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Saturday, December 13, 1997 Published at 00:34 GMT



World: Americas

TWA hearing recommends fuel switch
image: [ Thomas McSweeney, a Federal Aviation Administration director, testifies before the hearing ]
Thomas McSweeney, a Federal Aviation Administration director, testifies before the hearing

A week-long public hearing into the TWA flight that exploded shortly after take off has ended with agreement that a switch in the type of fuel used in commercial airliners should be considered.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigation heard that replacing Jet-A fuel with JP5 could make accidents 20 times less likely.


The BBC's aviation correspondent Christopher Wain reports from the hearing
The Federal Aviation Administration Director of Aircraft Certification, Thomas McSweeny, said the fuel was already used in military aircraft to prevent explosions.

TWA Flight 800 to Paris killed 230 people when it split in half and blew up over the Atlantic shortly after taking off in the United States.

A few gallons of fuel in a virtually empty tank inside the Boeing 747 became overheated by the plane's air-conditioning and led to the explosion.


[ image: William and Kathy Rogers lost their daughter in the 1996 accident]
William and Kathy Rogers lost their daughter in the 1996 accident
But the exact cause of the spark that lit the fuel remains a mystery.

Jose Cramedes, from France, who lost his 15-year-old son Daniel, said: "We have the smoking gun. The center fuel tank exploded.

"We have the signs of the bullet - frayed wiring with deposits from contact with fuel, cracked o-rings in fuel piping, high voltage and low voltage wiring with no shield.

"What is missing is the bullet and the NTSB will find that, we are sure."


[ image:  ]
The replacement fuel proposed by the hearing costs more than that presently in use. But the NTSB Chairman, James Hall, wanted to know why the US Federal Aviation Authority had not recommended such a move earlier, as it knew of the dangers.

At the end of the hearings, he said "a change in the philosophy of the FAA and the industry" had taken place since the tragedy.

"We are by no means finished," Mr Hall added. "Our work will continue and we will spare no effort to determine the cause of the crash of TWA 800.

"I am confident that in the process, we will learn a great deal more that will help make our air transportation system even safer," he said.


[ image: Wreckage is lifted from the sea off Long Island]
Wreckage is lifted from the sea off Long Island
Bob Swaim, of the NTSB, said hazardous conditions in fuel tanks were more common than many experts admitted.

In 1990, a similar cause was attributed to a 737 that blew up on the ground at the Manila airport, killing eight and injuring 30 people.

After the hearing, Joe Lychner, from Houston, whose wife and two young daughters were killed in the crash, said: "What hurts for me is knowing that Boeing intentionally ignored the problem with the center fuel tank years ago.

"If they had done something back then, my family and 227 other people would still be alive."

A lawyer representing the relatives of the French victims, Guy-Michel Ney, said the hearing provided "the necessary elements" for a criminal negligence suit against Boeing and the FAA.

The BBC's aviation correspondent Christopher Wain reports from the hearing





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Internet Links

Aviation Safety Pages - TWA Flight 800

National Transportation Safety Board

USA Today coverage of hearings


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