Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part series by Jack Cashill and James Sanders, author of “The Downing of TWA Flight 800,” examining the NTSB’s claim of an exploding fuel tank bringing down Flight 800. Read Part 1 here.
There is a well known principle of logic known as “Occam’s Razor” – the simplest explanation is usually the best one.
Consider its application in the case of TWA 800: Hundreds of witnesses watch streaks of light head towards the plane; FAA radar picks up what appears to be a missile; and the plane explodes catastrophically without a word from the cockpit.
The New York Times adds detail. On Aug. 14, 1996, four weeks after the crash, Don Van Natta Jr. reported that “the pattern of the debris they [investigators] have recovered off the ocean floor has also persuaded them that a mechanical malfunction is highly unlikely.” Van Natta acknowledged too that “in 10 field tests at Calverton, L.I., chemists have detected residue consistent with an explosive” on the recovered aircraft. These tests, he added, rarely show false positives.
But there is more. The Times article stated emphatically, “Now that investigators say they think the center fuel tank did not explode, they say the only good explanations remaining are that a bomb or a missile brought down the plane off Long Island.”
Occam’s Razor says, yes, missile – but the NTSB had little use for cutting to the clear conclusion.
If “senior investigators” were telling Van Natta that “the center fuel tank caught fire as many as 24 seconds after the initial blast that split apart the plane,” NTSB “officials” were not so ready to concede. They needed a viable alternative explanation, a politically safe one like a mechanical failure, and would use their considerable powers to make the obvious explanation go away.
”I don’t think anything rules out anything at this point,” Robert T. Francis, vice chairman of the safety board, told Van Natta. Although, as Van Natta reported, this finding “deals a serious blow to the already remote possibility that a mechanical accident caused the crash,” he also acknowledged that NTSB “officials” were “unwilling to rule out a mechanical failure.” Van Natta then added prophetically, “By keeping open the possibility of a malfunction, safety board investigators can continue to pursue all possibilities, no matter how remote.”
Truer words were never spoken. The NTSB would pursue the remotest possibilities imaginable, and with each new test, they would only move further from the truth. In the next four years they would not discover one new fact to revive a theory that was discredited within one month of the crash.
But as Van Natta noted, “While investigators, speaking not for attribution, said they have concluded that the center fuel tank did not explode, publicly they have refused to say that.” They dared not. They understood the consequences. With the investigators silenced, the “officials” would control the microphone. In time, they would wear the media and the public down and make the story go away.
To make their strategy work, NTSB officials hoped to find a lab or university somewhere in the world that would validate a mechanical explanation for the crash in much the way the CIA animation had invalidated the eyewitnesses. As related in Part 1, they did not succeed. Despite all the temptations to comply, the science community refused to provide the necessary cover.
Without facts to back up its contrived hypothesis of mechanical failure, the NTSB resorted to fiction. It presented its conclusions to a distracted public and an increasingly docile media in a novella titled, “Factors Suggesting the Likelihood that a Short-Circuit Event Occurred on TWA Flight 800.”
One is hard pressed to identify a single fact in this tortured report. Guesswork and supposition run rampant. To reveal the conspiratorial intent of the NTSB, at least an element within the agency, it is useful to quote this document at length. Only the italics are added:
Much of the insulation on the wiring recovered from the accident airplane was cracked or otherwise damaged, often exposing the inner conductor. When powered, such damaged wires would be vulnerable to short-circuiting. Although some of the damage to the accident airplane’s wiring insulation probably occurred as a result of the accident or search and recovery operations, the degraded condition of wiring insulation found during inspections of other transport-category airplanes of about the same age as the accident airplane suggests that at least some of the damage to the wiring insulation of the accident airplane very likely existed before the accident. Given what was found during the inspections of other airplanes, it is also likely that metal shavings and other contaminants were interspersed with the wiring system on the accident airplane before the accident.
Evidence of arcing was found on generator cables routed with wires in the leading edge of the right wing, near the wing root. Although this arcing might have been caused by the breaking of the forward wing spar and subsequent fuel fire, it is possible that it could also have been caused before the explosion. Because this wire bundle included wires leading to the right main wing tank fuel flow gauge and right wing FQIS wiring that would have been routed to a connection in the CWT [central wing tank] at terminal strip T347, a short circuit in this bundle could have carried excess energy into the CWT FQIS.
