July 12, 2016.   TWA 800 Redux.

Next week will Mark the 20th anniversary of the TWA 800 disaster. The Boeing 747 crashed after takeoff from Kennedy Airport when its empty center fuel tank exploded, killing 230 people. The investigation into the explosion was one of the most thorough and expensive in aviation history, but from the beginning there have been people who haven’t accepted the findings, convinced instead that the jet was downed by one or more missiles launched accidentally from a nearby U.S. Navy ship. Among the most vocal of the conspiracy mongers is Jack Cashill, who whose new book is called, The Crash, the Coverup and the Conspiracy. Those of you in the conspiracy camp might first want to read Christine Negroni’s take-down of Cashill before shelling out for his book.

Fuel tank explosions, uncommon as they are, are not unprecedented. According to Christine Negroni there have been at least 26 such explosions of one form or another, on both civilian and military aircraft. Most occurred in the 1960s or 1970s, and they’ll be rarer still now that the FAA has mandated tougher wiring inspections and the installation of nitrogen inerting systems for empty tanks. A tank explosion once destroyed a Thai Airways 737 parked at the gate in Bangkok, killing a flight attendant.

crash Flight 800 plane crash  accidents aviation

The full report on flight 800 is long and daunting, but among the more compelling bits of evidence is this: according to the black boxes, there had been intermittent problems affecting the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and number four (the 747 has four engines) fuel-flow indicators just minutes before the crash. These anomalies would seem unrelated, but it so happens the wire bundle to both components passes just above the center fuel tank, and is the same wire bundle suspected of having caused the explosion (investigators found the wires crimped and cracked, and suspect they’d been damaged during repairs that had taken place two weeks prior). The problems with the gauge and the CVR were consistent with the wires short-circuiting, and this short-circuit would ignite the fuel vapors moments later. This is about at close to a smoking gun as you’ll get. Additionally, there had been water leaks reported in and around the center section galley in the days leading up to the crash. This galley sits directly on top of the wire bundle.

Meanwhile, numerous witnesses claim to have to seen what looked like a missile streaking toward the 747. Or, that’s what they think they saw. What they likely were looking at was the outward trajectory of the explosion — flaming pieces of the airplane moving rapidly away from the initial blast. It’s very common for people to misinterpret the relative motion and other details of fast-moving things in the air, particularly when their attention is drawn to them suddenly — missiles, meteorites, airplanes. Many of the TWA eyewitnesses who heard something and then looked up, were 50-60 seconds behind the event due to speed of sound. Moreover, as any crash expert will tell you, eyewitness accounts in general are notoriously unreliable.

And beyond the wreckage forensics and witness testimony, accepting the friendly fire missile theory means we have to accept the idea of a complete, utterly seamless coverup that has lasted two decades. When the Navy accidentally shot down an Iran Air jet in 1988, killing 290 people, it took approximately five minutes for the truth to come out. Isn’t the idea of such an airtight conspiracy just a little bit unrealistic?


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