© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com
Earlier this week, the Associated Press
reported that the Federal Aviation Administration was about to order
airlines to install a system to reduce the chance of fuel-tank
explosions "like the one that downed a TWA Boeing 747 in 1996." The
system would essentially remove explosive oxygen in the tanks and
replace it with non-explosive or inert nitrogen gas.
"The FAA would have us believe that this is being done because of a
spark of unknown origin in the fuel tank of TWA 800," observes retired
United Airline pilot and veteran safety investigator Ray Lahr. "Since
the advent of low volatility jet fuel, there has never been a
fuel-tank explosion due to a spark, and that includes TWA 800." Lahr
does, however, have an informed opinion as to what happened to TWA
Flight 800 and why the government is just now moving ahead with this
Before reaching for their wallets, those investors paying the bills
might want to talk to Lahr and other aviation professionals. They
might want to review the history of such spontaneous explosions on
commercial airlines. They might then want to ask the next logical
question: At this late date what has inspired the FAA to act? To this
question, Lahr and others have an answer, and it has nothing to do
with the concocted explanation for TWA 800's demise.
The case of TWA Flight 800 is well enough known. On the night of
July 17, 1996 – Iraq's national liberation day – hundreds if not
thousands of people on Long Island's south shore watched as an unknown
object streaked up from the horizon and arced over toward TWA Flight
800 in the seconds before it exploded. Two-hundred seventy would
provide the FBI with specific accounts of this streaking object.
At that exact same moment, FAA radar operators out of New York
picked up an unknown object on their radar screens "merging with TWA
Flight 800." Indeed, when Ron Schleede of the National Transportation
Safety Board first saw the radar data, he exclaimed, "Holy C-----,
this looks bad." He added later, "It showed this track that suggested
something fast made the turn and took the airplane."
Four years after the crash NTSB officials came up with their own
unverifiable explanation. According to the NTSB, at the very moment
that these hundreds of eyewitness and FAA technicians were witnessing
what appeared to be a missile attack, the airliner self-destructed in
mid-air because of a center wing tank problem, the first such event in
the 75 year history of commercial aviation.
Jump ahead to Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2001. On that day, an
international panel of some 70 airline industry executives and federal
officials rejected suggestions that U.S. airlines use an inerting
process to prevent explosions like the one alleged to have destroyed
TWA Flight 800.
The panel of aviation professionals told the FAA that the process
was too costly for commercial use. They contended that the odds
against a future fuel-tank explosion were far too great to justify the
price tag. The unspoken implication, however, was that the odds were
too great for a fuel tank to have blown this way, including TWA 800's.
If the panelists had believed that a given 747 could self-destruct
because of a fixable problem, they would have fixed those problems in
a heartbeat. To reject the FAA's recommendation, the panel had to
ignore not only the NTSB's judgment on TWA 800, but also its judgment
on other alleged fuel-tank disasters in the past.
There were not many of them. Until the Flight 800 tragedy, the only
listed "fuel-tank explosion" in the 80-year history of airline
disasters was a Philippine Airlines 737 that blew while the plane was
backing out of a Manila airport gate in May of 1990. And even this
case was suspect.
The problems with the case began with its location, the benighted
city of Manila, an international cesspool of Islamic terrorism and the
home base of, among others, Ramzi Yousef. Yousef was the mastermind of
the original World Trade Center bombing and the creator of the Bojinka
plot, a plan to blow up 11 American jumbo jets in one day. More than
just a schemer, Yousef was responsible for the bombing of Philippine
Airlines Flight 434 on Dec. 11, 1994. Any explosion in Manila's
airport would raise suspicion as to its origins, especially if it were
the only explosion of its kind in the history of aviation.
A second problem with the Philippine Airlines explosion was the
nature of the damage. Reportedly, the explosion blew the entire top of
the center wing tank violently upwards. The upward blast in the case
of TWA Flight 800 was clearly a localized event limited to a specific
area at the right side of the center wing tank, concentrated between
span wise beams 2 and 3. The Philippine 737 may have blown up on its
own, but if it did, it shed no light on the fate of TWA Flight 800.
When the aforementioned panel met in August 2001, it had another
case to consider. A Thai Airways Boeing 737 that had exploded on the
tarmac in Bangkok on March 3, 2001. This too was ruled a center wing
tank explosion, but the panel had good reason to be suspicious.
The Associated Press report on the day of the Thai explosion was
admirably straightforward. "A passenger jet Thailand's prime minister
was to board exploded and went up in flames 35 minutes before its
scheduled departure Saturday," noted the AP. Apparently, Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was on his way to the Bangkok
International Airport when the plane blew up on the runway. "Thailand
has a history of coups and violent overthrows of governments," the AP
reported. "The explosion came two days after Thaksin gave Thailand's
Constitutional Court 21 boxes of documents as part of his defense
against a corruption indictment that could evict him from office."
