Another theory is beginning to emerge in the search for what caused the explosion of TWA Flight 800 - the no-solution scenario.
That could frighten the public, demoralize families of the 230 people who died July 17 and leave investigators frustrated.
If no cause is found, “we will be left hanging forever,” said Aurelie Becker of St. Petersburg, Fla., whose teenage daughter, Michelle, died in the explosion.
“It will be a cruel blow if there is no answer,” said Rita Agulla, a Red Cross volunteer who counseled victims’ families. “People need to know so that they can go on with their lives.”
The Paris-bound Boeing 747 exploded minutes after taking off from New York’s Kennedy International Airport. Investigators trying to determine whether the center fuel tank blew up because of a mechanical problem, a missile or a bomb have not found evidence to prove any of the theories.
The National Transportation Safety Board is beginning to summarize some of its findings without knowing what caused the center fuel tank explosion - and is discussing whether to simply blame the disaster on the fuel tank without knowing what ignited it, a source said on condition of anonymity.
FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, who heads the agency’s criminal probe of the disaster, said he remains confident there will be an answer.
“But if we don’t - nobody wins,” he said. “Nobody wins unless, in fact, it was a criminal act. Then the criminal wins. At least in the short run anyway.”
If the cause is mechanical, Kallstrom said, “We are all losers, especially anyone who travels in the air.”
NTSB investigators have said that nine months to two years is not unreasonable for an investigation this size. The causes of Boeing 737 crashes in Pittsburgh in 1994 and in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1991 remain unknown, but safety experts have theorized there was a rudder problem.
Carol Gross of Flying without Fear, a group that meets at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, said the most comfortable scenario for jittery passengers would be if the plane had been hit by a meteorite.
“Mechanical error or pilot error is the worst,” she said. “And the unsolved mystery with the rampant rumors have sent fear out of sight.”
FBI diver Michael Tyms said those who spent four months searching for wreckage 120 feet down in the Atlantic Ocean couldn’t escape the depth of the human tragedy.
“I leave with a little sense of disappointment at not being able to say we have the answer,” Tyms said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.