NTSB Decomissions Its Reconstruction Of Crashed TWA Boeing 747

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced its plans to decommission its reconstruction of wreckage recovered from TWA flight 800. This comes as the agency prepares for the expirations of the lease at its NTSB Training Center in Ashburn, Virginia.

TWA flight 800 exploded 12 minutes after taking off. Photo: Jean-Pierre Bazard via Wikipedia

For nearly 20 years, the NTSB has used the wreckage of TWA flight 800 along with other tools in the 30,000 square foot hangar to help train its aircraft accident investigators. Thanks to technological advances such as 3-D scanning and aerial drone imagery, a large-scale reconstruction of the aircraft for training purposes is no longer necessary.

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TWA 800 is the third deadliest US crash

On July 17, 1996, Trans World Airlines Flight 800 (TWA 800) took off from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) bound for Rome with a stopover in Paris. At around 20:30, just 12 minutes after taking off, the aircraft exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, Long Island.

Onboard the 25-year-old Boeing 747-131 were 230 passengers and crew, of which no one survived. This made TWA 800 the third deadliest aviation accident in US history.

The first thing everyone thought of was a terrorist attack and that it was a bomb that caused the aircraft to explode. Others, though, had an unproven theory that a missile shot it down. The NTSB immediately launched an intensive investigation into what may have caused the plane to explode.

After four exhausting years and the investment of millions of dollars, the NTSB concluded that the explosion was caused by a spark in the center wing fuel tank. Evidence gathered from the crash pointed to an electrical failure that ignited the flammable fuel/air mixture in the tank.

The crash of TWA 800 changed aircraft design

In a statement released yesterday, Managing Director Sharon Bryson of the NTSB said,

“The investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800 is a seminal moment in aviation safety history. From that investigation, we issued safety recommendations that fundamentally changed the way aircraft are designed. The investigation also led to a memorandum of understanding between the FBI and the NTSB regarding investigations of accidents resulting from intentional acts as well as evidence collection and preservation.

“That investigation also led to the equally important development of our Transportation Disaster Assistance division and the legislation in place today governing carrier responsibilities for family assistance in the wake of a transportation disaster.”

TWA 800 Getty
The NTSB used the reconstructed wreckage for training. Photo: Getty Images

The NTSB will stop using the reconstruction of the Boeing 747 for training in July and will then thoroughly 3-D scan and photograph the reconstruction for its archives. When the NTSB reconstructed the wreckage, they committed to the victims’ families that it would only be used for training purposes and never put on display to the public.

“Our Transportation Disaster Assistance division and I have connected with representatives of TWA Flight 800 family groups to help ensure families of those who perished on TWA Flight 800 learned of our decision directly from the NTSB before our public announcement,” said Bryson.

While the conclusion was that an electrical mishap caused the explosion, the NTSB could not provide a definitive answer as to where the spark that ignited the fuel came from. Because of this, many people still have doubts about it being the cause of the crash.

Many people have doubts about the crash

TWA 800 was just eight miles off Long Island’s coast on a clear summer evening when it exploded. Hundreds of people witnessed the explosion from boats and along the shore.

NTSB Decomissions Its Reconstruction Of Crashed TWA Boeing 747
TWA 800 flight path. Image NTSB via Wikipedia

Of the 755 witnesses, the FBI questioned hundreds of them say that they saw what looked like a flare or firework heading towards the plane; some even described it as looking like a missile or rocket. At the time, the US Navy was conducting missile tests in the area leading many to believe that a rocket from one of the ships had shot the plane down accidentally.

What do you think about the NTSB dismantling the wreckage of TWA flight 800? Should they have kept it for training, or is 3-D imagery good enough? Please tell us what you think in the comments.