SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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STATUS OF THE INVESTIGATION OF THE CRASH OF TWA 800 AND THE PROPOSAL CONCERNING THE DEATH ON THE HIGH SEAS ACT
PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCOMMITTEE ON
TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
JULY 10, 1997
Printed for the use of the
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTUCTURE
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania, Chairman
DON YOUNG, Alaska
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
SHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York
HERBERT H. BATEMAN, Virginia
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
THOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
JAY KIM, California
STEPHEN HORN, California
BOB FRANKS, New Jersey
JOHN L. MICA, Florida
JACK QUINN, New York
TILLIE K. FOWLER, Florida
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
STEVEN C. LaTOURETTE, Ohio
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
FRANK RIGGS, California
CHARLES F. BASS, New Hampshire
ROBERT W. NEY, Ohio
JACK METCALF, Washington
JO ANN EMERSON, Missouri
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
ROY BLUNT, Missouri
JOSEPH R. PITTS, Pennsylvania
ASA HUTCHINSON, Arkansas
MERRILL COOK, Utah
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
CHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Jr., Mississippi
KAY GRANGER, Texas
JON D. FOX, Pennsylvania
THOMAS M. DAVIS, Virginia
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
J.C. WATTS, Jr., Oklahoma
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
VITO FOSELLA, New York
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
ROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia
JAMES A. TRAFICANT, Jr., Ohio
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
BOB CLEMENT, Tennessee
JERRY F. COSTELLO, Illinois
GLENN POSHARD, Illinois
ROBERT E. (BUD) CRAMER, Jr., Alabama
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, District of Columbia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
PAT DANNER, Missouri
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
JAMES E. CLYBURN, South Carolina
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
JAMES A. BARCIA, Michigan
BOB FILNER, California
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, Texas
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
GENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
JUANITA MILLENDER-McDONALD, California
ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, Maryland
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
MAX SANDLIN, Texas
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, Jr., New Jersey
JAY W. JOHNSON, Wisconsin
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
Subcommittee on Aviation
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee, Chairman
ROY BLUNT, Missouri Vice Chairman
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCTHOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
CHARLES F. BASS, New Hampshire
JACK METCALF, Washington
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
JOSEPH R. PITTS, Pennsylvania
ASA HUTCHINSON, Arkansas
MERRILL COOK, Utah
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
CHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Jr., Mississippi
KAY GRANGER, Texas
JON D. FOX, Pennsylvania
THOMAS M. DAVIS, Virginia
J.C. WATTS, Jr., Oklahoma
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
GLENN POSHARD, Illinois
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
JAMES A. TRAFICANT, Jr., Ohio
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
JERRY F. COSTELLO, Illinois
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCROBERT E. (BUD) CRAMER, Jr., Alabama
PAT DANNER, Missouri
JAMES E. CLYBURN, South Carolina
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, Texas
JUANITA MILLENDER-McDONALD, California
ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, Maryland
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
Carven, A. Frank, III, Bel Air, MD
Cox, Cynthia E., Montoursville, PA
Delahunt, Hon. William D., a Representative in Congress from Massachusetts
Ehrlich, Hon. Robert L., Jr., a Representative in Congress from Maryland
Ephraimson-Abt, Hans, Ridgewood, NJ
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Forbes, Hon. Michael P., a Representative in Congress from New York
Gardner, Guy S., Associate Administrator for Regulation and Certification, Federal Aviation Administration, accompanied by Thomas McSweeney, Director, Office of Certification
Hall, James, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board, accompanied by Bernard Loeb, Director, Office of Aviation Safety, Vernon Ellingstad, Director, Office of Research and Engineering, and Dr. Merritt Birky, Chairman, Explosion Group
Kallstrom, James K., Assistant Director in Charge, New York Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Lychner, Joe, Houston, TX
McDade, Hon. Joseph M., a Representative in Congress from Pennsylvania
Maloney, Hon. James H., a Representative in Congress from Connecticut
Rogers, William S., Jr., Montoursville, PA
Rothman, Hon. Steven R., a Representative in Congress from New Jersey
Roukema, Hon. Marge, a Representative in Congress from New Jersey
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PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Costello, Hon. Jerry F., of Illinois
Cramer, Hon. Bud, of Alabama
Cummings, Hon. Elijah E., of Maryland
