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TWA Pilots Were Transferring Fuel Before Crash, NBC Says

October 19, 1996

SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (AP) _ Just before the plane exploded, pilots on TWA Flight 800 were trying to transfer fuel from one side of the plane to the other to correct a fuel imbalance, NBC Nightly News reported Friday.

Such a transfer from a wing tank to engines on the other side of the plane would have brought fuel in a pipe through the Boeing 747′s empty center fuel tank, the network said.

But a spokesman for Boeing Co. contradicted that, saying the balancing procedure would not transfer fuel through the center tank.

Doug Webb told The Associated Press that fuel would be used in the fullest tank first, until it became level with the other tanks.

Investigators know the center tank exploded in the July 17 crash that killed all 230 people aboard.

They have yet to determine whether the fuel imbalance played a role in the crash, but such a determination would be of great interest to investigators leaning toward mechanical failure as the cause of the crash.

The crew had complained, minutes before the crash, of an erratic fuel gauge reading in the cockpit.

A source close to the investigation, however, said late Friday that investigators two months ago had examined the effort during the flight to balance the fuel in tanks and had found nothing out of the ordinary.

Shelly Hazle, an National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman, said the transfer of fuel is a routine function carried out by pilots to improve a plane’s balance and efficiency.

Most of the central fuel tank has been recovered. But investigators have yet to find anything that penetrated the tank from the outside, like a bomb or a missile, a source told the AP on condition of anonymity.

Investigators haven’t ruled out the mechanical failure, bomb or missile theories, but they say that bent and twisted metal from the wreckage indicates a slower-speed explosion occurred, unlike that produced by a bomb or missile.

Meanwhile, Navy crews have located 200 new targets on the ocean floor that could contain the last remnants of the plane, offering hope that the answer to the explosion may yet be found, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The Navy’s final sonar sweep this week of 23 square miles of sea bed detected 450 areas that likely contain wreckage, about 200 more targets than previously thought remained, the Times said.

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