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TWA Flight 800 wreckage to be dismantled, NTSB says

The reconstructed TWA Flight 800 747 has spent

The reconstructed TWA Flight 800 747 has spent two decades in an NTSB warehouse in Virginia as a tool for airplane crash investigators.  Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The reconstructed wreckage of TWA Flight 800 in a suburban Virginia warehouse that has for 20 years helped teach crash investigators, will be decommissioned this summer, federal authorities said.

Advances in techniques such as 3D scanning and drone imagery have made large-scale reconstruction less important for teaching investigative skills, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a news release.

The July 1996 crash off Long Island’s South Shore killed all 230 people aboard and is the third-deadliest aviation disaster in U.S. history, one memorialized by families and friends in ceremonies at Smith Point County Park in Shirley on the east end of Fire Island. Those ceremonies were yearly until 2020, when COVID-19 forced cancellation.

Flight 800, a Boeing 747, had taken off from Kennedy Airport and was bound for Paris. A four-year NTSB investigation found the probable cause of the crash was an explosion in the center wing fuel tank sparked by an electrical failure.

"The investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800 is a seminal moment in aviation safety history," NTSB managing director Sharon Bryson said in the release. "From that investigation we issued safety recommendations that fundamentally changed the way aircraft are designed. The investigation also led to a memorandum of understanding between the FBI and the NTSB regarding investigations of accidents resulting from intentional acts as well as evidence collection and preservation. That investigation also led to the equally important development of our Transportation Disaster Assistance division and the legislation in place today governing carrier responsibilities for family assistance in the wake of a transportation disaster."

When the NTSB moved the reconstruction to its Ashburn, Virginia training center outside Washington, D.C., the agency pledged to use it only for training and never for an exhibit or public display.

Agency officials will work with a federal government contractor to dismantle the wreckage and destroy it. Bryson said the agency had consulted with representatives of Flight 800 family groups before making its announcement. John Seaman, a longtime leader of the Families of TWA Flight 800 Association, was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The NTSB plans to stop use of the reconstruction July 7, according to the release. The agency will then document it using 3D scanning, a process expected to take months, and the scanned data will be archived for historical purposes.

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