By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
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By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
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In addition to notfollowing up on suspicious nitrate readings, crash investigators also apparently deliberately ignored evidence that contradicted the prevailing theoryof how the plane broke up. Alan Brock, a New York State police investigator, was a member of the Cabin Interior Group that worked to reassemble the passenger cabin at the hangar in Calverton. He recalled in a recent interview with the Voice the consternation that greeted the arrival of two seats.
"These particular seats were a headache rightfromthebeginning,"Brock said. In fact, over a year later, when he finished his work in the hangar, "they were still arguing about it."
The seats--or rather parts of seats, such as armrests bearing row and seat numbers, thereby identified as having come from a particular location in the plane--each had red tags, indicating that they had been recovered from the debris field nearest to JFK, and were thus among the first things to fall from the aircraft.
"The discrepancy was that they should have been located in the green field, the last one, because they were from the back of the plane, the last five to 10 rows," Brock said. It's not hard to see why the seats attracted the attention of investigators in the hangar. The NTSB believes that after the plane's fuselage was severed forward of the wings, the aft section flew on for about two nautical miles and fell intact into the ocean in what was later called the green debris field. If the seats in question had truly been found in the red area, it would suggest that the tail section of the plane was seriously damaged early in the sequence of events, a contingency that presumably would require the NTSB to revise its account of the plane's breakup.
But the NTSB questioned the accuracy of the red tags, leading to a dispute with some members of the group. "We wouldn't go along with that because we said this is the way they came in tagged, this is the way we were leaving them," said Brock. "Hank was not going to let them arbitrarily change it," he said of Henry Hughes, the group chairman and an NTSB official himself. (The NTSB did not return a call seeking comment from Hughes.) After that, Brock said, another set of tags was added to the seats.Brock said he was told that the recovery documentation for the seats checked out--that their red tags were the correct ones, in other words. But that did not end the dispute.
"I know when I left there--it was probably September  when we last went out there--they were still in discussion about it," Brock said. "The seats still had a double set of tags."
Asked about the seats, NTSB managing director Goelz faxed a letter to the Voice in which he gave an account of two seat armrests that came into the hangar with one red tag, numbered A217, became separated from it, but ultimately had their red-tag identity restored.
Whether or not these are the seats mentioned by Brock, Goelz makes an interesting admission, for the seats--from rows 46 and 48, Goelz says--did indeed come from the last five or so rows in the passenger cabin. And a printout of an NTSB debris log obtained by the Voice indicates that the recovery position of these two seat armrests was at least one nautical mile to the west of the green debris field where the aft fuselage fell. Yet Goelz makes no attempt to explain how these two seats could have fallen from the plane so early in the breakup sequence.
Despite this open question, and many others, Goelz says the NTSB is satisfied with its work and does not plan to expend more efforts and funds in the attempt to identify what caused TWA Flight 800 to blow up. With the exception of the Witness Group, the investigation is over, and further studies or analyses will be undertaken only if new evidence comes to light, he told the Voice.