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Divers Pulling Clues From Ocean Luggage Found Closer To Shore May Support Bomb Theory

Divers worked into the night Tuesday to pull clues from the wreckage of TWA Flight 800, concentrating on an area of the Atlantic Ocean they think could hold the key to the jetliner’s explosion.

The divers found luggage while probing the area, which is closer to Kennedy Airport than where most of the plane’s wreckage settled.

Widely scattered debris in the area is “probably from the section where the first class cabin ends and the regular passenger section begins,” a source close to the investigation told The Associated Press.

A prime theory is that a bomb was placed in the front cargo hold, where luggage was stored. Determining that suitcases were the first items blown from the plane could support that theory.

“This is potentially the most important area forensically that we have looked at,” the source told the AP. “Science tells us that it’s the first stuff off the airplane.”

Divers had focused on two clusters of wreckage further down the plane’s flight path, discovering that pieces of the plane’s cockpit hit the water before most of the fuselage. This latest field is much larger, and in terms of finding a cause, potentially more valuable.

Navy Adm. Edward Kristensen confirmed that suitcases were found amid the small pieces of debris. But National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis noted that luggage had also been retrieved from other wreckage fields where larger pieces of the plane were found. Together, the wreckage fields are spread over 5 miles, he said.

Francis also said Tuesday that investigators untangling the cockpit wreckage found intact instrument dials and even an unbroken light from the top of the stairs to the 747’s upper deck.

FBI agent James Kallstrom said it was too soon to say whether the intact light and instruments, and Sunday’s recovery of the pilot still strapped in his seat, were inconsistent with the bomb theory.