NTSB Rejects TWA Flight 800 Missile Claim

Investigators speak out at rare media briefing.

TWA 800 Reconstruction

TWA 800 Reconstruction

The NTSB is pushing back — hard — to refute claims by a group of documentary filmmakers and former crash investigators who say a missile attack and not a fuel tank explosion brought down TWA Flight 800 in July 1996.

At a rare media briefing in Virginia yesterday in front of the reconstructed Boeing 747, investigators who worked on the case insisted that the NTSB and FBI investigation into the disaster was thorough. Ultimately, they said, it arrived at the correct conclusion.

“I'm totally convinced there was no bomb or missile,” NTSB investigator Jim Wildey told reporters at the briefing, according to a CNN transcript.

Skeptics include former NTSB investigator Hank Hughes, who is petitioning the agency to re-open its investigation. Hughes is a central figure in the upcoming documentary “TWA Flight 800” set to air on the anniversary of the tragedy this month on the Epix cable channel. In the film, five former investigators say the evidence they have uncovered suggests as many as three missiles destroyed the Paris-bound jet on July 17, 1996, 12 minutes after it took off from JFK, killing all 230 on board.

NTSB investigators at yesterday’s briefing refused to address the petition, and Hughes and other former investigators who appear in the documentary were barred from attending. The central message the NTSB tried to convey to the media was that its investigators worked hard to determine if a bomb or missile was involved, especially in light of the tragedy’s timing two days before the Summer Olympics and 10 days before the Olympic bombing in Atlanta. Every piece of evidence they uncovered, they said, pointed to a fuel tank explosion and not foul play.

According to the official accident report, issued four years after the crash, a short circuit in a wire ignited fuel vapors in the 747’s center fuel tank, causing the explosion that brought the jet down.

Flying has viewed the TWA Flight 800 documentary. Yesterday we interviewed Hughes to ask him some pointed questions about the claims made in the film. For that part of the story, click here.

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