Delahunt, Hon. William D., of Massachusetts
McDade, Hon. Joseph M., of Pennsylvania
Maloney, Hon. James H., of Connecticut
Poshard, Hon. Glenn, of Illinois
Rothman, Hon. Steven R., of New Jersey
Roukema, Hon. Marge, of New Jersey
Traficant, Hon. James A., Jr., of Ohio
PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY WITNESSES
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Carven, A. Frank, III
Cox, Cynthia E
Gardner, Guy S
Kallstrom, James K
Rogers, William S
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
Hall, James , Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board:
Responses to questions from Rep. Shuster
Responses to questions from Rep. Traficant
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Letter to James B. Busey, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration, from James L. Kolstad, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board, , August 1, 1990, concerning the Philippine Air Lines Boeing 737-300 explosion on May 11, 1990
Letter and Investigation Report, Oscar M. Alejandro, Officer in Charge, Air Transportation Office, Department of Transportation and Communications, Republic of the Philippines, December 26, 1990
Additional responses to questions from Rep. Traficant
Exchange of letters between James K. Kallstrom, Assistant Director in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, and James E. Hall, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board, concerning the objections of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to certain of the issues and exhibits proposed for the December 8 NTSB hearing into TWA Flight 800
Kallstrom James K., Assistant Director in Charge, New York Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation:
Responses to questions from Rep. Shuster
Responses to questions from Rep. Traficant
ADDITIONS TO THE RECORD
FAA News, FAA/NTSB Set Post-TWA 800 Actions, December 19, 1997
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FAA News, FAA Orders Changes to Boeing 747 Wiring Systems, November 26, 1997
Riordan, Bob, TWA 800: What NTSB Missed, statement
Hall, Jim, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board:
Letter to Frederico Pena, Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, concerning the use of the Department of Transportation's aircraft in transporting NTSB investigative teams to accident sites in a timely manner, July 19, 1996
Letter to Hon. Frank R. Wolf, Chairman, Subcommittee on Transportation and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, concerning an emergency fund for the NTSB to cover unpredictable accident investigation expenses, July 18, 1996
Letter to Hon. John Duncan, Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U.S. House of Representatives, July 28, 1997
Ellsworth, T.P., Jr., Esq., letter to General Ronald R. Fogleman, Air Force Chief of Staff, March 26, 1997
Rounds, Chad, memo
Kirch, Marlan, TWA Oldtimers , letter, June 20, 1997
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Slocum, Robert R., Attorney at Law, Retired, letter, February 1, 1998
Letters concerning the Death on the High Seas Act :
Letter from Nancy E. McFadden, General Counsel, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, July 28, 1997
Letter from Juanita M. Madole, Law Offices of Speiser, Krause, Madole, and Cook, July 11, 1997, and July 15, 1997
Letter from Robert P. Warren, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Air Transport Association, July 8, 1997
STATUS OF THE INVESTIGATION OF THE CRASH OF TWA 800 AND THE PROPOSAL CONCERNING THE DEATH ON THE HIGH SEAS ACT
THURSDAY, JULY 10, 1997
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Aviation,
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:30 a.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John J. Duncan, Jr. (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let me first of all thank all of our witnesses for being here with us this morning. Many of our distinguished witnesses have been before the subcommittee before on a number of occasions. And so I wish to thank all of you for taking time out of what I know are very busy schedules to be with us here again.
We also have several family members who lost loved ones in the TWA Flight 800 accident. And we very much appreciate all of you being here today under what we know are very difficult and trying circumstances.
The purpose of this morning's hearing is really threefold. One, we want to review the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board to discover the cause of the TWA Flight 800 accident, and we want to get a status report on that investigation. Secondly, we want to examine the widely reported debate or conflict between the FAA and NTSB regarding what actions should be taken in regard to aircraft fuel tanks and possibly the other conflicts that have occurred during this investigation.
And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we want to hear from the family members in regard to legislation, H.R. 2005, introduced by our very distinguished colleague from Pennsylvania, Mr. McDade, which addresses the applicability of the Death on the High Seas Act in regard to aviation accidents. So we look forward very much to Congressman McDade's testimony and those of the TWA 800 family members.
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We also have a very distinguished panel of other members who I think will be joining us shortly. I think we're up to about seven members now, and we're going to move through that as quickly as possible.
