17 July 1996, 00:31:12 UTC

Trans World Airlines’ Boeing 747-131 N93119 at London Gatwick Airport. (Cropped detail from photograph by Burmarrad via JetPhotos.net)

17 July 1996, 8:31 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time: Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 800, a Boeing 747-131, FAA registration N93119, was enroute from New York to Paris with 212 passengers and 18 crewmembers aboard, and had been cleared to climb from 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The airliner exploded in mid-air, 8.1 miles (13.04 kilometers) south of E. Moriches, New York.

Flight path of TWA Flight 800. (NTSB)

The flight crew of an Eastwind Air Lines flight reported the explosion to Air Traffic Control. Many witnesses (approximately one-third of those reported seeing or hearing an explosion) described an ascending streak of orange light, originating near the surface and ending in a fireball. Burning debris fell into the sea. All 230 persons on board were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the explosion was a result of fuel vapor in the center wing tank being ignited by a short circuit.

PROBABLE CAUSE: An explosion of the center wing fuel tank (CWT), resulting from ignition of the flammable fuel/air mixture in the tank. The source of ignition energy for the explosion could not be determined with certainty, but, of the sources evaluated by the investigation, the most likely was a short circuit outside of the CWT that allowed excessive voltage to enter it through electrical wiring associated with the fuel quantity indication system.

Contributing factors to the accident were the design and certification concept that fuel tank explosions could be prevented solely by precluding all ignition sources and the design and certification of the Boeing 747 with heat sources located beneath the CWT with no means to reduce the heat transferred into the CWT or to render the fuel vapor in the tank nonflammable.

The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers,depending on seating configuration. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).

The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A turbofan engines which produce 47,670 pounds of thrust, each, with water injection (2½ minutes). Its cruise speed is 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and it maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).

Boeing 747-131 N93119 was one of the oldest 747s in service, having been delivered to TWA 27 October 1971. At the time off its destruction, the airframe had accumulated 93,303 flight hours (TTAF).

During the investigation by the national Transportation Board (NTSB) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fragments of the Boeing 747 were reaasembled. (NTSB)
During the investigation by the National Transportation Board (NTSB) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fragments of the Boeing 747 were reassembled. (NTSB)

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 thoughts on “17 July 1996, 00:31:12 UTC

  1. It’s a terrible shame that the cover up of the truth about the destruction of Flight 800 continues. Exploding fuel tank indeed.

  2. Small correction: In the US, Flight Levels begin at 18,000 feet. The aircraft would have been cleared to climb from 13,000 feet to 15,000 feet.

  3. My parents were living in a community on the south shore of Long Island when this happened. The official account that the cause was an exploding fuel tank was greeted with much skepticism by the locals.

  4. The government investigation into the destruction of TWA Flight 800 was truly an excercise in dishonesty. I believe history will vindicate those few honest investigators and bring closure to the families of the victims. Look at the behavior of the FBI and the CIA at the time and fast forward to today. Something stinks.

  5. My father was a TWA 747 Captain. He had friends who examined the reconstructed airframe in the Calverton hangar. The comments coming back to my father was the damaged metallurgy does not match with the official report from the NTSB.

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