A pause here is in order. Consider the choices the NTSB presents as to what caused the arcing found on the generator: a) the catastrophic breakup of the forward wing spar and the subsequent fuel fire, which did take place; b) a short circuit in the wiring, which might conceivably have taken place before the explosion. An honest investigation would focus on “a.” The NTSB, however, focused on “b.” To put this in perspective, it is as if the L.A. cops completely ignored OJ and went after the “Colombian drug dealers.” The report stumbles forward:
In addition, two non-FQIS wires at body station (STA) 955, which would have been corouted in the same raceway as CWT FQIS wiring, were found with possible arcing damage. (Although the FQIS wiring recovered from this area did not contain evidence of arcing, it should be noted that some of the FQIS wiring from this area was not recovered.) These wires were located near structural repairs from a burst potable water tank and numerous other floor repairs. These repairs could have disturbed nearby wires, cracking or otherwise damaging the wire insulation, and could also have generated metal shavings. In fact, metal drill shavings were found adhered to fragments of a floor beam from STA 920, within 2 inches of where the CWT FQIS wiring would have been routed. This area is also near galley C, which was the site of numerous reported leaks in the 2 weeks preceding the accident. Leakage from this area could have dripped onto electrical wiring located immediately beneath the galley floor and caused a short circuit that affected the CWT FQIS wiring.
Repairs to the area around the upper flight attendant lighting panel could also have created conditions conducive to short-circuiting. A lighting wire and pin in that panel had been repaired on June 20, 1996, about a month before the accident. Although no evidence of arcing was found on the repaired wire, during the repair other wires bundled with it might well have been moved. The repaired wire was part of a bundle that branched off from a larger bundle that contained CWT and left wing FQIS wires that led to the upper deck AIDS unit and also contained high-voltage wiring for lighting; thus, manipulation of wires during the repair could have resulted in movement and cracking of these wires. In addition, there was evidence of extensive structural repairs in this area, and the cabin interior had been altered, both of which could have disturbed these wires and introduced metal shavings, possibly damaging the wire insulation. Further, condensation, which is common in transport-category airplanes, could have provided a mechanism for short-circuiting of such damaged wires when powered. Finally, in addition to being bundled with FQIS wires, the lighting wires were also bundled with CVR wires and No. 4 fuel flow wires along some portions of their path. Therefore, a short circuit involving these lighting wires could also explain the electrical anomalies indicated on the CVR recording and the No. 4 fuel flow indicator.
Curiously, this report contradicts what the NTSB experts had stated in December of 1997 at the Baltimore NTSB hearings. Although they acknowledged that the flight crew observed an erratic fuel flow indicator for engine number 4, 10 minutes after take-off, they rightly dismissed this as “a common occurrence in the 747.”
But now, two and one-half years later, the NTSB was desperate. They were forced to grasp at any straw. So an erratic fuel indicator once thought to be routine suddenly became a major lead in pursuit of the mythical spark that jumped into Flight 800’s center wing tank:
Although no evidence of arcing was found in any of the components connected to the CWT FQIS, investigators considered the possibility that a short circuit in one of those components could have been a source of excess voltage transferred to the CWT FQIS wiring. The interior of each of these components contained numerous complex wiring and circuit assemblies that could have obscured the evidence of a short circuit. Further, it is also possible that a short circuit at lower power or through moisture could occur without leaving evidence of arcing. Therefore, there are several possible locations at which a short circuit of higher-voltage wiring could have affected the CWT FQIS wires in the accident airplane.
Further, as noted previously, there are several indications that possible anomalous electrical events occurred in the airplane just before the explosion. First, the captain’s CVR [cockpit voice recorder] channel recording has two “dropouts” of background power harmonics, indicating some type of electrical anomaly, less than a second before the CVR lost power. Second, captain’s comment about a “crazy” No. 4 fuel flow indicator were recorded on the CVR about 2? minutes before it lost power, which also suggests that some type of electrical anomaly occurred that affected the wiring. And third, the recovered CWT fuel quantity gauge from the cockpit displayed a reading of 640 pounds, which does not agree with the quantity recorded by the ground refueler (300 pounds). Safety Board testing showed that applying power to a wire leading to the fuel quantity gauge can cause the digital display to change by several hundred pounds in less time than is required to trip the circuit breaker. This suggests that an electrical anomaly might have affected the reading of the cockpit gauge.
These electrical anomalies were not necessarily related to the same event. However, it is possible that one or more of these anomalies were a manifestation of an electrical event that resulted in excess voltage being transferred to the CWT FQIS wiring. On the basis of this and other evidence previously discussed, the Safety Board concludes that a short circuit producing excess voltage that was transferred to the CWT FQIS wiring is the most likely source of ignition energy for the TWA flight 800 CWT explosion.
No other “evidence” was “previously discussed.” All was vague guesswork, supposition heaped on top of speculation.
Exposed conductors on FQIS wiring (caused by either mechanical damage or cold-flow) within a fuel tank could provide a mechanism that would lead to arcing inside the tank, which in turn could ignite the flammable fuel/air vapor. Very little of the CWT FQIS wiring from the accident airplane was recovered, and, therefore, the degree to which the wiring in the tank might have been damaged before the accident could not be assessed. However, investigators found preaccident damage, including exposed conductors, on some of the recovered FQIS wiring from inside TWA flight 800’s wing tanks, and damaged FQIS wiring was found inside the CWTs of several of the other 747 airplanes examined by the Safety Board. In addition, the presence of a conductive material, such as metal drill shavings or safety wire, could have provided a mechanism that would lead to arcing of FQIS components. Although no clear evidence of arcing was found inside TWA flight 800’s CWT, fire damage along the route of the FQIS wiring was severe enough that it likely would have obscured any such evidence.
