New FAA Fuel-inerting Rule Political, Ignores Evidence of a Missile Downing Flight 800

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Government scientists neglected evidence showing the fuel-air inerting would not have prevented the crash of TWA Flight 800 in the summer of 1996. A new report displays this evidence, which shows that a detonation caused the crash of TWA Flight 800. Analysts say retrofitting commercial jetliners with fuel vapor inerting systems will cost airlines over 1 billion dollars.

Analysts say retrofitting commercial jetliners with fuel vapor inerting systems will cost airlines over 1 billion dollars. The new rule started its life as a recommendation from the NTSB a decade ago, after their investigation into the crash of TWA Flight 800 concluded that a fuel-air explosion was to blame.

But a new report challenges this investigative finding.

A 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.

No amount of nitrogen inerting would have helped prevent the radar-recorded detonation.

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.

Neither Baer, Shepherd, nor any other scientists commissioned by the NTSB, nor any NTSB investigators analyzed the debris associated with the supersonic explosion. Further, although the debris was clearly recorded by all the nearby radar sites, the NTSB did not list it in their official debris field database.

NTSB Watch President Dr. Tom Stalcup has petitioned the NTSB for an explanation.

NTSB Watch sent its preliminary ballistics analysis to Shepherd and Baer. Neither scientist was willing to conduct a serious review of the information.

NTSB Watch also informed NTSB Sequencing Group Chairman Jim Wildey of the high-speed debris pattern. Wildey denied that anything exited the aircraft at supersonic speeds. When NTSB Watch offered to email Mr. Wildey a printout of the debris pattern, Wildey declined.

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

The 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 Code 49 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


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