According to the AP, the Thai Airways president had said that there
was "a loud noise that sounded like an explosion" before the fire
started. The AP paraphrased the plane's captain as saying, "It was
impossible for the plane to explode from an internal malfunction if
the engines had not yet been started. The fully loaded fuel tanks,
located in the plane's wings, were intact ... indicating that burning
fuel was not the cause of the explosion."
The New York Times was even more specific: "Minutes before Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was to board a Thai Airways jet this
weekend, an explosion from beneath his assigned seat blew apart the
On March 5, CNN added more telling details. One was that the "the
blast ripped through the floor and ceiling," a likely sign of a bomb
in the passenger section. The second was the identification by
Thailand's defense minister of the composition of the bomb as
Nor was this the first time that a Thai plane had blown up. On Oct.
29, 1986, explosives planted in a lavatory of a Thai International
Airways jet sent the plane plunging 21,000 feet before the plane could
make an emergency landing. The plane was on its way to Osaka after a
stop – where else? – in Manila.
But the investigation in March 2001 followed a pattern not
available 15 years earlier. This time the explosive residue, like all
other evidence of a bomb, disappeared in a hurry. On April 11, the
NTSB issued a press release that reads like a crude parody of the TWA
Physical evidence has been found that the center wing tank
exploded. The accident [emphasis mine] occurred at 2:48 p.m.
on a day with temperatures in the high 35 degree Celsius [range].
The initial explosion of the center wing tank was followed 18
minutes later by an explosion in the right wing tank. Air
conditioning packs, which are located directly beneath the center
wing tank and generate heat when they are operating, had been
running continuously since the airplane's previous flight, including
about 40 minutes on the ground.
Note the apocryphal TWA 800 scenario now transposed to a 737 on a
Thailand tarmac: the heat, the overactive air conditioning, the center
wing tank explosion, even if this was a 737, not a 747, and only nine
years old at that. The parody grows cruder still:
Although chemical traces of high-energy explosives were initially
believed to be present, samples have been submitted to the FBI for
confirmation by laboratory equipment that is more sensitive than
equipment available in Thailand. Although a final report has not yet
been issued, the FBI has found no evidence of high explosives in any
of the samples tested to date.
How or why the NTSB and the FBI both got involved in a Thailand
explosion was not at all clear. What was clear, however, was the
dissembling. "Sensitive" equipment finds more explosive residue, not
less. Once again the FBI made the explosive residue go away – the only
thing missing was the fabled careless cop spreading residue for a
bomb-hunting dog. Again, the NTSB imposed its patented center wing
tank scenario, this time not in four years but in four weeks. Again, a
40-minute layover on a 95-degree day was made to seem unusually
perilous. Again, the explanation held off the media.
The New York Times headlined only its second piece on the Thai
Airways crash, "A Similarity Is Seen In 2 Plane Explosions." The
headline infers both the NTSB strategy and the Times' passivity.
CNN did no better. "Investigators are also looking at any role
heat-generating air conditioning units may have played in the Thai
blast," observed CNN's online service after the NTSB changed its
story. CNN noted that these units were also a "contributing factor" in
the explosion of TWA 800.
That no member of the major media expressed even the faintest bit
of skepticism reveals all too much about the state of American
journalism. It was, of course, possible that the Thai Airways
explosion did occur by accident; it was just not likely. Clearly, the
panel of aviation experts gave it and TWA 800 little credence.
The American involvement in the Thai case was too quick and
expedient. Still unable to identify an ignition source for TWA 800,
the NTSB needed a parallel explosion to justify its miscellaneous
rulings on that doomed flight. As to the Thai prime minister, the one
who was about to indict his buddies in a corruption scandal, the one
who was about to board the plane, he would have welcomed an
alternative explanation, one that would make him look less vulnerable
Given the flimsy evidence for all three explosions, the question
remains as to why now – eight years after the destruction of TWA
Flight 800 – the FAA would go to such extraordinary and expensive
lengths. To Ray Lahr, the answer is obvious: the legitimate fear of
terrorist missiles. If September 11 did not shake up the FAA, the
simultaneous double rocket attack a year later on an ascending Israeli
airliner in Kenya most surely did.
"I wish they would be honest about the problem they are
addressing," says Lahr. "They are not worried about a spark in the
fuel tank because they know that is not what happened to TWA 800. They
are worried about the thousands of missiles loose in this world. If a
missile hits a fuel tank, a nitrogen blanket might help."
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