WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 -- There may be no quick answer to what caused Swissair Flight 111 to crash, nor a quick closure for families of the victims. When TWA flight 800 blew up off Long Island, N.Y., on July 17, 1996, it was months before all the 230 bodies were recovered and identified. It took nearly two years of painstaking detective work -- and over 4, 000 pages of documentation -- to say that it was probably, but not certainly, an electrical spark that ignited fumes in a central fuel tank. It was only earlier this year that the NTSB recommended rewiring some older Boeing 747s, the type of plane involved in the TWA crash, and other models, because of what they learned. When TWA 800 went down off the south shore of Long Island, the U.S. Navy brought in divers to search the sandy bottom for the bodies of passengers and crew, and for debris. Large pieces of wreckage were easily found and hauled ashore, to an old aircraft hanger where a massive reconstruction effort was begun. From time to time more bodies were recovered and taken to the Suffolk County coroner's office for identification and an autopsy. One month later there were still nearly 100 of the bodies unaccounted for. The autopsies showed that at least 183 of the victims were killed instantly by the explosion, while maybe 15 did not die immediately as the massive aircraft broke up and plunged seaward. The search for bodies and wreckage went on into the winter, when rough seas and cold weather brought it to a halt for weeks at a time.
Already there are reports of rough seas in the Peggy's Cove area and the forecast for the next few days is for rain, wind and cool temperatures. In 1997, a year after the crash, the Navy was reduced to sifting the sands of the Atlantic for small pieces of aircraft, some the size of quarters, hoping to find further clues to the cause of the crash. Some debris still turns up occasionally. While initially there were thoughts that terrorists were involved, the FBI, more than a year later, withdrew from the investigation, saying it had found no evidence of criminal involvement. Each year the families of the victims gather at Smiths Beach on Fire Island for a memorial service to their loved ones. ---
Copyright 1998 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---