigators said on Sunday that unless they found additional wreckage they would not be able to say conclusively if TWA Flight 800 was downed by an act of sabotage.

On Friday, Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted a security source as saying Israel was helping US intelligence agencies and the FBI in the investigation.

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