NTSB: No TWA Flight 800 Reconsideration

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The National Transportation Safety Board Wednesday denied a petition for reconsideration of its findings in the investigation of the July 17, 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800. The aircraft exploded while on climbout from JFK, taking the lives of the 230 passengers and crew. The four-year investigation by the NTSB was one of the largest transportation accident investigations in U.S. history. Terrorism was widely suspected—as a result, while the NTSB conducted its accident investigation, the FBI conducted a criminal investigation. Neither found evidence of a crime. A petition for reconsideration of the NTSB findings was filed in June 2013 by a group called The TWA 800 Project. Petitioners claimed a “detonation or high-velocity explosion” caused the crash.

“Our investigations are never ‘closed,'” said Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “We always remain open to the presentation of new evidence.” To consider the petition, the NTSB assembled a team of investigators not previously associated with the original investigation to review the two claims advanced by the petitioners. The NTSB concluded that in the first claim the petitioners relied on a subset—a portion—of previously available radar evidence organized around their alternative explanation of the crash. Upon review, the petitioner’s analysis was found to be flawed by the new investigative team. In the other claim, the petitioners introduced witness summaries obtained from the FBI that the new team treated as new evidence. However, the summaries did not differ substantially from the evidence available during the original investigation, according to the NTSB.

Before responding to the petition, NTSB staff met with the petitioners’ representatives and listened to an eyewitness who described what he saw on the night of the accident. After a thorough review of all the information provided by the petitioners, the NTSB denied the petition in its entirety because the evidence and analysis presented did not show the original findings were incorrect and said that none of the physical evidence supported the petitioner’s theory that the streak of light observed by some witnesses was a missile. The original investigation looked for evidence of fragments from a missile warhead and found none. Further, the NTSB said, the damage patterns within the airplane were consistent with a center wing tank explosion and the distribution of debris was consistent with an in-flight breakup stared by a fuel-air explosion within the center wing tank.