Federal investigators are examining the theory of an English professor who says electromagnetic interference might have caused the explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800.
Harvard University professor Elaine Scarry said Sunday that the interference could have come from powerful signaling equipment on one of about 10 military ships or planes in the vicinity.The electromagnetic signals could have prompted an electrical charge aboard TWA 800 to jump from high-voltage to low-voltage wires and then travel to the fuel gauge and the fuel tank.
Electromagnetic interference, or EMI, is suspected as the cause of at least six military disasters, Scarry said. She has asked federal investigators to say whether any other aircraft in the area experienced problems possibly traceable to the same cause.
National Transportation Safety Board chairman James Hall says Scarry's theory is being investigated as part of his agency's inquiry into the July 17, 1996, crash off New York's Long Island.
All 230 people aboard died when the Boeing 747 jumbo jet exploded minutes after leaving John F. Kennedy International Airport for Paris. Investigators say the plane's central fuel tank exploded, but have not been able to find an ignition source. Two other theories - a bomb or a missile - were ruled out after an extensive probe.
An exchange of letters between Scarry and Hall appears in the July 16 issue of the New York Review of Books, a scholarly magazine that in April published an article by Scarry raising the question of whether electromagnetic interference had triggered the TWA disaster.
In a March 13 letter to Hall, Scarry said the NTSB findings had not ruled out "the possibility that a High Intensity Radiated Field, or HIRF, played a part in the crash of TWA 800," and suggested that the agency interview sailors and airmen who were operating electronic gear at the time and could best provide information for a minute-by-minute reconstruction.
Hall replied that the TWA jetliner's flight data and cockpit voice recorders had shown no such effects on the plane's systems - and nearby aircraft had reported no unusual signals.