Rick Jean arrived in Long Island July 18, 1996, the day after the crash of TWA Flight 800. He would spend the next three months there. He had been recruited to participate in the investigation as a representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers, or IAMAW. He had worked for TWA successively as an instrument, electronics and avionics mechanic and retired in the year 2000 as an avionics crew chief.
Reading an advance article on CNN’s 10th anniversary special this month aggravated Jean. “I just couldn’t watch it,” he admits. Instead, he contacted me. Others from inside the investigation, equally appalled by the CNN piece, have done the same.
From the beginning, Jean was troubled by the FBI’s “heavy-handed grip on the investigation.” As Jean notes correctly, the FBI was a party to the investigation, just like any other party. This would change only if the NTSB declared the accident a crime scene, which it never did.
That did not stop the FBI from controlling the investigation. Like others, Jean observed the FBI removing critical parts from the investigation and never returning them. He cites one part in particular, a stainless steel-covered floorboard with a hole in it and burn marks around the hole. The Fire and Explosives Group leader for the NTSB told Jean that it looked like a projectile had gone through it.
“The floor board was taken for further tests,” regrets Jean, “and I never saw it again.”
The IAMAW confirmed Jean’s testimony in an unflinching public report quietly buried by the NTSB. “During the investigation of TWA Flight 800, cabin wreckage began to disappear from the cabin wreckage hanger,” reads the IAMAW report. “Indications were that the disappearance was due to the removal of wreckage by the FBI.”
Jean also cites the keel beam, which, as James Sanders discovered in his investigation, had been retagged and placed among those objects closest to JFK. There was a reason for this. If a spontaneous explosion in the center wing tank had destroyed the plane – the NTSB’s theory – the blast would have blown the keel beam out almost immediately. The keel beam is the spine of the plane and runs under the center wing tank.
As FBI documents show, and as the New York Times initially reported, the keel beam was among the last parts to hit the water, not the first. It was found deep in the C, or “green,” zone, the one farthest from JFK. For no known reason, investigators crossed out C 061 and changed it to B 061 – and then changed the designation once again from B to A, the zone closest to JFK.
“The validity of the tag database,” reports the IAMAW in a bit of ironic understatement, “has been in question from the beginning of the TWA Flight 800 investigation.”
Says TWA’s Jim Speer, who also worked on the investigation, “The NTSB/FBI has changed the recovery location tag of the keel beam, so that can mean only one thing to me – that they are trying to make the recovery location of the keel beam fit a scenario that they already have decided has happened.” Adds Speer wryly, “That’s not how you do accident investigations.” Speer’s comments suggest that the FBI and the NTSB, at least their top people, now had the same mission – create a plausible mechanical scenario. The fine points of this work would be left to the NTSB.
Jean also found it “very interesting” that the part of the keel beam forward of the wing root had broken off and showed no soot or fire damage. The forward cargo bin was also devoid of any smoke or fire damage. The keel beam behind the break, however, was black with soot and fire damage around the center fuel tank area. “In my logic,” says Jean, “that tells me the fuel tanks exploded after the forward part of the aircraft had fallen away.” In other words, something other than an exploding fuel tank had blown off the front part of the plane.
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 [of the tank] was a result of this event.”
What the IAMAW is saying is that the initiating explosion occurred outside the plane, penetrated the fuselage, vaporized the fuel and caused the center wing tank to explode. The eruption of that tank did not cause the breach in the fuselage. It was the “result” of that event.
One of Jean’s primary roles in the investigation was the tracing of wiring. Given his experience in this subject, it troubled him how quickly his NTSB crew chief, Bob Swaim, began floating the idea that the center fuel tank had overheated and exploded, possibly because of a malfunctioning air conditioning pack. Jean publicly expressed his shock that the NTSB would offer “a preposterous theory, especially so early in the investigation.” Again, the IAMAW backs him up. “We conclude,” reads its final report, “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.”
In sum, the IAMAW flatly rejected the theory that the FBI and NTSB brass have been floating almost since the investigation began.
“I am all but certain that Flight 800 was lost by something other than what the official report says,” observes Jean. “I find it entirely plausible there is a mass cover-up.” At the end of the investigation, Jean’s union was saying pretty much what he did. Although the media would overlook the IAMAW’s dissent on TWA Flight 800, the NTSB was obliged to include that dissent in its final report.
“If the pilots and flight attendants,” adds Jean, “believed the NTSB and the FAA, I would think they would refuse to fly on planes whose fuel tanks are but time bombs waiting to explode like Flight 800 did.”
Rick Jean gave me permission to use his name, but that is not essential. I welcome submissions from any other parties with inside information. Please go through Cashill.com to contact me. This case is not yet closed.
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