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Remembering the TWA Flight 800 Tragedy, 15 Years Later

Friday, July 15, 2011

(Chris Murphy/flickr)

On July 17, 1996, Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 800, a Boeing 747-131 jetliner, took off from John F. Kennedy airport and gradually ascended along the Long Island shore. It was on its way to Rome via a stop in Paris.

About 12 minutes into the flight, an explosion occurred, followed by several others. The jetliner, blasted to pieces, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York. All 230 people onboard died — 212 passengers and 18 crewmembers.

Several investigations led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Transportation Safety Board, and private groups, such as the Associated Retired Aviation Professionals were started to determine the cause of the explosion. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) called the investigation of TWA Flight 800 "the most extensive, complex, and costly air disaster investigation in U.S. history."

Various theories were presented as to why the plane exploded, and in 2000, the Transportation Safety Board reported that the most plausible cause for the explosion was that air-conditioning units on the plane vaporized residual fuel in the central fuel tank. A short circuit caused a high energy spark in the fuel tank and ignited the fuel, which led to the fatal explosion. Others believe that the reason for the explosion was missile attacks by terrorists or a misfire by the U.S. Navy.

This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the tragedy. The TWA Flight 800 International Memorial at Smith Point County Park in Shirley, New York will be open in remembrance of the crash. A memorial service will be held on 8 P.M. on Sunday, July 17.

TWA Flight 800 International Memorial at Smith Point County Park in Shirley, New York.

(TWA Flight 800 International Memorial at Smith Point County Park in Shirley, New York. Credit: Joe Shlabotnik)

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Comments [4]

Mark P. Johnston

I would like to add that the Flight 800 tragedy was definitely
an accident, and not a deliberate attempt by our Navy to
bring down a civilian airliner. The problem lies in the fact
that our military missile defense systems have evolved to the point
to be so complex and threat sensitive that they have become
virtually autonomous in their capability to respond to perceived enemy threats.
The missile defense system aboard that cruiser was effectively able overide whatever
checks the system had to prevent a false positive response. And hence it was also effectively
able to overide any human interaction to check the systems disastrous action.
In other words - we have created too much goddamn technology for us to control it.
The U.S.Navy, without question, had conducted it's own investigation, and between the Navy and CIA/FBI
this investigation was kept internal and sealed tight, remote from public
scrutiny and discourse. Though this is the price we pay for technology to
provide us with vigilance, the obstruction of truth by a government we the
people have endowed with our trust is unforgivable.

Dec. 14 2012 03:13 AM
Mark P. Johnston

The Flight 800 disaster was without question caused by
a direct missile hit from a U.S.Navy Missile cruiser that was
active in the area at the time.
The FBI, FAA and other involved agencies scrambled
to do what they could to deliberately cover up the truth.
There were essentially two disasters to that event: 1. The
loss of innocent lives during the incident, and 2. The criminal
activity of our involved government agencies that are charged
under law, and under the trust of the American people, to
honestly investigate and and report such disasters.
These agencies - the FBI, FAA & NTSB, deliberately and criminally
obstructed the truth by tampering, eliminating and withholding evidence
and outright lying to the public.
This is what we Americans pay our taxes for.

Dec. 14 2012 02:23 AM
Robert Coolidge from New York

That investigation looked at the issue of fuel safety in general. Normally it's impossible to have a fire in a jetliner's fuel tank - there's not enough oxygen, so even if the insulation wears off a wire _and_ that exact spot on a wire contacts a metal surface at an adequate voltage potential nothing happens. Through millions and millions of flights has been correct...until it wasn't.

This crash led understanding that conditions for combustion sometimes do exist in airplane fuel tanks, until this incident the necessary combination of fuel vapor, oxygen and a spark had not occurred. It led to examination of the wiring and fuel/air conditions in many planes and has prompted inspections and design changes to prevent this from happening again.

Had the conspiracy theorists been running the investigation the fuel safety improvements we have now would never have happened.

Jul. 17 2011 09:52 AM
Barbara King

It is a sad time for me every year - I prepared the flight manifest after the crash and can still see every name of every soul on board - Dealing with those first few hours and days to follow have shaped me and my approach in life in a much different manner -

Jul. 15 2011 10:13 PM

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