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Source: TWA tests to consider missile theory

July 15, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ The test plane mimicking some of TWA Flight 800′s last moves will be checked for heat sources that could attract a missile, a source close to the investigation said Tuesday.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that one test scheduled for later this week will involve monitoring the plane’s exterior for ``hot spots″ _ areas where the temperature might be high enough to attract a heat-seeking missile.

The FBI requested that test, the source said.

The test plane this week is retracing the flight pattern of the jumbo jet that exploded in the sky off Long Island, killing all 230 people aboard. The one-year anniversary is Thursday.

An explosion in the center fuel tank brought down the plane, scientists say, but what caused it remains a mystery. Investigators say it was likely a mechanical failure, but they have not ruled out a bomb or missile.

The plane’s engines, the most likely draws for a heat-seeking missile, were all recovered intact after the blast.

Two test flights were launched Tuesday, including one that recreated Flight 800′s exact flight path after idling for two hours on the Kennedy Airport tarmac with its air conditioning at full blast, said National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Shelly Hazel.

The TWA flight did exactly that before the July 17, 1996, explosion at 13,500 feet.

Information from thermometers, pressure gauges and an assortment of sensors on the test flights will be taken to Boeing’s facilities in Seattle for analysis, Hazel said. Test results will not be available for days.

Accident investigators have theorized that the running air conditioners, which are directly below the plane’s center fuel tank, could have overheated fuel vapors inside and created a potentially dangerous situation. That tank was nearly empty when the plane took off.

The test flights, which began Monday, will continue over the next two weeks.

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