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NTSB: No evidence of foul play in TWA explosionJune 10, 1997
CNN at: 11:53 a.m. EDT (1553 GMT)
NEW YORK (AP) -- The FBI has told the families of the 230 people killed on TWA Flight 800 that the investigation is in its final phase and that no evidence has been found that a criminal or terrorist was responsible.
FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, in a letter received by families
over the weekend, said investigators have found "no evidence to date of
a bomb, a missile or any type of device causing the event which led to
the breakup and tragic results."
The Paris-bound plane exploded over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from Kennedy International Airport on July 17.
The plane has been reassembled in a hangar, and a federal judge Monday urged the National Transportation Safety Board to allow lawyers for the families to inspect the wreckage.
In a private meeting, Judge Robert W. Sweet urged the sides to reach a compromise on access that would allow families to prepare for civil trials, said Lee S. Kreindler, a lawyer for about 45 families.
His request came after another lawyer for about a dozen families complained that the NTSB was barring their representatives even as it showed pieces of the plane to a television reporter.
Official: Report to be released this fall
Meanwhile, an NTSB official said the agency's preliminary report detailing the final moments of the flight will be released when public hearings are held this fall. The NTSB has not identified exactly what touched off an explosion in the jumbo jet's center fuel tank, which contained only about 50 gallons of fuel and a volatile mixture of vapors and air.
The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity Monday, said the access door to the center fuel tank where workers could enter the tank for maintenance blew off its beam. Another beam crashed forward and a third beam was forced into the cargo hold, the source said.
The explosion immediately cut electric power to the airplane, stopping the cockpit voice recorder and the black box that records mechanical data. It also weakened the fuselage, the report found.
The skin of the fuselage began peeling and part of the plane in front of the wings broke off, causing the plane to burst into a fireball as fuel from the right-wing tank blew through a rupture, the official said.
Reconstruction of TWA wreckage completeMay 12, 1997
Posted on CNN at: 7:45 p.m. EDT (2345 GMT)
(CNN) -- Ten months after the crash of TWA Flight 800, the reconstruction of the 747 wreckage -- intended to help investigators visualize possible causes -- is as remarkable for what it does not show.
The curled, fragmented aluminum skin of the aircraft, some of it covered in soot, shows no sign that a missile penetrated the plane. The large cavern that was the plane's center fuel tank does not have telltale marks a bomb ignited the explosion.
"Many people believed and still believe that a missile played a role
in this crash, but I think with time, there will be very few doubters left,"
said aviation lawyer Michel Baumeister.
It was the FBI's idea to reconstruct the plane, a project that took two months, cost a half-million dollars and required 10,000 staff hours.
Having completed it, the agency will likely pull out of the investigation, concluding the crash was not a crime but the result of a catastrophic mechanical malfunction.
The National Transportation Safety Board embraced the theory of a mechanical
malfunction in December, when it urged the Federal Aviation Administration
to reconsider the common practice of operating aircraft with nearly empty
"These people were sitting on a potentially explosive situation, and in this situation it did explode," said Bill Kauffman of the University of Michigan.
The FAA has invited public comment on the NTSB recommendations, and will take no action before August.
With the reconstruction complete, the wreckage is a symbol of the tremendous efforts that have already gone into the investigation and a monument to the mystery that remains.
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