Reconstructed wreckage of TWA Flight 800, painstakingly reassembled as part of an investigation into what happened Boeing 747, ready to be destroyed after the 25th anniversary of the tragedy.
All 230 people were killed in a mid-air explosion over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of long Island.
It is one of the deadliest aviation accidents in American history. Adding to the tragedy was the ongoing suspicion that the explosion on board was the result of a terrorist attack.
After the accident, a four-year investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that it was caused by a spark from an electrical fault that ignited a flammable mixture of fuel and air in the central fuel tank.
As part of the investigation, more than 1,600 pieces of the plane were removed from New York waters and reassembled to determine what happened.
The NTSB has now announced that the plane’s ghostly 93ft, 60,000-lb reconstructed shell, including the distinctive Boeing 747 upper deck windows, is to be dismantled.
The reassembled aircraft was moved from New York to Ashburn, Virginia in 2003 and has been used to train first responders and transportation security investigators.
It is kept out of public view as part of an agreement with the families of the victims. Although loved ones are allowed to visit, and some have left small marks of remembrance on the assigned seats of their departed relatives.
The lease is running on the hangar where the aircraft is stored and the NTSB has decided that maintaining it is no longer practical.
“After 25 years, family members realize it’s an appropriate time for them to let it go,” said James Hall, who served as NTSB chairman during the TWA 800 accident and investigation. “Still, it’s bitter.”
Frank Hildrup, an NTSB officer on the original team of Flight 800 investigators, told LOVEBYLIFE: “It’s been very useful, but I think we’ve gotten to the point now that it’s time to move on, but a in a different way.”
Only a small number of aircraft have been reconstructed after the accidents as part of the investigation. There was a Pan Am Flight 103 that crashed in 1988 in the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. A terrorist bomb downed the jetliner on its way from London Heathrow to New York.
The scale of the operation to retrieve TWA Flight 800 was enormous. The US Navy, the FBI, 200 divers, 14 ships, remotely operated vehicles and contracted fishing trawlers were deployed to recover 95 percent of the aircraft in ten months.
The remains of those who died were also recovered about a year later.
Suspicion of a terrorist attack was heightened by hundreds of eyewitness accounts of a “flare-like” object near the airliner before it burst into flames. Some spectators used the term “rocket” or “missile” and conspiracies escalated.
Just five years before 9/11, the Clinton administration considered whether state-sponsored actors had invaded the US mainland.
When the real cause was thought to be an accident, safety recommendations changed the rules for how planes are designed and built.
The 230 people aboard TWA Flight 800 came from 14 countries and included 152 Americans and 40 French nationals.
The flight had 18 crew and 20 off-duty TWA personnel, intended to carry the aircraft from Paris to Rome.
Notable passengers included French hockey player Michel Bristroff, guitarist Marcel Dadi, composer David Hogan and interior designer and director Jed Johnson, Andy Warhol’s 12-year partner.
In addition, the French Club of Montoursville Area High School in Pennsylvania had 16 students and five adult patrons.
A private memorial service will be held on Long Island on Saturday for the families of the victims.