Cracks appear in fuel-tank charade


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TWA Flight 800





© Jack Cashill
August 16, 2001-

Editor's note: James Sanders, a former police officer turned investigative reporter, co-writes this report with Jack Cashill. Sanders is the author of "The Downing of TWA Flight 800" and "Altered Evidence," among other books.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, a panel of some 70 airline industry executives and federal officials rejected suggestions that U.S. airlines use a process called "inerting" - that is the pumping of nonflammable gases into jet fuel tanks to prevent explosions, like the one alleged to have destroyed TWA Flight 800.

The panel of aviation professionals told the Federal Aviation Administration that the process is too costly for commercial use. They contended that the odds against a future fuel tank explosion are far too great to justify the price tag. The unspoken implication, however, is that the odds were too great for a fuel tank to have blown in the past, including TWA 800's. If the panelists had believed that a given 747 could explode because of a fixable problem, they would fix those problems in a heartbeat.

To reach this conclusion, the panel had to slight not only the NTSB's judgement on TWA 800, but also its judgement on the other alleged fuel tank disasters. There are not many of them. Until recently, the only listed "fuel tank explosion" in the 80-year history of airline disasters was a Philippine Air Lines 737 that blew while the plane was backing out a Manila airport gate in May of 1990. And even this case is suspect.

The problems with this case begin with the benighted city of Manila, an international cesspool of terrorism and the home base of, among others, Ramzi Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing.

However preposterous the scheme may sound, Yousef was convicted of plotting to blow up 12 jumbo jets in one day. Jane's Intelligence Weekly has also credited him with the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434 on Dec. 11, 1994, and cites his "ambitious plans to intensify his own Jihad against the U.S.A." To say the least, any explosion in Manila's airport raises suspicion as to its origins, especially if it is the only explosion of its kind in the history of aviation.

A second problem with the Philippine Airlines explosion was the nature of the damage. Reportedly, the center fuel tank pushed the cabin floor violently upwards, a pattern that does nor repeat itself in TWA 800. The Philippine 737 may have blown up on its own, but if it did, it sheds no light on the fate of TWA 800.

Fortuitously for the NTSB, a Thai Airways Boeing 737 exploded on the tarmac in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 3, 2001. On close examination the Thai case does indeed bear strong resemblance to the case of TWA 800, not so much in the way the plane exploded, but in the way that the explosion was investigated and exploited.

The Associated Press report on the day of the Thai explosion was admirably straightforward. "A passenger jet Thailand's Prime Minister was to board exploded and went up in flames 35 minutes before its scheduled departure Saturday," noted AP.

Apparently, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was on his way to the Bangkok International Airport when the plane blew up on the runway. "Thailand has a history of coups and violent overthrows of governments," AP reported. "The explosion came two days after Thaksin gave Thailand's Constitutional Court 21 boxes of documents as part of his defense against a corruption indictment that could evict him from office."

According to AP, the Thai Airways president had said that there was "a loud noise that sounded like an explosion" before the fire started. The AP paraphrased the plane's captain as saying, "It was impossible for the plane to explode from an internal malfunction if the engines had not yet been started. The fully loaded fuel tanks, located in the plane's wings, were intact ... indicating that burning fuel was not the cause of the explosion."

Nor was this the first time that a Thai plane had blown up. On Oct. 29, 1986, explosives planted in a lavatory of a Thai International Airways Jet sent the plane plunging 21,000 feet before the plane could make an emergency landing. The plane was on its way to Osaka after a stop - where else? - but in Manila.

Investigators found explosive residue after the Bangkok explosion in March 2001 as well. But this residue, like all other evidence of a bomb, disappeared in a hurry. On April 12, the American embassy in Bangkok issued a press release that had emanated from the NTSB. The release reads like a crude parody of the TWA 800 investigation.

    Physical evidence has been found that the center wing tank exploded. The accident [emphasis ours] occurred at 2:48 p.m. on a day with temperatures in the high 35 degree Celsius. The initial explosion of the center wing tank was followed 18 minutes later by an explosion in the right wing tank. Air conditioning packs, which are located directly beneath the center wing tank and generate heat when they are operating, had been running continuously since the airplane's previous flight, including about 40 minutes on the ground.

Note the apocryphal TWA 800 scenario now transposed to a 737 on a Thailand tarmac: the heat, the overactive air conditioning, the center wing tank explosion, even if this is a 737, not a 747, and only nine years old at that. The parody grows cruder still:

    Although chemical traces of high energy explosives were initially believed to be present, samples have been submitted to the FBI for confirmation by laboratory equipment that is more sensitive than equipment available in Thailand. Although a final report has not yet been issued, the FBI has found no evidence of high explosives in any of the samples tested to date.

How or why the NTSB and the FBI both got involved in a Thailand explosion is not at all clear. What is clear, however, is the dissembling. "Sensitive" equipment finds more explosive residue, not less. In the TWA 800 investigation, the chemical sniffer on Long Island proved much more "sensitive" than the FBI sniffers and consequently identified more residue without false positives.

Once again the FBI makes the explosive residue go away - the only thing missing is the fabled careless cop spreading residue for a bomb-hunting dog. Again, the NTSB imposes its patented center wing tank scenario, this time not in four years but in four weeks. Again, the explanation holds off the media. In our conversation with Fox-TV producer Eric Shawn during the recent WABC radio show, he cited the Thai and Philippine explosions as the reasons he still more or less supports the NTSB explanation.

It is, of course, possible that both of these explosions did occur by accident, it's just not likely. Clearly, the panel of aviation experts gives them little credence. The American involvement in the Thai case was too quick and expedient, a win-win for the NTSB and the Thai government. And after the conspicuously corrupted investigation of TWA 800, one can no longer take the NTSB's word on anything.

As to the troubled prime minister, the one who was about to burn his buddies in a corruption scandal, the one who was about to board the plane, well, accidents can happen to anyone, can't they?

Please send to:

Attorney General John Ashcroft
U. S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Congressman Dan Burton
House Government Reform Committee
2157 Rayburn Building
Washington, D.C. 20515





Special Note:

Jack Cashill and James Sanders' First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America is now available. First Strike explains how a determined corps of ordinary citizens worked to reveal the compromise and corruption that tainted the federal investigation. With an impressive array of facts, Jack Cashill and James Sanders show the relationship between events in July 1996 and September 2001 and proclaim how and why the American government has attempted to cover up the truth.

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