Day: June 26, 2013

TWA 800 STILL AN EXPLODING FUEL TANK ACCIDENT

(06/26/2013) Seventeen years after the crash of TWA 800, some of the crash investigators have disavowed the findings of the NTSB that an explosion of the center fuel tank caused this tragedy. They claim that a missile, not the same kind of explosion that blew the sister ship to this one out of the sky in Spain years earlier, was the cause.

One serial number away, that 747, originally also a TWA airplane but sold to the Iranian Air Force, blew up on approach to Madrid. Eighteen other Boeing airplanes have suffered similar center fuel tank explosions.

These investigators contend that TWA 800, an airplane that was on its last revenue flight because it was used up, did not blow up after sitting on the ramp for three hours with its air conditioning packs running under the center fuel tank with very little fuel in it. Temperatures inside the tank above the remaining fuel exceeded 125 degrees F, above the explosive limit for that fuel vapor, and a fuel scavenge pump at the bottom of that tank was turned on with too little fuel left to cool it. These investigators most of whom worked for TWA or its pilots’ say today it was a missile and not a repeat of the exploding center fuel tank problem. What is troubling is a soon to be released documentary will redirect the public and authorities’ attention to what didn’t happen which impacts the chances of getting the problem fixed once and for all. Inerting the air above the fuel in fuel tanks with nitrogenhas proved to be an effective means to prevent fuel tank explosions in aircraft. We have waited seventeen years for this fix and it still hasn’t happened. With this unsupported claim, the fix for existing aircraft will likely never happen.

No claim by any terrorist group was ever made following this accident. Moreover if a missile, a MANPAD, was in fact used by a terrorist, it would have been at the limit of its effective altitude, some 13,000 feet and invisible to radar. Since all the MANPADS at that time used heat seekers for terminal guidance, it is fatal to this missile theory that no missile damage was ever found on the engines, the only source of heat for the purported missile’s heat seekers to lock onto and no missile fragments were ever found among the wreckage.

The cause of the explosion is portrayed in an animation The Wolk Law Firm prepared after the crash. It illustrates just what happened and why. Open it and you will understand why this tragedy occurred and how easily it could have been prevented. These investigators although wrong may be well intended but these erroneous revelations will stymie the already stymied process to fix the exploding fuel tank problem and increase the risk for everyone.

-Arthur Alan Wolk

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What excuse will the FAA and industry give us the next time hundreds of families suffer the needless loss of their loved ones?

(2006) Ten years after TWA Flight 800 exploded over Long Island killing all aboard and thirty two years after its sister ship exploded over Madrid killing all aboard, the FAA still has no rule in place to require inerting of transport aircraft fuel tanks. The FAA claims only four aircraft will explode from this cause in the next fifty years. That’s an interesting statistic given that no less than 18 and probably more have exploded in the 35 years since jet transports have taken over the skies.


(Update 06/26/2013) TWA Flight 800 Crash: Missle Theory Bogus
Seventeen years after the crash of TWA 800, some of the crash investigators have disavowed the findings of the NTSB that an explosion of the center fuel tank caused this tragedy. They claim that a missile, not the same kind of explosion that blew the sister ship to this one out of the sky in Spain years earlier, was the cause. [more]


While some manufacturers like Boeing whose airplanes have done the exploding say they will inert tanks of all new airplanes, Airbus says it will only do so if required because its airplanes haven’t exploded yet.

The original fuel tank engineering philosophy was to prevent explosions by keeping sparks away from inside partially filled tanks. That was honored more in the breach since fuel quantity sending units, electrical wires and fuel pumps were inside the tanks. How the manufacturers intended to meet the requirement to avoid sparks is inexplicable.

When the sister ship to TWA 800, then in the Iranian Air Force, blew up on approach to Madrid in 1974, the cause was assigned to a lightning strike on the near empty fuel tanks.

Then when the inquiry was over for that crash an industry task force was assembled to discuss the ways fuel tank explosions could be avoided in large aircraft fuel tanks. Nothing ever came of it but the military by that time was already providing fuel tank inerting in aircraft that could be hit by incendiary rounds to prevent explosions. In fact a military DC-9 was equipped with a nitrogen inerting system even before the Madrid crash and it worked well and was cheap and uncomplicated to install. Other military aircraft such as the C-17 actually manufacture nitrogen in flight and it is then used to inert its fuel tanks as the fuel is consumed.

Since TWA 800 a number of FAA Airworthiness Directives have been issued to tidy up the electrical issues in the tanks but they by design still remain dangerous. A cartoon published soon after TWA 800 showed a caricature of Grandma Moses rocking in her chair with the balloon saying: “Why would anyone route wires through the middle of a fuel tank anyway?” Common sense would have dictated that no wiring of any kind be allowed in the tank even if the regulations didn’t already imply that.

So the design philosophy changed to now require that the space between the fuel and the top of the tank be inerted so it won’t explode. Industry was asked to come up with proposals and they did much like they did thirty years earlier. None have been implemented so the risk remains.

What is even more indefensible is that there were immediate steps that could have been taken and some were and most were not to prevent explosions in the short term. Carrying more than a few gallons of fuel in large fuel tanks was no longer permitted in the hope that dangerous fuel molecule concentrations would not occur. Limiting the use of air conditioning packs on the ground that use the center tank fuel as a heat sink was discouraged to avoid temperatures in tanks getting to the lower explosive limit.

But use of cabin air that is sent overboard and routing it through the tanks instead so as to make the fuel air mixture too lean to explode was not required. That would have been cheap, expedient and worked in the short term before a more effective solution was engineered.

Thus after more than thirty years the risk is just as high that an aircraft the size of a Boeing 747 will explode killing all aboard for the very same reason that TWA 800 and the sister ship did, a bad fuel tank design coupled with inadequate inerting of the vapors in the tank.

What excuse will the FAA and industry give us the next time hundreds of families suffer the needless loss of their loved ones? None will suffice. None did suffice. None should suffice. The victims of TWA Flight 800 should not have died in vain.

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