July 28, 1996 in Nation/World

Source: Blast Was In Front Of Plane Bomb May Have Been In Forward Cargo Hold; Missile Not Ruled Out

Pat Milton Associated Press
 

The explosion that killed all 230 people aboard TWA Flight 800 ripped through the front part of the plane, tearing off the cockpit and first-class cabin, and investigators are speculating the blast was caused by a bomb, a source close to the investigation said Saturday night.

The source, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said investigators speculate that a bomb might have exploded in the plane’s front cargo section, but are not ruling out the possibility of a missile. They also will not entirely discount the possibility of mechanical failure, but are focusing on the bomb theory, the source said.

The source said TWA Flight 800 “flew without a front for 10 to 11 seconds” after the initial blast. The plane was then engulfed in a fireball approximately 9,000 feet up and 10 miles off the coast of Long Island.

Some passengers in first class were thrown out of the plane by the force of the explosion.

The source said the disaster “has a lot of similarities to Pan Am 103,” which exploded over Scotland in 1988 after a terrorist bomb went off in a cargo hold.

Investigators are still looking for sheet metal from the front of the plane, hoping it will provide the forensic evidence needed to determine the cause.

The electrical equipment of the Boeing 747 is located just ahead of the front cargo bay, which could explain why the flight voice recorder and the flight data recorder were cut off abruptly 11-1/2 minutes after the doomed jetliner left John F. Kennedy International Airport for Paris. Radar continued to track the plane or a portion of it in the sky for some seconds after the recorders shut down.

The possibility of a heat-seeking missile or radar-guided missile has not been discounted, nor has the possibility of mechanical failure, but the bomb theory is the one now given the most credence, the source said.

The source would not say what new evidence might have turned up to enable investigators to focus the probe on the bomb theory 10 days after the jetliner exploded.

The information came less than 24 hours after a bomb exploded at the Olympics, killing one person and wounding more than 100 others. Another person also died of a heart attack following the blast.

James Kallstrom, who’s heading the FBI investigation into the TWA explosion, said he saw no apparent tie between Flight 800 and the bomb blast at the Olympics.

“My first blush is I don’t see any connection, but we’ve yet to look at that,” he said.

Search crews working in clear weather off Long Island lifted to the surface the first significant part of the doomed Boeing 747 - a 15-foot-by-4-foot chunk of the right wing on Saturday.

It was moved in the hopes of locating more bodies, but none was found and investigators conceded that they may never recover all the victims. Of the 230 people who were on board, 145 bodies have been found.

“Are we confident that we’ll find all the bodies?…The answer, I guess, is honestly no,” said Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “We certainly hope to be able to. But in situations like this kind, you know the recovery of 100 percent of bodies is not the usual.”

Asked about reports that there were military planes in the area when the plane blew up, Kallstrom replied: “We are looking at everything that was in this area, be it military, be it civilian, be it anything else…. We’re certainly aware of what was here, and we are looking into that.”

No physical evidence - such as chemical residue from explosives on airline debris - has been found to confirm suspicions of sabotage.

The Navy, meanwhile, said another specialized salvage ship would arrive Monday to aid in the recovery of wreckage.


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