Let me say that the subcommittee will also mark up the War Risk Insurance Bill, H.R. 2036, this afternoon. That bill was introduced by the Chairman of the full committee, Mr. Shuster.
On Wednesday, July 17, 1996, the TWA Flight 800 exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 8 miles off the coast of New York. Despite a massive and costly recovery and investigative effort by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I believe we have spent over $30 million so far, the cause of the accident has yet to be determined. Although the NTSB believes that an explosion occurred near or in the center fuel tank of the aircraft.
Investigators are painstakingly trying to piece the plane back together. In fact, I traveled several months ago with staff members from the White House and the NTSB and Chairman Frank Wolf to New York to view the damage and meet with the investigators at that time. This subcommittee also held a very informative briefing earlier this year that I believe helped dispel the notions or allegations by Pierre Salinger and others that a Navy missile brought this plane down.
However, we need desperately to find the cause of this crash, primarily for the sake of the family members, but also to make sure as much as we possibly can that tragedies like this never occur again.
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On the other hand, we do not want to and should not leave false hopes with anyone if we have reached the point where we simply realistically have no hope of finding an answer to what caused this accident.
So really, the main purpose of this hearing today is to find out where we stand, not only for this subcommittee and for the Congress, but for everyone concerned with this tragic incident, particularly the family members.
In regard to Mr. McDade's legislation, the Death on the High Seas Act allows families to recovery only for their economic loss. This means only receiving money for lost wages. And in the case of a child, this means families would get very, very little. H.R. 2005 would allow recover for pain and suffering and loss of companionship and matters such as that.
And I want to say that we certainly commend Mr. McDade for his legislation, and I also commend the airlines for voluntarily making some adjustments in this regard. But I think we need to have some legislation to put some of these changes into effect.
But we're going to look into all of these things at this hearing today. I think it will be a very interesting and informative hearing. I will say that for the members panel, the way that I handle members' testimony on this subcommittee is that we take your statements.
But I ask that the members of the subcommittee refrain from asking any questions of members at this time. Because we have opportunities to ask questions on the Floor or at other times when we meet with the members. And also because we have a very large number of expert witnesses and family members who will testify later in the hearing. Also, we know that each of you have such busy schedules.
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So we'll let you make your statements, then you can either stay and hear the statements of your fellow members or you can leave as soon as you finish your five minute statement.
But at this time, I will turn to my good friend, the ranking member of the subcommittee, Mr. Lipinski, for any remarks that he wishes to make.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I wish circumstances were such that we did not have a need to hold this hearing today. Unfortunately, however, the tragedy of TWA Flight 800 is a reality. Therefore, it is important that we take the time today, nearly 1 year later, to review the status of the investigation into the cause of the crash and to address the outstanding concerns of the families of the many victims.
Representatives from all the agencies involved in this investigation of the crash are here today: the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration. First and foremost, I commend all of you for your hard work and diligence. You do not have an easy job. Yet you know how important your work is, and you are dedicated to determining the cause of this terrible tragedy.
Throughout the course of this hearing, I want you to remember that we greatly appreciate all of your efforts. As members of Congress, we also want to learn the cause of the crash of TWA Flight 800, so that we can do all that is within our power to prevent another tragedy.
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The families of the victims of TWA Flight 800 also want to learn the cause of the crash that took away their loved ones. For almost a year now, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters and brothers have struggled to live on without their special loved ones. We must do all that we can to ease the pain of their loss.
For this reason, several family members are here today to bring to our attention critical flaws involving the Death on the High Seas Act. Due to a recent Supreme Court decision, the Death on the High Seas Act applies to lawsuits that arise out of an aircraft crash in the ocean. This means that a family member could not get compensated for the loss of a loved one if the plane crashed into the ocean, as did TWA Flight 800.
However, if the plane crashed on earth, on land, state court law or the Warsaw Convention would apply and both permit the awarding of compensatory damages. In effect, families are treated differently depending on whether their relatives die in an aircraft that crashed into the ocean or one that crashed on land. This is obviously ridiculous and unfair. The value of an individual's life does not change depending on where the plane happens to come down.
I commend Chairman Duncan for scheduling a markup immediately after this hearing, so that we can take immediate action on legislation to address the gross inadequacy created when the Death on the High Seas Act is applied to aviation.
