NTSB/TWA 800 Conspiracies Gone Wild!

Over the years, aviation has, not surprisingly, given birth to conspiracy theories. Everything from the events of 9/11 to the moon landing to the disappearance of MH370, have been the focus of those who choose to believe in the sinister…the “X-Files” of aviation.

Not surprisingly, the events surrounding TWA 800 have, since the day they occurred, attracted the conspiracy theorists.

It’s not easy to find, but there’s a recent article  pointing the finger at the NTSB as being a party to a cover-up of what really happened to TWA 800 in 1996. The author, who also wrote a book about “what really happened”, is both highly critical of, and cynical towards, the current leadership of the Board, including Chairman Chris Hart and General Counsel David Tochen.

As someone who was involved in the events surrounding TWA 800 and its investigation, things are almost always what they seem to be. In this case, an accident. Not a conspiracy. Not a cover-up. Rather an explosion associated with the fuel system.

Constructing elaborate conspiracy theories is certainly not a difficult exercise. All it takes is a few facts and a good imagination. Hollywood does it all the time. What’s unfortunate about the TWA 800 conspiracy theories and their proponents is the finger pointing they engage in. The most noteworthy thing about TWA800, other than the investigation itself, was the tug of war which took place between the FBI and the NTSB over which agency was going to take the lead in the investigation. Ultimately, after it was determined there was no criminal wrongdoing, the FBI ceded the lead to the NTSB. Subsequently, the two investigative agencies more sharply defined their respective roles, and in the 20 years since TWA 800, the spectacle of who leads an aviation investigation has not been repeated, at least not as between the FBI and NTSB.

If one wants to construct and believe in a conspiracy, in almost any situation there’s no shortage of opportunities to do so, particularly one where you can weave the CIA into the theory. The opaque nature of the CIA makes it very easy to point the finger at Langley as the “bad guys” who have subverted an investigation by some other government agency, in this case, the NTSB.

But, in most cases, accidents are what they seem to be, namely accidents. It’s okay not to accept that fact, but it’s unfortunate, when, as here, the conspiracy theorists choose to impugn the integrity of the NTSB.

Originally posted September 2, 2016

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