The crash of TWA Flight 800 happened fifteen years ago today, on July 17, 1996, at 8:31 p.m. eastern daylight time. The 25-year-old Boeing 747-100 had just begun an overnight flight from New York to Paris, and was at an altitude of about 13,000 feet when it suddenly exploded and fell to the Atlantic Ocean about nine miles south of East Moriches, Long Island, killing all 230 passengers and crew.
I began following the investigation after the New York Times reported, in August, that the FBI had confirmed that explosive residue had been detected on recovered parts of the plane. Although the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the airplane had been destroyed by an explosion in its center fuel tank caused probably by an electrical fault, and the FBI suspended its own separate investigation with the finding that neither a bomb nor a missile had brought down TWA 800, questions continued to swirl and remain unanswered to this day.
Fuel tank mishaps had occurred both on the ground and in the air before. But it remains a fact that no fuel tank explosion had ever caused such sudden, catastrophic damage to a commercial aircraft as was inflicted within moments on TWA Flight 800.
One day, perhaps the full story of what occurred on that evening will be revealed. The passengers, the cabin crew, and the flight crew who did their best to deliver the aircraft safely to its destination, deserve no less.