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Lawyer Filing Lawsuit In TWA Disaster Offers Theory of His Own

October 22, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ A lawyer claiming he knows what caused TWA Flight 800 to explode in the sky filed a $100 million dollar lawsuit Monday, accusing the airline and Boeing Co. of failing to design and maintain the plane properly.

Federal investigators have not yet been able to determine whether a bomb, missile or mechanical malfunction caused the Paris-bound plane to explode July 17 shortly after takeoff from New York City.

But Lee Kreindler, an aviation lawyer who won $500 million for victims’ families after the 1988 Pan Am jet explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland, said his experts have figured out the cause _ from press reports, as they have not been allowed to examine the wreckage.

Kreindler said he filed a $100 million federal lawsuit Monday on behalf of the survivors of Leonard Johnson of Virginia, accusing TWA and Boeing of willful misconduct and negligence.

TWA spokesman Mark Abels found it incredible that a lawyer would declare the mystery solved before investigators reach a conclusion. He also said the plane was well-maintained.

``Top experts around the world have been spending thousands of man hours trying to determine what caused this crash and they have been unable to come up with any conclusions,″ Abels said. ``They can’t pinpoint a cause and it seems inconceivable that someone can come up with what happened without even reviewing anything from the flight.″

Boeing did not return a telephone message for comment.

James Kallstrom, who is heading the FBI’s criminal probe into the disaster, said he finds the speculation and guessing discouraging.

``We’ve had hundreds of dedicated experts working on this since the night of the tragedy and we still don’t know what caused this crash,″ he said.

Kreindler’s theory was largely developed by Peter Jorgenson, a former Boeing engineer who worked 747s whom he hired as an expert witness.

Jorgenson concluded that a fuel pump on the center fuel tank exploded during the flight, causing burning fuel vapors to travel through the vent lines of the right wing and out the right wing tip.

He said the explosion was followed by a chain reaction of structural failures and fires, eventually causing the plane to break up in midair.

Kreindler and his investigators presented their theory to the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington on Monday, but NTSB spokeswoman Shelly Hazel said the board heard nothing ``that made us slap our foreheads and say, `Oh, so that’s what happened.‴

She said investigators were examining the fuel vent lines, one of which was found to contain soot. She added, however, that there did not appear to be damage from fire.

``We are always interested in hearing different ideas and theories about what happened here,″ Hazel said. ``There was nothing presented to us that we haven’t already thought of.″

Kreindler won $500 million for 225 families of victims of Pan Am Flight 103 after arguing that the airline should have detected the bomb that downed the plane.

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