TWA Flight 800 petition to reopen investigation denied by NTSB

The partially reconstructed wreckage of the Trans World

The partially reconstructed wreckage of the Trans World Airlines Flight 800 (TWA 800) sits in a hanger at the National Transportation Safety Board Training Center in Ashburn, Virginia on July 2, 2013. Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A group of investigators who believe a missile downed TWA Flight 800 off East Moriches 18 years ago have failed to convince the federal government to reconsider its conclusion that the plane's center fuel tank exploded.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Wednesday that it has denied a petition to reopen the investigation into what caused the crash.

The Paris-bound plane fell from the sky about 8:30 p.m. on July 17, 1996, shortly after takeoff from Kennedy Airport, killing 230 people aboard.

The TWA 800 Project petitioned the safety board in June 2013. The petitioners, who included retired NTSB investigator Hank Hughes, claimed that "detonation or high-velocity explosion" was the cause.

A new analysis of radar data and witness statements about seeing streaks of light in the sky before Flight 800 exploded were the basis of the petition, according to the NTSB.

But a team of NTSB investigators who had not worked on the original crash investigation examined the petition's evidence and found it insufficient to change the agency's conclusion.

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The new NTSB investigation team found the petitioner's radar evidence "flawed" and said witness statements supplied by the TWA 800 Project "did not differ substantially" from witness statements reviewed by the crash investigators in 1996.

"None of the physical evidence supports the theory that the streak of light observed by some witnesses was a missile," the NTSB report released Wednesday states.

Tom Stalcup, spokesman for the TWA 800 Project, said the NTSB's critique of the group's radar analysis was "laughable" and that the agency hasn't given witness statements a fair review.

The NTSB said its probe found no evidence of fragments from a missile, and debris from the Boeing 747 was "consistent with an in-flight breakup started by a fuel-air explosion."

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