Investigators deny government covered up TWA-800 air crash
After almost two decades of varying theories being pitched to explain the tragedy, members of the National Transportation Safety Board said again Tuesday that the explosion that killed all 230 people onboard came to be after gases in the plane's near-empty fuel tank overheated.
The disaster has long been speculated to be the result of a terrorist attack or a domestic military drill gone awry, but investigators have discounted those options since shortly after an investigation was opened up following the July 1996 incident. Amid reemerging rumors brought on by a forthcoming documentary, however, investigators reconvened this week and once again formalized the findings of their probe.
“I’m totally convinced there was no bomb or missile,” National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jim Wildey told reporters during a briefing outside Washington, DC on Tuesday.
The soon-to-be-released documentary — TWA Flight 800 — will premiere later this month. In it, six former members of the original investigation refute the government’s initial findings and say the probe was "systematically undermined" by federal authorities.
“These investigators were not allowed to speak to the public or refute any comments made by their superiors and/or NTSB and FBI officials about their work at the time of the official investigation,” the film’s production team announced in a statement earlier this year.
“This team of investigators who actually handled the wreckage and victims’ bodies, prove that the officially proposed fuel-air explosion did not cause the crash,” the producers said. “They also provide radar and forensic evidence proving that one or more ordnance explosions outside the aircraft caused the crash.”
The film has rekindled interest in the crash, which prompted the NTSB to insist on holding a new press conference to solidify their previous statements.
"We went to the 'nth' degree, and then some," Joseph Kolly, the current director of the board's Office of Research and Engineering, told the Associated Press. According to the AP, he says he’s “absolutely” certain that a fuel tank hypothesis is the correct explanation for the event.
"While the NTSB rarely re-investigates issues that have already been examined, our investigations are never closed and we can review any new information not previously considered by the Board," the determined. "The TWA Flight 800 investigation lasted four years and remains one of the NTSB's most detailed investigations. Investigators took great care reviewing, documenting and analyzing facts and data and held a five-day hearing to gather additional facts before determining the probable cause of the accident during a two-day Board meeting."
"I am upset about bringing this back up, for the sake of the people who lost folks in the accident," Kolly said. “It’s just not a good thing.”
Investigator Robert Swaim added to CNN that his own analysis did not demonstrate any findings consistent with a missile strike or other act of terror. Family members of at least two victims of the crash attended this week’s briefing and said they were satisfied with the agency’s explanation.
“At first I was of course skeptical as everybody else,” said Jim Hurd, whose son Jamie died in the crash. “You know, you just didn’t know what happened. As things unfolded, it seemed to make a lot of sense, what happened to the plane,” he told CNN. “It’s really cut and dry, at this point, as far as I’m concerned.”
“There are still family members who believe it was brought down by a bomb and I respect their thoughts and however they want to view it. It’s just the way you take the information and how you process it and who you believe. And I believe the NTSB has done a job and I don’t believe they’ve covered up anything and I don’t believe the FBI did either,” he continued.
"I think they did a complete and thorough investigation in the beginning," added Matthew Ziemkiewicz, who lost a sister in the crash. "These are old conspiracy theories that have been around since the beginning."
"I was convinced by the NTSB findings when the report came out," Ziemkiewicz told Reuters after Tuesday’s briefing. "Hearing talk of a movie coming out and reigniting conspiracy theories that we as family members heard about years ago is ... opening up old wounds."
TWA Flight 800, a film by journalist Kristina Borjesson, will premiere on the EPIX premium television channel later this month 17 years-to-the-day after the Boeing 747 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean just minutes after leaving New York’s JFK airport en route to Rome.