TWA Flight 800 Accident

TWA Flight 800 Accident

Cause(s) of Accident 

On the 19th of July 1996, Trans World Airlines flight destined for Paris London from New York had a crush. It exploded and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean claiming 230 lives. Based on some of the eyewitnesses of the accident they claimed to have seen something moving in the direction of the plane before it blew up.  This led to the rise of suspicion that it might have been a terror attack. Other proximate causes of the accident might have been the entry of excess charge in center fuel tank resulting from short circuiting in the external wiring of the fuel tank.

According to the NTSB, the probable cause of the flight’s accident was the ignition of flammable gasoline in the fuel tank exploding the center wing tank. The exact cause of this ignition was not identified, but there is a high probability that it might have a short circuit that resulted in high voltage to find its way into the fuel tank (Börjesson et al., 2013). Another potential cause of the ignition in the CWT is routine practices. For instance, drilling done as maintenance practice might have left chips that bridged between the craft’s aluminum structure and fuel probes serving as a heating thread when subjected to extreme energy from a short circuit elsewhere in the system.

Structural and Mechanical Factors 

Based on the flight’s structure this accident could have been possibly attributed by the certification concept and design of the fuel tank. It was designed with heat sources below the center wing tank such that means of reducing heat were very minimal. Despite Fuel Quantity Indication System exhibiting its capability to be explosion proof when being launched, this might not be the case as its age progresses.

According to tests run on the Fuel Quantity Indication System of the plane after the accident, they were found to have been in service for about three decades. Sulfide deposits were found to accumulating on the probes as a result of being exposed to jet fuel contaminants for long (Lilley, 2011). The semi-conductive nature of this residue was sufficiently potent in inducing electrical arc in the fuel tank at a sufficient voltage to subsequently explode the aircraft.

Contributing Factors

  One of the factors that factors that contributed to the explosion of TWA 800 is the high flammability of aircraft fuel. Gasoline is light and density and highly flammable in comparison to the other petroleum products such as diesel and kerosene. As a result of this, the occurrence of a mere short circuiting resulted in the explosion.

The plane exploded at a high where it was still clearly seen on the air by eye witnesses. This implies that it was subjected to very high pressure; therefore more air could force way into the fuel tank facilitating combustion. Another condition that might have contributed to the accident is the wiring in the external region of CWT not being well insulated.

Investigation Board Findings 

According to NSTB investigation findings, they were able to determine that the explosion of flight TWA was an accident and not the works of terrorism as some people speculated (United States, 2000). All investigation of their finding pointed to ignition of fuel vapors in the craft’s fuel tank to have been the apparent cause of the accident.

There was no possible proof supporting the hypothesis that the streak of light alleged to have been seen by witnesses was a missile. Moreover based on findings damages pattern within the residue of the aircraft were consistent with that of a center wing tank that exploded (Reed, 2003). Wreckages were also distributed in a manner that did not support allegations that the Boeing was bombed. Almost all petitioners concurred with NTSB’s conclusion on the probable cause of the accident.


The Federal Aviation Administration recommended that there be initiation and implementation of operational changes that will bring to a standstill operation of jets with explosive fuel-gases fusion in the fuel tank. Much emphasis should be put on the development of airplane design modifications, like nitrogen-inactive systems and more insulation between the fuel tank and heat generating parts. 

Another important recommendation by the FAA is the reduction of fuel tank flammability in transport airplane. This policy requires some planes to apply strategies of reducing ignition mitigation means on future jets so as to meet a flammability target that is controllable (Shepherd, 2016). According to FAA, these amendments should be applied to existing airplanes and also the newly certificated ones.


After the TWA crash and terrorism was widely suspected, as the NTSB investigated the accident, on the other hand, FBI was conducting criminal investigations. NTSB assembled all the evidence present includes physical evidence, and witnesses abstract compiled by the FBI. Recently thirteen years after the accident a particular group filed a petition for reconsideration to the NTBS asking them to try to modify their findings and verify on the cause of the explosion.

Many recommendations that were suggested by instigation bodies have been adhered to. For instance, the   NTSB public hearing can be scheduled to allow testimony eyewitnesses. Investigations being conducted by either NTSB regarding the crash of flight TWA are more transparent and open for feasible petitioning.


Börjesson, K., Sagansky, J., Stalcup, T., Fine, D., Heckman, B., Hughes, H., … TWA 800 Project LLC. (2013). TWA flight 800.

Lilley, S. (2011). System Failure Case Studies. Fire in the Sky5(1). doi:10.1002/9781118172094.ch8

Reed, J. W. (2003). TWA Flight 800, explosion airblast unexplained. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America114(4), 2442.

Shepherd, J. (2016). Retrieved from

United States. (2000). Aircraft accident report: In-flight breakup over the Atlantic Ocean, Trans World Airlines Flight 800 Boeing 747-131, N93119, near East Moriches, New York, July 17, 1996.

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