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Grieving families view TWA Flight 800 wreckage

February 8, 1997

SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (AP) _ Families of victims of TWA Flight 800 on Saturday toured the cavernous hangar where tons of broken metal, scorched seats and busted luggage pulled from the ocean floor have been reassembled.

Before entering, more than 130 relatives were shown pictures to prepare them and signed releases promising not to sue for mental distress from what they saw.

``They have the seats all lined up row by row ... charred and busted up and mangled,″ said Stephanie Maranto, whose brother, Jamie Hurd, 29, of Severn, Md., was one of 230 people killed.

``You immediately run through your mind that these seats were full at one time, full of life, full of people and children and husbands and wives.

``It’s so upsetting to see them sitting like that, completely empty and just broken to pieces,″ she said.

Relatives walked through the hangar, big enough to house two football fields and containing some 50,000 pieces of the Boeing 747 displayed in sections, including passengers’ personal belongings: wallets, clothing, luggage and pocketbooks.

Such visits are routinely offered to relatives of plane crash victims, officials said, and several families had asked to see the wreckage.

Only two relatives had viewed the hangar before Saturday: Charles Christopher, an FBI agent whose wife, a flight attendant, was killed, and Jamie Hurd’s father and sister, Cyndi Hurd.

Friday, the medical examiner’s office said DNA tests had identified Hurd’s body. He’s the 216th victim to be identified.

The Paris-bound Boeing 747 exploded off the coast of Long Island shortly after takeoff July 17. Investigators maintain that the explosion could have been caused by a bomb, a missile or mechanical failure. Evidence confirming or ruling out any of the theories has yet to be found.

That’s not surprising, National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis said Saturday, considering that most of the past seven months have been devoted to recovering bodies and wreckage from the ocean floor.

``We understand what the families want,″ said FBI Director James Kallstrom, who spokes to the families before the tour. ``They want answers and we want those same answers, but we just don’t have them and we are not going to make up some answer for the sake of doing that.″

Scallop dredging boats continue to collect wreckage, the reconstruction process is not yet complete, and tests designed to simulate mechanical malfunctions and sabotage are still being conducted, Kallstrom said.

He assured the families ``that we would run out every lead, conduct every interview, do every experiment necessary.″

``We’re not a bunch of quitters. We don’t walk away,″ he said.

Krista Koponen, whose sister, flight attendant Sandy Meade, was killed, said she found the tour reassuring.

``I think the real reason I came was to see they were doing all they could do,″ she said.

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