New Analysis Proves that a Supersonic Detonation Caused the Crash of TWA Flight 800

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A new ballistics analysis of radar-recorded wreckage items shows that the explosion that brought down TWA Flight 800 was a detonation or super-sonic explosion that occurred prior to the fuel tank explosion that federal investigators say caused the jetliner's demise.

nothing exited the CWT at high speed

A simple ballistics analysis of hard data from multiple FAA radar sites shows that the explosion that brought down Flight 800 was a detonation that caused debris to eject from the area at speeds in excess of Mach 4. This debris traveled nearly perpendicular to the jetliner and slowed down quickly because of air resistance, but not before traveling half a mile south. TWA 800 was flying east from New York's Kennedy Airport to Paris, France.

The ballistics report can be reviewed at:

In August 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board reported that an electrical spark ignited fuel-air vapors in the jetliner's central fuel tank and that the ensuing explosion in the tank caused the crash. The NTSB based their conclusion largely upon the work of two scientists they had commissioned to conduct analyses of recovered wing tank components using simulations and computer modeling.

Joseph E. Shepherd of Cal-Tech's Explosion Dynamics Laboratory and Melvin Baer of Sandia National Laboratories concluded that what occurred in TWA 800's center tank was a deflagration or sub-sonic explosion. According to Baer, had the explosion been super-sonic, the tank would have been recovered in small pieces instead of in the large sections that the Navy found.

Baer and Shepherd's conclusions regarding the fuel tank explosion appear sound. However, as the radar data shows, this explosion was not the initiating event but a secondary explosion that followed a prior super-sonic detonation.

The NTSB did not ask Baer or Shepherd to review the radar data showing that a super-sonic explosion had occurred prior to the fuel tank explosion.

NTSB Watch sent its preliminary ballistics analysis to the NTSB-commissioned scientists.

Dr. Baer agreed with NTSB Watch's position that the debris pattern on radar is not consistent with fuel-air explosion, saying, "nothing exited the CWT at high speed". But he went on to say that the physical evidence he reviewed was not consistent with a supersonic detonation.

However, Dr. Baer never analyzed debris from this particular debris pattern. And neither did any other NTSB commissioned scientist. Although, it was recorded by most nearby radar sites, the NTSB does not list any debris from this location in their official debris field database.

Radar expert Michael O'Rourke was commissioned by the FBI to review the radar evidence and highlighted this high-speed debris in his report to the FBI, expressing curiosity as to why it was not listed in the NTSB's debris field database. O'Rourke's report on this debris pattern was not mentioned or referenced in the NTSB's final report.

NTSB Watch gave Professor Shepherd a preliminary ballistics analysis last year, but he did not respond. This month Shepherd said had no interest in reviewing it.

NTSB Watch informed NTSB Sequencing Group Chairman Jim Wildey of the high-speed debris pattern. Wildey said nothing exited the aircraft at subsonic, nevermind supersonic speeds at that time. When NTSB Watch offered to email Mr. Wildey a print out of the debris patter, Wildey declined, saying he was not in the radar group.

Copies of a preliminary ballistics analysis were emailed to Jim Wildey and NTSB Airplane Performance Specialist Dr. Daniel Bower last year. Neither responded.

Our final report is being sent to the NTSB's Wildey and Bower today. NTSB Watch along with other interested parties will also be submitting a formal petition requesting that the NTSB reconsider its probable cause determination of the TWA 800 crash under 49 Code of Federal Regulations 845.41. This Code allows individuals with a direct interest in the crash to challenge NTSB findings.

TWA 800 exploded off the coast of Long Island, New York on July 17, 1996. All 230 passengers and crew lost their lives.

NTSB Watch was established to research the conclusions and results of certain National Transportation Safety Board investigations. For more information about NTSB Watch, go to

Dr. Tom Stalcup
NTSB Watch


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