Text of Letter From James Hall, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, to Commander Donaldson
"I do not believe that the many men and women
who have worked on this tragedy would ever participate
in any sort of cover up of a potential terrorist or criminal act. For you to imply otherwise, without
a shred of evidence, is either self serving or indicative of a delusional state of mind."
James E. Hall - Chairman
September 11, 1997
Dear Commander Donaldson:
I have received you July 14, 1997, letter regarding the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation of the accident involving TWA flight 800. I apologize for not responding sooner but, unfortunately we have had a very bad summer. In your letter, you expressed concerns about the information provided by Dr. Bernard Loeb on the ABC "Primetime Live" television show, the Safety Board's recommendations regarding center fuel tanks, and the interviews of witnesses to the accident.
First, allow me to clarify four points in your letter:
(1) The gentlemen who appeared on Primetime Live who discussed the problems with wiring on Navy airplanes was not a Safety Board employee or consultant. He was apparently procured by Primetime Live for the show.
(2) The one probe temperature test discussed on the show was conducted by the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group.
(3) There was no evidence that an external event caused the explosion of the center fuel tank of the Philippine Airlines Boeing 737. Evidence shows that either friction in the fuel-boost pump or a short in the float-switch wiring was ignition source. The Safety Board's recommendation letter of Dec. 13, 1996, pointed out that had there been no explosive vapor in the fuel tanks of the Philippine Airlines Boeing 737, the Iranian AirForce Boeing 747, the Avoncia Boeing 727, or TWA flight 800, these airplanes would not have crashed, even with an ignition source.
(4) Because the Federal Bureau of Investigations is still conducting a criminal investigation and because of that information regarding the investigation has not been released to the public.
The Safety Board has recently completed a series of flight tests to determine the temperature and conditions in a Boeing 747 fuel tank during normal operations. The airplane's center fuel tank was instrumented with more than 150 sensors, and at various points in the flight, fuel/air samples were taken from the tank for laboratory analysis. These flight tests have shown that temperatures of the vapors in the ullage of the nearly empty fuel tank can be well above the explosive limit. Therefore, a source of energy in the tank could ignite the vapors causing an explosion. The Board's investigation continues to examine potential source of ignition.
The investigation has determined that there was an ignition of the fuel/air vapor in the center wing tank that resulted in the structural breakup of the airplane. The events that led to the ignition of the fuel/air vapor is the focus of our investigation. However, the evidence indicates that if an explosive fuel/air mixture had not existed in the center fuel tank, the airplane would have continued controlled flight, even if there was an ignition source. The Safety Board's recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration asked them to create an operational or technical means to reduce the explosive potential of the fuel tank. The Safety Board did not recommend any specific technique; however techniques such as cooling fuel and inerting were mentioned as possibilities. The FAA has requested comments from the industry about the best means to respond to these recommendations.
The continuing examination of the wreckage provides no evidence that a bomb or missile ignited the fuel/air vapors in the tank. The detailed examination of the wreckage provides no evidence of a penetration that could be associated with the detonation of a missile warhead. However, because the Safety Board has yet to determine the source of the ignition of the explosive vapors in the center wing tank, all possible sources are still being actively evaluated.
The Safety Board has interviewed several eyewitnesses who provide statements similar to those given by Mr. Roland Penney. Most of the eyewitnesses were interviewed by the FBI; the Safety Board has reviewed those interviews. It must be remembered that the closest eye witness was more than 10 miles from the accident site and the helicopter pilots you mentioned were more than 15 miles from the site. Most of these witnesses reported that the sound of an explosion or a flash of light drew their attention to the direction of the airplane. The Safety Board witness group will review the FBI interview summaries to ensure that Mr. Penney's and his friends interviews were taken. Please be assured that the Safety Board has not discounted the witness statements and is correlating their statements with the other factual material that has been gathered in the investigation. We are well aware of the tug and barge that you mention, in fact that vessel was contacted immediately following the tragedy and asked to standby to possibly assist in recovery efforts.
In conclusion, I must tell you, on a personal level, that I am disappointed in the tone of your letter. I do not believe that I have ever met you nor received any communication from you, so it is difficult to understand your tone towards me personally and , more importantly toward the work of the TWA Flight 800 investigation team. Let me respond directly to the heart of your concern--you apparently believe that the TWA tragedy was the result of a terrorist missile or the placement of an explosive charge. More importantly, you believe that I and apparently many others are covering up this criminal act. Let me reiterate the NTSB has no evidence of a criminal act.
You sir do a terrible disservice to the many thousands of Navy, FBI, FAA, ATF and NTSB personnel who have dedicated much of their lives over the past year investigating this tragedy. Let me be clear about at least one more thing. I have spent numerous years in public service, including time as an Army Officer with decorated service in Vietnam. I would never, and I do not believe that the many men and women who have worked on this tragedy would ever, participate in any sort of cover up of a potential terrorist or criminal act. For you to imply otherwise, without a shred of evidence, is either self serving or indicative of a delusional state of mind. Let me repeat that should you have any actual evidence that would indicate that the TWA flight 800 tragedy was the result of a criminal act that you feel has been overlooked or not given sufficient weight, I would be interested in hearing from you.
Signed Jim Hall, Chairman
Go to Text of Second Letter to the NTSB
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