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Group seeks to reopen inquiry into ’96 TWA crash

Ex-investigators say new evidence hints of missile

The bid to reopen the probe into the crash of Flight 800 coincides with a documentary that doubts official findings.

Jim Cole/Associated Press/File 1996

The bid to reopen the probe into the crash of Flight 800 coincides with a documentary that doubts official findings.

MINEOLA, N.Y. — Former investigators are pushing to reopen the probe into the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of New York, saying new evidence points to the often-discounted theory that a missile strike may have downed the jumbo jet.

The New York-to-Paris flight crashed July 17, 1996, just minutes after the jetliner took off from John F. Kennedy Airport, killing all 230 people aboard.

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The effort to reopen the probe is being made in tandem with the release next month of a documentary that features the testimony of former investigators who raise doubts about the National Transportation Safety Board’s conclusion that the crash was caused by a center fuel tank explosion, probably caused by a spark from a short-circuit in the wiring.

‘‘We don’t know who fired the missile,’’ said Jim Speer, an accident investigator for the Air Line Pilots Association, one of those seeking a new review of the probe. ‘‘But we have a lot more confidence that it was a missile.’’

In a petition filed Wednesday seeking to reopen the probe, they say they have ‘‘reviewed the FAA radar evidence along with new evidence not available to the NTSB during the official investigation and contend that the NTSB’s probable cause determination is erroneous and should be reconsidered and modified accordingly.’’

Those calling for a review of the investigation include former NTSB accident investigator Hank Hughes and Bob Young, a former senior accident investigator for the now-defunct TWA. Tom Stalcup, a physicist and cofounder of a group called Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization, also questions the NTSB’s original findings and is featured prominently in the documentary, which is slated to air on the 17th anniversary of the crash next month.

The NTSB issued a statement Wednesday morning saying it is aware of the upcoming documentary.

‘‘All petitions for reconsideration are thoroughly reviewed, and a determination is usually made within about 60 days,’’ spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. ‘‘While the NTSB rarely re-investigates issues that have already been examined, our investigations are never closed and we can review any new information not previously considered by the board.’’

She noted the TWA Flight 800 investigation lasted four years. ‘‘Investigators took great care reviewing, documenting, and analyzing facts and data and held a five-day hearing to gather additional facts before determining the probable cause of the accident during a two-day board meeting,” she said.

The former investigators say new evidence that a missile may have taken down the jet includes analysis of radar of the jetliner. Speculation of a missile strike began almost immediately after the crash. Theories that an errant missile may have been fired from a US military vessel were widely refuted, but conjecture about a shoulder-fired missile launched by terrorists in a small boat has never completely gone away.

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