TWA crash theory deemed `premature'


WORKERS reassembling TWA Flight 800 wreckage have accused the National Transportation Safety Board of trying "to shut the lights off" on the investigation by suggesting the plane was brought down by static electricity.

"It's their one-way ticket out of here," said one accident investigator about the NTSB's newest position, that the catastrophic explosion in the centre fuel tank might have resulted from a spark induced by static electricity. It is a theory the NTSB acknowledges it has no evidence to support.

Reconstruction workers said they suspect the accident agency might be preparing the public for the possibility it might never determine exactly what was to blame for the deaths of 230 people, but wants to present a probable cause that would be nearly impossible to refute.

The agency took the position late last week that, while nothing is certain, one of its leading theories was that the centre fuel tank exploded because of sparks touched off by static occurring as fuel passed through a pipe in a fuel tank.

"The static electricity theory is premature," the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday. "It's a catch-all theory that when you can't prove anything else, you can point to that."

The public statements last Friday hit especially hard in the hangar in Calverton, New York, where crews have worked around the clock in search of a cause since the Paris-bound plane exploded about 10 miles off Long Island on July 17th.

Even agency experts studying the electrical and fuel systems off the Boeing 747 were startled to hear what the public was being told. Many heard it on the radio.

And Mr James Kallstrom, who is heading the FBI investigation into the explosion, told reporters last week that he was surprised at the NTSB's public speculation that static electricity was to blame for the explosion.

Mr Kallstrom declined to comment this week as it became increasingly clear how strained relations had become between NTSB authorities in Washington and their workers on Long Island.

PA adds from London: A new fireproof skin developed for aircraft has the potential to prevent hundreds of crash deaths every year, it was claimed yesterday.

The new material, capable of withstanding temperatures of 1,100C, has been developed by engineers at the Faverdale Technology Centre, Darlington, Co Durham.

Air safety experts think such a skin could buy passengers vital extra minutes to escape in a crash landing.

The Faverdale Technology Centre experts began searching for new safety systems after the Manchester air disaster in 1985. More, than 50 people died when a Boeing 737 burst into flames after a fuel line ruptured.