Remembering Flight TWA800

Today (17 July 2020) is the 24th anniversary of the flight TWA800 accident.

For those unfamiliar with the accident, the key points (taken from Wikipedia) are that the plane was a Boeing 747-100 and it exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, New York on July 17, 1996 at about 8:31 p.m. EDT, 12 minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport on a scheduled international passenger flight to Rome, with a stopover in Paris. All 230 people on board died in the crash; it is the third-deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history. Accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) traveled to the scene, arriving the following morning amid speculation that a terrorist attack was the cause of the crash. Consequently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and New York Police Department Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) initiated a parallel criminal investigation. Sixteen months later, the JTTF announced that no evidence of a criminal act had been found and closed its active investigation. The four-year NTSB investigation concluded with the approval of the Aircraft Accident Report on August 23, 2000, ending the most extensive, complex and costly air disaster investigation in U.S. history to that time. The report’s conclusion was that the probable cause of the accident was explosion of flammable fuel vapors in the center fuel tank. Although it could not be determined with certainty, the likely ignition source was a short circuit. Problems with the aircraft’s wiring were found, including evidence of arcing in the Fuel Quantity Indication System (FQIS) wiring that enters the tank. The FQIS on Flight 800 is known to have been malfunctioning; the captain remarked on what he called “crazy” readings from the system approximately two minutes and thirty seconds before the aircraft exploded. As a result of the investigation, new requirements were developed for aircraft to prevent future fuel tank explosions.

My particular interest in this accident stem from two things.

First, through the course of my research about the JL123 crash, I have come into contact with a couple of people who have been involved with investigating TWA800.

Second, while working on my article about the modifications made to one of the memorials of the flight JL123 crash, which was published in the journal Mortality, I found that TWA800 is one of the few (possibly only) examples in USA of where there has been a modification to memorialise a public transportation accident. As you can read in the Wikipedia article about TWA800, a memorial was originally established in 2004, with another added in 2006.


The modification to the TWA800 memorial was particularly interesting for my research as I found that there are many public transportation accidents in the USA where there are no memorials at all and it was hard to find sufficient cases where public transportation accidents have a memorial and that fitted with the parameters of the study. Given the memorials for 9/11, for example, this was a surprising finding. Indeed, the difference in memorialisation was underlined what happened in relation to the memorialisation for AA587.

In relation to TWA800, I don’t know whether the modification to the TWA800 memorial does fit with the model that I proposed in my article, but I hope to visit the memorial to TWA800 one day.

To the victims of the disaster itself, may you rest in peace, and to their families and others caught up in the disaster, I wish you all well.

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