I look forward to hearing testimony from all of our knowledgeable witnesses today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back the balance of my time.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Lipinski, and thank you for your hard work on all the activities of this subcommittee. This subcommittee is fortunate to have great leadership, very active leadership from the Chairman of the full committee and from our ranking member, Mr. Oberstar, and we're pleased to have him with us this morning.
I will now call on the Chairman of the full committee, Mr. Shuster.
Mr. SHUSTER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I certainly appreciate your holding these hearings.
On June 19, following the ValuJet crash, I promised the families of victims that we would proceed with legislation to deal with the very legitimate complaints that we had heard. And we did do that, and we moved through this committee and the Congress and enacted into law the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act.
Subsequently, there have been two other crashes, and we followed up with letters to those families, asking them how this Act is working. That's one of the items I want to focus on today, to find out just how well that Act is working, or if indeed we need to do other things. Because the stories, as many of you know, are absolutely horrible of how some of the families were treated following some of these disasters.
The other area of interest to me is what appears to be a dispute between the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA with regard to actions which should be taken as a consequence of crashes. So that, too, is something I hope we can clear up.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I thank you very much for holding this hearing today, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think it is clearly appropriate for us to review the state of the investigation of the causes of the tragedy of TWA 800. And I'm very pleased that you've brought this hearing together, as well as to deal with the ancillary matter of Mr. McDade's bill, which will treat tragedy over water the same as we do tragedy on land.
Last year was a tragic year for commercial aviation. No sooner had we gone through the nightmarish, horrific tragedy of ValuJet in the swamp of Florida than we were confronted with the explosion of TWA 800 off Long Island, reminiscent of Pan Am 103. Unlike ValuJet, where the cause was rather readily uncovered, families of the TWA tragedy still do not know what caused the center fuel tank, the most likely suspect, to explode, what was the source of ignition, and what therefore took the lives of the over 200 much-loved, still-bereaved travelers.
The uncertainty that shrouds this investigation makes it even harder for the family members to cope with their own pain, bringing them and the loss to closure. I understand it well. I have experienced loss myself, loss of my wife over a long period of suffering. Very different from sudden, abrupt, brutal loss of life. I experienced that in the case of Pan Am 103, in Lockerbie, Scotland, where I traveled as a member of the Presidential Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism, along with our former ranking member of the committee, Mr. Hammerschmidt, to there attempt to uncover the cause of the tragedy of Pan Am 103.
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Failure to assign a specific definitive cause to the accident is all the more troubling, given the scope of the rescue effort, the salvage effort. And I, too, traveled to East Moriches, went aboard the USS Grasp, observed the underwater recovery effort, watched the personal belongings brought up from the ocean depths. I can only imagine what's going through the minds of the family members.
Over 95 percent, maybe 98 percent of the wreckage has been retrieved. The aircraft is being reassembled as best it can be done. Meticulously retrieving every scrap of wreckage and trying to piece it together, heroic effort by the recovery members of the underwater team on USS Grasp deserve our special commendation. Someday, Mr. Chairman, I hope we can erect an appropriate memorial to their heroic efforts. They risked their lives under the waters, going amid jagged pieces of metal that resulted in such enormous successful recovery.
But despite the scope of the effort, neither the NTSB nor the FAA nor TWA nor Boeing have been able to discern with certitude what was the ignition source. I think it's fair to say that the center fuel tank exploded. You can look at it, observe it, talk with the experts, I think you can come to that conclusion.
We know that vapors from the jet fuel ignited. We know the type of fuel that was used. It was a low volatility type of jet fuel, rather than the high volatility fuel. Yet it has the same explosive power.
For months, NTSB, FBI and Navy have worked to determine whether the source of ignition was a bomb, missile, type of aircraft mechanical failure, a piece of satellite that may have descended through the atmosphere and penetrated the skin, every possible source has been investigated. And the question comes back to mechanical causes.
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In its notification to the public for comment on proposed action to remedy the problem of the center fuel tank, the FAA listed 26 fuel tank type accidents that occurred over a period of years, extending back to 1959. Much progress has been made over the years in reducing the explosive nature of fuel. But in the end, fuel has to burn for an aircraft to fly. And how can the industry reduce the possibility of an unintended, inadvertent explosion someplace other than the engine occurring. That is the question before the investigative entities.
The NTSB has issued recommendations to the FAA calling for requirements for inerting of the center fuel tanks. The FAA has been working with aircraft manufacturers to identify and eliminate possible ignition sources. Most approaches seemingly would eliminate a center fuel tank explosion of the type experienced on Flight 800.
