NEW YORK (PIX11) – Faced with charges that it engaged in a coverup, the National Transportation Safety Board has broken its silence to stand behind its conclusion that a fuel tank explosion and not a missile was responsible for the crash of TWA 800 almost 17 years ago.
Six retired safety investigators have petitioned the federal agency to reopen the investigation, asserting that there was a coverup thAt shielded the public from the truth. They refute the findings that a fuel tank sparked the catastrophe that killed all 230 people on board. The whistleblowers suggest it was a blast from a missile that brought the plane down. But the NTSB said there is no radar or other evidence consistent with any kind of missile strike. The missile theory is getting renewed attention in a documentary that will air on the 17th anniversary of the disaster.
I covered the story extensively and was very close to key investigators. During a visit to the NTSB offices in Washington I got to see the so-called black box flight data recorder. The information pulled from it showed that everything aboard the aircraft was normal right up to the explosion. The wreckage bore no tell-tale signs of a missile strike. All four engines were recovered intact. Investigators focused on the nearly empty center fuel tank. TWA 800 became its own bomb as it sat on the ground with air conditioning units under the tank generating heat and turning a puddle of kerosene into volatile vapors. Investigators found pumps from aging 747, just like TWA 800, with corroded, damaged and frayed wires that could ignite a spark.
Nearly 95% of the plane was recovered from its watery grave and pieced together. One piece never recovered was a scavenger pump, believed by many to be the source of the initial explosion. Former FBI Agent-In-Charge James Kallstrom, who headed the crash probe, debunks the missile theory and the people promoting it. “It’s crazy what they’re saying,” he told me during a phone conversation. “They’re crackpots who have no qualifications. We didn’t find any evidence of a bomb or a missile.”:
The nagging question persists. If it wasn’t a missile, then what was it that more than 250 people saw streak through the night sky before the Paris-bound plane exploded. Investigators explained that after the initial explosion, the fuselage broke apart, and the rest of the plane continued climbing several thousand feet, with a pencil-thin layer of flaming fuel leaking from the center tank, it appeared something was shooting upward when the second explosion disintegrated the plane, sending it plunging into the ocean.
The NTSB is still considering the petition to reopen the investigation. To do so, the petitioners have to provide information that was not available at the time of the 1996 probe, or produce solid evidence that the NTSB findings were wrong.