Investigators have finally found scientific evidence that an
explosive device went off inside the passenger cabin of Trans World
Airlines Flight 800, senior federal officials said Thursday.
Chemists at the FBI crime laboratory in Washington have found
traces of PETN, a chemical in plastic explosives, on a piece of
wreckage retrieved from the jet's passenger cabin between Rows 17
and 27, according to three senior officials investigators. They
spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Although the new finding provides evidence that the Boeing 747
was destroyed by an explosive device, a senior official noted that
PETN is used in the warheads of many surface-to-air missiles as
well as bombs. That makes it impossible, for now, to know for sure
which type of explosive device destroyed the jet.
Nonetheless, the discovery meets the FBI's previously stated
standard for declaring that the plane was brought down by a
criminal act. In loss of life, the downing of TWA Flight 800,
killing all 230 people aboard, w ould stand as the deadliest crime
in U.S. history.
For weeks, criminal investigators have said they would need
positive findings of explosive residue before they could conclude
that a bomb, not mechanical malfunction, destroyed the jet shortly
after it left New York City's Kennedy International Airport on the
evening of July 17.
But senior investigators said Thursday that they are not ready
to declare that the crash was the result of a criminal act until
they can say for sure whether the explosion was caused by a bomb or
a missile. A senior investigator said federal authorities could
never bring any suspects to trial until they have answered that
He and other senior officials said they still hoped to find
additional evidence as salvage workers continue to retrieve more
wreckage from the Atlantic Ocean. They are particularly interested
in finding metal fragments showing what investigators call shock
waves - physical damage left by a blast that tells investigators
what type of device exploded.
Results Kept Secret
The new, confirmed test result comes from part of a seat, one
official said, from the section of the passenger cabin where
investigators have said the blast began, somewhere between Rows 17
The test was conducted as long as two weeks ago, investigators
said. But instead of announcing the finding then, FBI officials
decided to take extraordinary precautions to keep the finding
secret as long as possible. …