Boeing delayed handing over study of fuel tanks to TWA 800 investigators
Senator: Information might
have helped prevent crash
October 30, 1999
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT)
In this story:
Boeing questions study's relevance
Bomb theory might have been ruled
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From Correspondent Deborah Feyerick
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The day in July 1996 when TWA Flight 800 took
off from New York on a doomed journey to Paris was hot, and air
conditioners kept the Boeing 747 cool.
But, investigators say, the air conditioners also
heated the jet's center fuel tank, creating
dangerous vapors -- which became lethal when
ignited by an unknown spark as the plane
cruised over Long Island Sound.
Now, newly uncovered documents show that
Boeing knew about problems with center fuel
tanks overheating as far back as 1980, when it
tested its fleet of military 747's.
Yet, Boeing officials never alerted the National Transportation Safety Board
about those findings. Nor did the company turn over the documents as
required following the explosion and crash of TWA 800, in which 230
The NTSB says Boeing's failure to report that information causes "dismay
and displeasure." Sen. Charles Grassley (R- Iowa) sees a link between the
failure and the TWA 800 disaster.
"If (Boeing) knew these things presumably 10 years ago or even before that,
perhaps the TWA 800 explosion would never have taken place and there
would not have been 230 lives lost," Grassley said.
Boeing questions study's relevance
Boeing tells CNN it's embarrassing that the 1980 study was overlooked.
However, a Boeing official says the study focused on fuel pump problems in
military, not commercial versions, of 747s and questions its relevance.
The NTSB disagrees. Sources there say that having the study could have
helped them investigate a 1990 fuel tank explosion in the Philippines by
sending up a red flag and possibly leading them to recommend fuel tank
"I don't know if this one document would have done it, but it would have
contributed to preponderant evidence saying we need to take care of this,"
says Bill Kauffman, an aeronautical engineer at the University of Michigan
who has studied aircraft fuel explosions for 30 years.
Bomb theory might have been ruled out earlier
NTSB sources say that even armed with the 1980 study, which surfaced this
year in a meeting between the military and Boeing, preventing the TWA
explosion would have been difficult because of the complexity in changing
airline safety rules.
But, those sources say, the study would have helped them make their case
much earlier that the cause of the explosion was mechanical failure, not a
bomb or missile, which they've now ruled out.
Some of the key findings of the 1980 Boeing study are almost the same as
those later pieced together by NTSB investigators following the TWA crash
-- that air conditioners and hot runways can overheat fuel tanks and
insulation should be used in the tanks to block out that heat.
"The bottom line (is) the NTSB did not have this information, there has been
a lot of time wasted, a lot of wasted money and a compromise of public
safety," Grassley said.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration came out with sweeping
changes to make fuel tanks safer. Three years after the TWA explosion --
and 19 years after Boeing's study -- the NTSB says it plans to use the
study's findings in its final crash report, which is due out next spring.
Navion From United States of America, joined May 1999, 1008 posts, RR: 1
Reply 2, posted (14 years 4 months 2 weeks 8 hours ago) and read 1738 times:
Actually, the study in question was on the E4B, the military version of the 747 (as MAC Vet listed in the article). Apparently, the reason for the study is the E4B has 4 air conditioning packs, and not 3 as the civil versions have. The study was to determine if the additional pack would cause a significant increase in center fuel tank temperatures. While this study does not ponder the same situations the TWA 800 aircraft faced, it certainly seems germaine to the overall issue and probably could have helped the investigation. However, until more is known, I would not yet classify this as a coverup. Boeing has had a history of being forthcoming when serious problems have arose so we should wait and see.