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The NTSB Responds to Gordon Wadle's Theory

National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, D.C. 20594

Office of the Chairman

AUG 17, 2000

Dear Mr. Wadle:

Thank you for your recent letter concerning the refueling of commercial aircraft and the potential for terrorist activities. You describe your investigation of refueling practices and state that a lack of security exists during the refueling process and the hiring of fueling company employees.

The National Transportation Safety Board is mandated by an act of Congress to investigate transportation accidents, determine the probable cause(s) thereof, and make recommendations to prevent future accidents. Please be assured that the Safety Board investigates the maintenance practices of airlines as a part of all of its accident investigations.Although the Board promotes aviation safety, it is not responsible for investigating criminal matters.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the Government agency responsible for investigating domestic and international terrorism. Therefore, you may wish to contact the FBI Field Office in your area regarding your concerns: Federal Bureau of Investigation Room 905 E.M. Dirksen Federal Office Building 219 South Dearborn Street Chicago, Illinois 60604-1702 I hope that you are able to resolve your concerns satisfactorily. Thank you for your interest in aviation safety.

 

Sincerely,

Jim Hall,
Chairman

 

 

Did a Fuel Bomb Bring Down TWA 800?

by Melissa Lovin

When a major airline suffers a tragic disaster of the magnitude of TWA flight 800 many theories are tried and tested. Most of these are very complex in nature dealing with mechanical malfunctions, pilot error or possibly even terrorist attacks. In the beginning, one of the main possible scenarios investigated due to static electricity. The case of flight 800 was no exception. Before the first newscast had aired speculation regarding the downed aircraft were already turning to speculation of a missile attack along with a dozen or so "more likely" possibilities. Recently, official findings by the NTSB have concluded that the crash was a result of an explosion in the center fuel tank, thought attributable largely to frayed wiring. While this is one valid explanation of the disaster, it is not necessarily the only explanation.

In the past few weeks new evidence has been reported to the ESD Journal by Gordon Wadle, an educated American with a military background, that, quite frankly, is too substantial not to be given equal time. Mr. Wadle's theory involves the fuel tanks, specifically the refueling process that took place in France where it is a real possibility that a small explosive device was inserted into the center tank. The most probable type of device used would have been a white phosphorous hand grenade which was used repeatedly during the Vietnam War in applications such as this with great success.

According to Mr. Wadle these grenades are only 2 1/4 inches across and would fit in the fueling nozzle of any aircraft the size of a 747. The possible technique used to trigger the bomb is ingenious in it's simplicity. Using ordinary electrical tape the handle would be taped down on the grenade. With the number of wraps around the handle, you could be fairly precise with the timing process. Once inserted into a fuel environment the adhesive is slowly dissolved and the tape will come off. When this happens the bomb will explode. Inside a closed fuel compartment filled mostly with fumes and containing a small amount of jet fuel, an explosion of even a small magnitude would rip the aircraft apart just as we saw TWA 800 do over the waters off of Long Island, New York in 1996.

As far as the location of the explosion, Mr. Wadle feels the probability that it was planned to occur somewhere in the Atlantic is safe to say, but the actual location was probably not targeted as the coast of New York which could be easily explained by the amount of insulation. Other small, non-technical explosive devices could be inserted into the fuel line. Something as simple as a plastic bag filled with phosphorous could have been used.

But the real question here is who would have had the ability to insert an explosive device into the fuel line? The answer to that is very simple--the refueling team. Mr. Wadle researched the possibilities with the ground personnel involved in refueling at most major airports. Primarily, he found that this process was contracted out to various big-name fuel corporations. This includes the fuel crews at JFK Airport.

Additionally Mr. Wadle found that the employee turn over ratio to be very high as you might expect with the low pay and working conditions. Stunningly, most of these fuel company employees are required to go through any type of security when going to work; nor are they required to undergo any kind of background check when applying for employment. While living in California, Mr. Wadle conducted his own little experiment on how simple it would be to get a job with one of the fueling companies on an airplane refueling crew. The results were stunning. Not only was there no background check, but an interview was granted in a matter of days. He was offered a job with the company within a week's time. He, of course, did not accept the position, but the fact that the process was so quick and simple shows how easy this scenario could be a reality.

Gordon Wadle, an avid war historian, watched closely as the navy recovered parts of the downed aircraft and "listened very intently" to what the NTSB and FBI were saying about the crash. When he heard about the state of the center fuel tank, the scene was all too familiar to him from his Air Force days. Mr. Wadle, a well-educated 45 year old, spent five years in the Air Force and an additional three years in the Air Guard. In the Air Guard he was heavily involved in disaster preparedness and chemical response. He has reported his theory to such agencies and individuals as the FBI (3 times), the NTSB (3 times), Boeing (twice), his U.S. Senator (twice) with no response. They seem to be content with the findings of the NTSB.

There is an endless supply of groups who are capable of this act, due in part to the simplicity of it. The disaster occurred on July 17, 1996, two days before the summer Olympic games began in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Wadle says that "When the 747 was destroyed we had many enemies out there with terrorist connections." The possible reasons behind this abound.

"We always look for the high-tech answer to these terrible things. The reality of the situation is that most terrorists are not well-funded and, just like the Viet Cong, have to rely on their ingenuity. [In cases such as this] the simple answer is usually the best," explains Mr. Wadle.

Are we too quick to dismiss these simple theories, or are we willing to blindly accept the findings of the NTSB who has everything to gain from keeping possibilities such as this under their hat? For the sake of the families of the 230 people tragically killed in the crash of TWA flight 800, we must constantly seek our own answers just as Gordon Wadle has.

 

 

 

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