25 Years After Deadly Explosion, Wreckage of TWA Flight 800 to Be Destroyed

Investigation ‘Fundamentally Changed the Way Aircraft Are Designed’

By Kurt Stolz on 27 February 2021
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TWA Flight 800, a Boeing 747 en route from New York City to Paris, exploded in midair and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Long Island on the night of July 17, 1996.

At precisely 8:31 p.m. local time, an explosion that was ultimately determined to have been caused by a spark from fuel gauge wiring inside the center wing fuel tank of the 747 that in turn caused a huge explosion, split the plane in two about 15,000 feet over the Atlantic, some 8 miles (13 kilometers) south of the beaches that flank the East Moriches inlet.

The Jumbo Jet had 230 people on board at the time of the crash, including 18 crewmembers and 20 off-duty employees. The roster included 16 students and five chaperones from the Montoursville Area High School French Club in Pennsylvania; Jed Johnson, an interior designer who was Andy Warhol’s partner of 12 years; Rico Puhlmann, a German fashion photographer; and David Hogan, an American composer.

Another passenger on board was Eric Holst, a friend and neighbor of FBT Editorial Director Jonathan Spira and the magazine’s co-founder, the late Greg Spira.  Dr. Holst and his wife, Virginia, were en route to Paris for the wedding of his brother, Troy.

The in-air disaster prompted the largest investigation of an aviation crash in U.S. history, and the findings led federal officials to require airlines to pump inert gas into empty fuel tanks, making them less flammable.

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board said it would destroy the reconstruction of the Boeing 747 that had been painstakingly salvaged from the ocean floor. The wreckage was first used to investigate the cause of the crash and, later on, after being moved to a warehouse in Virginia, to train plane crash investigators.

The warehouse containing the reconstructed aircraft was closed to the public but families of the victims were allowed to visit over the years as needed.  Before the massive 747 is dismantled, the agency will document the reconstructing using 3-D scanning.

The move comes as the lease on the warehouse nears its end and the destruction of the wreckage is in accordance with an agreement it made with survivors of the victims of the explosion, one of the deadliest plane crashes in U.S. history, albeit one that resulted in safer flying as a result of the investigation.

“The investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800 is a seminal moment in aviation safety history,” said Sharon Bryson, the safety board’s managing director, in a statement. “From that investigation we issued safety recommendations that fundamentally changed the way aircraft are designed.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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