Investigation of TWA crash shifts again Hunt for undersea debris focuses on eastern field

August 29, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SMITHTOWN, N.Y. -- Stymied by a string of dead ends and partial hints, the hunt for the cause of the blast that destroyed Trans World Airlines Flight 800 shifted several miles east yesterday.

Investigators had hoped that the best clues about the site and nature of the explosion that tore the jumbo jet apart would be found in the debris fields closest to Kennedy International Airport, which contained the first pieces that fell from the airplane.

But with almost every scrap of aircraft retrieved from those areas, Navy divers switched their attention to the wreckage that traveled the farthest before plunging into the Atlantic. In that easternmost patch of wreckage, more than a third of the shattered Boeing 747 lies on the sea floor.

"People seem to forget that the majority of the airplane came down there," said a Navy official involved in the salvage operation.

Aided by an underwater robot, the divers continued the numbing drill of filling wire baskets with debris in hopes that some piece of metal could finally corroborate, or repudiate, recent chemical tests revealing traces of explosives.

The underwater hunt remained focused on finding missing parts of the center section of the airplane, thought to be the spot where an explosion caused the fuselage to snap just forward of the wings.

The searchers were also still hoping that the easternmost area, already carefully scoured for human remains, might somehow yield a few more of the 19 victims who remained missing out of the 230 people killed in the crash.

Nonetheless, the searchers have not given up entirely on the earliest trail of wreckage.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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