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More TWA debris undergoes testing

wreckage November 21, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Peg Tyre

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Investigators sent more debris from TWA Flight 800 to Washington for scientific analysis, and the lead FBI investigator Thursday tried to correct the impression that he may be leaning toward ruling out a bomb as the cause of the crash.

A source close to the investigation told CNN that more probes, possibly from the center fuel tank of the Boeing 747, have been sent to Washington for analysis at a National Transportation Safety Board laboratory.


Meanwhile, FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, trying to clarify a statement he made Wednesday, told CNN "It is less likely that we will find evidence of a bomb or missile now that 95 percent of the plane has been recovered."

But Kallstrom emphasized that this does not mean that the FBI believes mechanical failure caused the crash, saying, "It is less likely that we will know if it was a bomb or a missile."

The July 17 explosion off Long Island killed all 230 people aboard the New York-to-Paris flight.

Francis backs Kallstrom

Kallstrom's NTSB counterpart, Robert Francis, said he agreed with Kallstrom and would not rule out a bomb or missile based on existing evidence, although he acknowledged there is a "mathematical logic" to Kallstrom's concern that evidence of sabotage may never be found.


"We don't have any evidence at this point of a bomb or missile," Francis said. "But at this point we don't have any evidence of what ignited the fuel tank," if there was a mechanical malfunction.

Parts still missing

missing parts

Dredging continues as scallop boats scour the ocean floor. Still missing are parts of the center fuel tank, the third and last fuel pump and four of the seven fuel probes, all critical pieces because they carry an electrical charge that could have ignited the fuel.

The new lab tests will be conducted on fuel measuring probes recently recovered among bits and pieces of the center fuel tank, a source close to the investigation said.

Investigators cannot tell by simple observation if the small damaged probes actually are from the center fuel tank, but they are hopeful that sophisticated testing in the NTSB laboratory will reveal more.

The source said damage to the probes does not necessarily mean they were close to the origin of the explosion, because the fire and impact with the water also played a part in the destruction. It is known that the center fuel tank exploded. What's not known is what caused it to explode.

Ruling out a bomb or a missile may be easier than determining mechanical failure. A bomb or a missile would leave more obvious detectable evidence, investigators say.

But when the dredging stops, it may be up to scientists to rule out possible causes. And what brought the plane down becomes a matter of probability.

Still, the FBI and the NTSB said they are not stepping back from their investigation.

"We're getting support from everyone to do it right, so we'll do it properly," Francis said.


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