TWA Flight 800 moves to GW

More than seven years after TWA Flight 800 exploded over the Long Island Sound, a section of the aircraft’s fuselage is being reassembled at GW’s Virginia campus.

The National Transportation Safety Board Academy, located on the Ashburn, Va., campus, will use a 93-foot piece of the plane to demonstrate crash investigation techniques.

Officials from GW’s Aviation Institute, also located on the campus, said that while students won’t have access to the plane, University officials want to form a relationship with the NTSB that will allow for joint programming in the future.

“Our relationship is limited to being landlord, although the intention was to develop a partnership,” said Vahid Motevalli, co-director of the institute and director of the University’s Aviation Safety and Security Program.

In August, the NTSB moved into its 72,000-foot facility, which features five classrooms, conference rooms, lab facilities, a simulation center and a lab where wreckage is investigated.

Motevalli said the NTSB is interested in offering programs through the University but noted that no official proposal has been made.

He said the reconstructed fuselage would give people a better understanding of the causes of the July 1996 crash, which took the lives of all 230 people on board.

“From a scientific perspective, if you can see the explosion in a model aircraft and compare it to the reconstruction … you can see how the parts fit together and reconstruct events,” Motevalli said.

Submarines, cranes and sonar were used to recover pieces of the airplane in the five months following the crash, NTSB spokesperson Paul Schlamm said.

The NTSB reconstructed the fuselage in Long Island and then dismantled and transported it to Virginia over the course of six weeks, beginning in October. Schlamm said re-assembly of the fuselage began immediately upon its arrival in Virginia and should be completed by January.

The NTSB moved the TWA reconstruction from Long Island because “there was a cost associated with keeping it there and it was far removed from (the agency’s D.C.) headquarters,” Motevalli said.

Schlamm said that because the investigation of the plane’s crash focused only on the fuselage, that was the only full portion of the plane recovered. Officials determined that an explosion in the center wing tank from a short circuit caused the plane to burst into flames and plummet into the ocean.

Pieces from airplane crashes are seldom recovered in such large parts, Motevalli said.

The aircraft is usually destroyed in a crash, so the TWA 800 reconstruction was “unique in terms of its size and completeness,” Schlamm said.

The fuselage will be used as a “teaching tool” to demonstrate reconstruction techniques and methods of investigating accidents, Schlamm said. Researchers and investigators from local, federal and foreign agencies will be among those examining the fuselage.

Schlamm said the families of TWA 800 victims have not approached the NTSB about the plane’s reconstruction, adding, “I would imagine they would like to see it put to good use to train investigators.”

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