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Why the TWA Flight 800 Conspiracy Theorists Are Wrong

Updated from June 19 with NTSB preliminary response to petition for reconsideration.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- One of the great mysteries in commercial aviation is why some people continue to question the cause of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800.

The people believe that the flight was brought down by a missile, although the National Transportation Safety Board has investigated and discarded that theory. They believe a conspiracy prevents the real cause from being revealed, although few offer any motive for such a conspiracy. On Wednesday, at a media conference, several of them announced that they have filed a petition requesting the NTSB to reopen the investigation and that their case will be fully explained in a video to be released on July 17, the anniversary of the crash.

TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the ocean off Long Island on July 17, 1996, 12 minutes after taking off from New York's Kennedy Airport, killing all 230 people on board. The NTSB investigated for four years before issuing a 2000 report attributing the crash to an explosion of flammable fuel vapors in the center fuel tank, apparently triggered by a spark from a short-circuit in the wiring.

"The in-flight breakup of TWA flight 800 was not initiated by a bomb or a missile strike," the board concluded in its report. "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 center wing tank that allowed excessive voltage to enter it through electrical wiring associated with the fuel quantity indication system."

The crash didn't help floundering TWA. In 2000, TWA was acquired by American (AAMRQ.PK), in what was perhaps the worst airline acquisition deal ever, given the combination of its high price, minimal return and terrible timing. The deal weakened American and contributed to its eventual bankruptcy, which led to its pending acquisition by US Airways (LCC).

The NTSB carefully considered whether a missile or other weapon might have brought down Flight 800. It could find no reason to believe that occurred. Many parts of our government don't function particularly well, but the NTSB is exceptional for its impartiality, its transparency, and primarily for its extraordinary success in reducing the likelihood of commercial aviation fatalities. That success seems to result largely from its healthy process.

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