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Flight 800 reconstruction, set to be destroyed, has trained thousands

A truck slowly moves the reconstructed wreckage of

A truck slowly moves the reconstructed wreckage of TWA Flight 800 from one hangar to another at the old Grumman plant in Calverton in 1999. Credit: Newsday/Dick Kraus

As families and friends of those who died on TWA Flight 800 prepared to mark the 25th anniversary of its crash off East Moriches, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board told Newsday the agency would soon seek a contractor to destroy the plane's reconstructed wreckage.

NTSB spokesman Christopher O’Neil said the agency would in coming months request proposals for a minutely detailed, three-dimensional electronic model of the reconstruction that took investigators more than 10.5 months to build and still sits in a rented suburban Virginia warehouse.

A second contract will cover destruction of the physical artifact. That process will begin when a contractor dismantles the reconstruction and transports it to a specialized facility, where its more than 1,600 pieces will be melted or shredded. "There will be no remnant of the wreckage that is identifiable as a piece of the wreckage," O’Neil said.

Those extraordinary steps are intended to fulfill a long-standing commitment to families of the 230 people aboard the plane that no piece would be exhibited or used in ways disrespectful to the memories of the dead.

Only a few facilities in the United States are capable of handling the work, which agency officials expect will start by winter. Work must finish by December 2022, when the agency’s lease on the warehouse expires. Newsday reported on the decommissioning in February.

Flight 800, bound from Kennedy Airport for Charles DeGaulle International Airport in Paris, crashed minutes after takeoff July 17, 1996.

NTSB investigators found the probable cause of the crash was an explosion of the center wing fuel tank resulting from ignition of a flammable mixture of fuel and air in the tank. They determined that the most likely source of ignition was a short circuit that allowed excessive voltage to enter the tank through electrical wiring associated with the fuel quantity indication system.

That investigation led to important changes to aircraft design and certification, O’Neil said. It also spurred NTSB’s creation of a family assistance program and broad changes in the ways that agency and others like the FBI work together following crashes.

By studying the reconstruction itself, "thousands of investigators in all modes of transportation have learned investigative techniques," he said. "It’s served its purpose through the nearly 20 years it’s been at the training center."

On Long Island, Walter Stockton, chief executive of Independent Group Home Living Program, a social services agency that helps maintain the Flight 800 Memorial at Smith Point County Park in Shirley, said he expected hundreds of people to attend an annual memorial service there Saturday night.

The agency chiefly serves intellectually disabled people; its ancillary mission took root days after the crash when staffers opened the kitchen of their Pine Street, East Moriches, facility to give meals to the family and friends of those who were aboard the plane.

"I know some family members are pretty upset that they’re going to decommission that plane," Stockton said. "They’ve been very happy they used it for training."

But, he said, the memorial serves a function that wreckage hundreds of miles away never did.

"That’s the remembrance place for their loved ones and that’s what we want to keep going," he said.

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