Blog Post #1

What happened to TWA 800 has often left me intrigued with what truly took place. I always wanted to find out what had contributed to it's inflight breakup.

I was able to go through the NTSB report and read all 300+ pages and take notes on information that was unknown to me.

What happened to TWA 800 on July 17th, 1996 is more complicated and perhaps more complex than a simple "explosion". I'll try to summarize the events as best as I can. For the sake of simplicity, I'll refer to TWA 800 as N93119, the tail number of the jet used for the 800 route that night.

4:38 PM. TWA 747 N93119 lands at JFK Airport as Flight 881. It had come from Athens, Greece. TWA at the time was known for not having the newest jets. N93119 was 25 years old at the time. Most airlines retired their jets by the time they reach 15 years old.

Sometime after N93119 landed, it was refueled for its next trip to Paris as Flight 800. According to the NTSB report, N93119 was fueled normally at Athens. All tanks were fueled. However later in New York, N93119 did not have it's center fuel tank filled. A Boeing 747-100 like N93119 can make a full trip to Paris without needing to fully fill its center wing tank. It's accepted that when N93119 arrived to New York, temperatures were very high.

While docked at Gate 27, N93119 had it's air conditioning running, but outside temperatures were still high. Inside in the belly of the aircraft the fuel tanks do not receive air conditioning. As a result the fuel can heat up and produce vapor. Keep in mind that the center fuel tank was not refilled, allowing for space for vapor to accumulate.

N93119 was scheduled to depart from JFK Airport at 7pm, however it was delayed for a full hour because of a baggage dispute and issues with ground equipment. It wasn't until 8:02 pm until N93119 was able to back away from Gate 27 at the TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport and procede to the runway for take off.

TWA's fleet at the time consisted of older aircraft, N93119 being one of it's oldest as it was brought into service with TWA in 1971. People who flew on TWA have stated that on 747-100's like N93119, at take off the planes would sometimes rattle, power surges, flickering lights, and even ceiling panels would come loose. To say that TWA neglected their planes may be an understatement. What does that have to say about their maintenance and upkeep of their fleet?

At 8:19 pm, N93119 would take off for the very last time

Again, according to the NTSB report, there is no place for electrical wires to be routed underneath the floor of the plane. They must go through the fuel tanks. Because of this they have to be insulated correctly to prevent an obvious accident. On Page 142, titled "1.16.6 Potential Ignition Source Research and Testing", the NTSB investigated whether it would be possible that due to the age of the insulation of the wires it may have possibly ignited the vapors in the Center Fuel Tank.

So what happened to N93119?

According to NTSB Report, Page 306 titled "Conclusions", the NTSB found that "The TWA flight 800 in-flight breakup was intiated by a fuel/air explosion in the center wing fuel tank." and "The fuel/air vapor in the ullage of TWA flight 800's Center Fuel Tank was flammable at the time of the accident." and "A fuel/air explosion in the center wing fuel tank of TWA flight 800 would have been capable of generating sufficient internal pressure to break apart the tank." and "A short circuit producing excess voltage that was transferred to the center wing tank (CWT) fuel quantity indication system wiring is the most likely source of ignition energy for the TWA flight 800 CWT explosion."

The report goes on to conclude that "The in-flight breakup of TWA flight 800 was not initiated by a bomb or a missile."

So there.

That's what happened to TWA flight 800.

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