Another potential source of ignition energy is resistance heating, which could have resulted from a thin filament being heated through contact with a wire, probe, or compensator exposed to excess voltage. Although no clear evidence of a filament ignition was found inside TWA flight 800’s CWT, such evidence could also have been physically lost or obscured by fire damage. …
The Safety Board contracted with two research laboratories, Sandia National Laboratory and Christian Michelsen Research, to develop computer modeling in an attempt to determine potential ignition locations. However, because of considerable uncertainties in some aspects of the methodology, the results of that modeling could not be used to determine the most likely ignition location.
Nonetheless, investigators examined all the recovered CWT components, which included portions of all seven fuel probes, one complete terminal block and one partial terminal block, and the compensator. None of the recovered probes or terminal blocks exhibited any noteworthy signs of damage. However, several plastic parts inside the compensator’s innermost tube were found burned, with an apparent upward-flowing burn pattern, which investigators hypothesized could indicate that a fire initiated inside the compensator. Similar burn patterns were observed on the compensator believed by the FAA to be the ignition source for the surge tank fire in the 747 that experienced a fuel tank explosion in May 1976 near Madrid, Spain. (Although the Safety Board discounted the compensator as an ignition source in its October 1978 report of the Madrid accident, a different conclusion might have been warranted given what is now known about sulfides and other ignition-related phenomenon.) However, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the damage to the CWT compensator occurred before the explosion, and, therefore, no determination could be reached regarding the likelihood that the compensator was the ignition location.
18.104.22.168 Possible Ignition Scenario for TWA Flight 800 Explosion.
Therefore, the Safety Board concludes that the ignition energy for the CWT explosion most likely entered the CWT through the FQIS wiring, and, although it is possible that the release of ignition energy inside the CWT was facilitated by the existence of silver-sulfide deposits on an FQIS component, neither the energy release mechanism nor the location of the ignition inside the CWT could be determined from the available evidence.
Remember Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation is usually the best. The labored, labyrinthine explanation of the NTSB has “worst” written all over it.
The NTSB, however, was not the only organization to review the wiring. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers did its own assessment. These workers have far less interest in the hypotheticals of how a plane might work than in the reality of how it actually does. Unlike the NTSB, their analysis cuts right to the chase:
We conclude that the existing wiring recovered from flight 800 wreckage does not exhibit any evidence of improper maintenance or any malfunction that led to a spark or other discrepancy.
What did cause the center wing tank to explode? The IAMAW does not mince words:
A high pressure event breached the fuselage and the fuselage unzipped due to the event. The explosion was a result of this event.
The IAMAW is describing a missile or some other external force. But no one wanted to hear what the IAMAW had to say. “We feel that our expertise was unwelcome and not wanted by the FBI,” read its final report. “The threats made during the first two weeks of the investigation were unwarranted and unforgettable.” When released, the NTSB quietly tucked the IAMAW report away, and the major media never bothered to read it.
The actions and the motives of the NTSB are transparent. By August of 1996, it knew for a fact, as The New York Times reported, that “the initial blast that severed the plane occurred slightly forward of the spot where the wings meet the fuselage,” not in the center wing tank.
The agency hoped, however, that somewhere along the line a scientific test would produce a hypothetical setting in which a contrived mechanical initiating event would enter the realm of the possible. A compliant media would then take the hypothetical possibility and turn it into an established scientific fact. Unfortunately for the NTSB, that scientific hypothesis never developed.
Instead, the NTSB reverted to what military people mockingly call SWAG analysis – as in “sophisticated wild-ass guess.” But this time it was not even an honest SWAG. The NTSB case sums up thusly: We don’t know how the mythical spark could have gotten inside the CWT and, once there, where the initiating explosive event occurred, but one thing we know for certain, it was not a bomb or missile.
Think about this: The NTSB combined a complete lack of physical evidence for mechanical failure with an equally complete lack of hypothetical scientific corroboration for mechanical failure to “prove” that Flight 800 was brought down by – what else? – mechanical failure, this despite the flat-out rejection of the same by the IAMAW and by “senior investigators” as early as August of 1996.
What is shocking is that the NTSB has gotten away with this, at least to date. This should not happen in America. Please share this with those who care.
Attorney General John Ashcroft
U. S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Congressman Dan Burton
House Government Reform Committee
2157 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515
Purchase Jack Cashill’s stunning documentary video, “Silenced: Flight 800 and the Subversion of Justice” from WorldNetDaily’s online store.
Cashill’s five-part series, “Silenced: Flight 800 and the subversion of justice”: