NTSB Reopens Some Cases but Likely Won't for TWA Flight 800 Conspiracy Theorists

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WASHINGTON (TheStreet) -- TWA Flight 800 conspiracy theorists will likely be disappointed in seeking a rehearing before the National Transportation Safety Board, experts said, even though the board has re-opened investigations in the past.

Conspiracy theorists including a former NTSB investigator last week requested the board to reopen its investigation of the 1996 crash that plunged into the ocean 13 minutes after its departure, killing all 230 aboard.

The NTSB concluded, after a four-year investigation, that the cause was an explosion of flammable fuel vapors in the center fuel tank, apparently triggered by a spark from a short-circuit in the wiring. Theorists believe that a missile or missiles struck the plane and that the government has covered it up for the past 17 years.

"Because it's an official request, the NTSB will have to do some work, particularly on the radar, to see if that makes any material difference," said John Goglia, a two-term NTSB board member from 1995 to 2004 and now aviation safety blogger for Forbes.com. "But I don't think, from what I've seen, that they've made the threshold."

Goglia noted that the group's radar analysis shows that the track of the Boeing 747 is "about a mile different" from the NTSB model, "but the threshold (to reopen) is a bit high." He said new eyewitness testimony is unlikely to be much of a factor.

Peter Goelz, NTSB's managing director from 1995 to 2001, agreed that re-opening the investigation is unlikely. "It's not enough just to disagree with the analysis," he said. "Everybody does that. Lawyers disagreed with us all the time. There has to be some new evidence and there is no new evidence.

"They disagree with our analysis of the radar data and they have new eyewitnesses," he said. "Fine, but neither one is sufficient to reopen the investigation."

NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the board is currently reviewing the petition. "The parties to the investigation have 90 days (from submission) to review it and to offer comments" before the board makes a decision, she said.

The NTSB has reopened or revised its findings in at least four investigations in the past two decades. One was the investigation into the 1994 crash of an American Eagle ATR-72 near Roselawn, Ind., which killed 68 people including four crew members. The board's report, issued in 1996, said the likely cause was a loss of control resulting from an ice buildup on the wings. The agency blamed manufacturer ATR, the Federal Aviation Administration and the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation, the FAA equivalent, for failure to disclose previous de-icing problems or to take sufficient corrective action. Sales of the ATR-72 diminished substantially.