Corrupted Probe Continues to Reverberate: TWA 800 Ghosts Ground American Airlines
© Jack Cashill
Lurking behind the massive cancellation of flights due to faulty wiring is the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off New York's Long Island in July 1996 that killed all 230 people on board.
Although the plane in question was a Boeing 747, not an MD-80, the disaster, as the AP and other news sources have faithfully reported, “was blamed on fuel vapors ignited by wiring.”
USA Today, in fact, quotes Bernard Loeb, the National Transportation Safety Board honcho, as saying that fuel tank issues are "very serious matters."
Loeb should know. As head of the TWA Flight 800 investigation, he did everything in his power to show how one could blow.
In fact, however, in its effort to avoid the obvious missile strike, the NTSB never got beyond rank speculation as to the cause of the TWA Flight 800 disaster.
To make the “fuel vapors ignited by wiring” theory work, the NTSB needed to establish at least two critical points.
The first was that the fuel-air mixture in the center wing tank was sufficiently volatile that the least spark could set it off. The second was that the aircraft was capable of spontaneously generating that spark.
The theoretical spark itself would require two separate causes of its own—a break in the insulation of the wiring and a breakdown in the system that limits the strength of the current through those wires.
All these conditions were fully necessary to validate any mechanical theory for TWA Flight 800’s destruction.
As the investigation evolved, NTSB officials steered their efforts to the realm of what scientists call the “unfalsifiable,” the realm where theories can neither be proved nor disproved.
In early November 1996, Loeb told CBS's Ed Bradley that static electricity from a faulty Wiggins coupler most likely triggered the explosion. Loeb neglected to add that there was no evidence that any Wiggins coupler was faulty.
The FBI’s James Kallstrom was reportedly furious at this indiscretion, but NTSB Chairman Jim Hall reassured Kallstrom that the NTSB “has more leeway to speculate because we’re not bound by criminal legal standards.”
With or without the Wiggins coupler, static electricity stood as Loeb’s “pet theory.”
It remained so, as AP reporter Patricia Milton noted, until “scientists at Wright Patterson laboratories had proved unable to produce a single scenario under which static electricity could have caused a significant spark.”
After many fruitless experiments by outside labs, the NTSB contracted with Combustion Dynamics “to evaluate the consistency between the computer calculations of the full-scale CWT [center wing tank] combustion model and other information and evidence obtained during the investigation.”
The NTSB had hoped “that by conducting this evaluation ... it would be possible to narrow the number of probable ignition location(s) within the CWT.”
This hope was in vain. The NTSB had to concede defeat yet again: “Therefore, the rules-based analysis did not provide a definitive determination regarding the probability that any given location within the CWT was the ignition location.”
With all of its investigative hypotheses reduced to rubble, the NTSB chose to reconstruct the results itself in a way more to its liking:
Note all the “coulds” and “woulds.” No outside scientific agency or person had made such a statement. In fact, all contracted testing and analysis ran counter to the NTSB speculation.
Even Patricia Milton, whose book on the crash--In the Blink of An Eye--read like an FBI defense brief, had to acknowledge that the CWT pieces retrieved and studied in one simulated explosion after another “bore no resemblance to those of Flight 800.”
She consoled herself, however, with the thought that the government was at least “proving negatives.”
By the year 2000, the NTSB had exhausted just about all possible scientific testing that might have reinforced its wiring and fuel vapor scenarios.
The scientific community had too much integrity to validate desperate theories either about fuel volatility or ignition sources. Accordingly, the NTSB ceased scientific inquiry along these lines.
From that point forward the board descended from modern science to old-fashioned alchemy and summed it all up in a fable worthy of Harry Potter, titled “Factors Suggesting the Likelihood that a Short-Circuit Event Occurred on TWA Flight 800.”
In this report, aimless speculation goes on and on and on to the point of absurdity, considering the NTSB’s acknowledgement that the computer modeling done by the two research laboratories—Sandia National Laboratory and Christian Michelsen Research—had failed.
“The results of that modeling could not be used to determine the most likely ignition location,” said the report.
The NTSB officials, in fact, knew the whole exercise was a failure. At the final NTSB hearing, an honest staffer, Joseph Kolly, came to the following reluctant conclusion: "
The search for the probable ignition location was pushed to the limits of current technology. An accounting of the scientific uncertainties was meticulously maintained throughout the entire experimental, computational, and analytic processes. “
In the end, the uncertainties were too great to permit the identification of the probable location of ignition."
Jack Cashill and James Sanders' First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America is now available. First Strike explains how a determined corps of ordinary citizens worked to reveal the compromise and corruption that tainted the federal investigation. With an impressive array of facts, Jack Cashill and James Sanders show the relationship between events in July 1996 and September 2001 and proclaim how and why the American government has attempted to cover up the truth.
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