Federal officials who investigated the deadly TWA flight 800 crash that killed 230 people have insisted it was an accident after a documentary claimed the plane was hit by explosions outside the aircraft.
Current and former federal officials said yesterday they stand by their conclusion that the fatal explosion was caused by overheated fuel tank vapors, and not a bomb or missile.
The officials spoke to reporters yesterday at a briefing on the National Transportation Safety Board’s four-year investigation following the explosion and crash of the Boeing 747 off Long Island, N.Y., on July 17, 1996.
The crash – the third-deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history – occurred just 12 minutes after take-off from JFK International Airport on the flight bound for Paris, France.
Theories have suggested it was a missile strike from a terrorist or U.S. Navy vessel, and that the incident was subject to a government cover-up.
The board took the usual step of organizing the briefing on an investigation that has been closed for years in response to the documentary set to air this month on the 17th anniversary of the tragedy.
The film says new evidence points to the often-discounted theory that a missile strike may have downed the jumbo jet.
The officials who spoke at the briefing dismissed allegations of a cover-up, saying that the evidence points strongly to the board’s conclusion that overheated gases in the plane’s near-empty fuel tank caused the tank to explode.
The gases were most likely ignited by a spark from damaged wiring in a fuel measuring system.
Joseph Kolly, the current director of the board’s Office of Research and Engineering, was the chief fire and explosives investigator on the flight 800 investigation. He said he is ‘absolutely’ certain the fuel tank was the cause.
‘We went to the ‘nth degree, and then some,’ he said, laying out the different facets of the investigation.
Investigators tested shoulder-fired missiles to see if they would show up on radar and used another 747 to replicate the overheating of fuel tank vapors, among other tests.
‘I am upset about bringing this back up, for the sake of the people who lost folks in the accident,’ Kolly said. ‘It’s not good.’ Two family members of those killed attended the briefing.
‘I think they did a complete and thorough investigation in the beginning,’ said Matthew Ziemkiewicz of Rutherford, N.J., whose sister, Jill, was a flight attendant on the plane.
‘These are old conspiracy theories that have been around since the beginning.’
Jim Hurd of Severn, Md., who lost his 29-year-old son, James, said the board’s investigation seems ‘pretty cut and dried as far as I’m concerned.
‘But there are still family members who believe it was brought down by a bomb. I respect that.’
The documentary features interviews with key members of the original investigation team, who now claim that their investigation was systematically undermined.