What has resulted, Mr. Chairman, in the ensuing weeks, is sort of a contest between our two premier agencies in safety, the NTSB and the FAA. And I don't think it serves the public interest for them to be pointing fingers at one another, doing analyses on television of issues that have not yet been definitively resolved. I think it raises only further the pain level of the families of victims, and creates further doubt and question in the public mind.
This is a highly emotional issue, but it is also one that has been confronted, a safety issue that has been confronted in the past by both agencies with a type of dispassionate, thoughtful, deliberative investigative work that leads to acceptable solutions.
I'm going to listen with great interest to the testimony by Chairman Hall of the FAA. I've read the testimony over very carefully, and I must say that it does not shed the kind of light that we are looking for in this hearing.
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But I do hope that as a result of this hearing, the two agencies will collaborate rather than compete, and will join forces, rather than spread themselves apart. I don't think it serves the public interest for our two premier safety agencies to be conducting an inquiry in the news media rather than in the laboratories and the research centers in the deliberative fashion that is characteristic of past investigations.
I think we can come to a resolution. I think by the tests that are being undertaken of possible ignition sources, we can come to a definitive determination and move ahead. Meanwhile, we shall explore during the course of this hearing whether there are interim steps that can and should be taken by the airlines, by the manufacturers, and directed by the FAA to remove the possibility of at least what we know reoccurring.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
Because we have such a very large number of witnesses today, I'm going to let all the members of the subcommittee know that we will place their full statements into the record, and I will ask at this time if any other members have any brief opening comments they wish to make.
Mrs. DANNER. Mr. Chairman, few aviation accidents have received the same amount of attention as has the loss of TWA Flight 800. I certainly don't recall any that have generated as many theories and rumors about possible cause.
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For this reason, I'm hopeful that today's hearing will help the committee and the public understand the facts surrounding this tragedy. In recent months, press reports seem to indicate a growing rift between Federal agencies that I fear could impair efforts to determine the cause, or at least determine that a definitive cause has not been identified. I certainly concur with my colleague, Mr. Oberstar, with his comments earlier.
I am further concerned that differences of opinion may cause investigators to become overly defensive of their own theories, a pride of authorship, one might say, and therefore cause a rift that contrary evidence may be minimized or overlooked. Often this rift is multiplied once a theory is reported in the press.
For this reason, I want to stress the importance that investigators continue to work closely together, and that they report facts rather than theories.
I might say, Mr. Chairman, it appears that far too many Federal agency employees feel free to express publicly their own personal theories instead of the official position of the agency. This I find reprehensible. These unsubstantiated theories serve only to increase the already considerable confusion surrounding this tragedy.
I fear we're being exposed to far too many media prima donnas who are more interested in their own self-aggrandizement than in solving the mystery of Flight 800.
In closing, I want to note that in a court proceeding, investigators are held to a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I am hopeful that this standard will be followed as investigators continue to seek the cause of this tragedy.
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mrs. Danner.
Mr. METCALF. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to commend you for your vigilance on this issue, and thank you for calling this hearing today. Further, I'd like to welcome the witnesses, and particularly those families of the victims of Flight 800 that are with us today.
As we approach the 1-year anniversary of the crash of TWA Flight 800, the Congress and the American people are still searching for answers to explain the factors that are responsible for the crash. At this point, there is no evidence, to my knowledge, and this subcommittee has engaged in closed briefings regarding the incident, that concludes what caused the tragedy of July 17, 1996.
I'm aware that investigations must proceed slowly and diligently to evaluate all potential possibilities to reach a definitive conclusion. And I understand the frustrations on all sides of the lack of conclusions. I'm confident that the agencies charged with the investigation are doing everything in their power to reach a conclusion.
I'm concerned about the apparent strain in the relationships between the two agencies responsible for the investigation and oversight of commercial aviation. Mr. Oberstar, the ranking member, has already touched on this during his testimony. I will be interested to hear today the testimony of the agencies regarding their beliefs.
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Mr. Chairman, I represent Everett, Washington, the home of the 747 assembly facility. And I can assure you that this incident was felt by everyone in my district and every member of the manufacturing team that is proud to build the safest airplane in the skies. I'm confident that once a conclusion is reached and agreed upon by the parties involved, a solution will be implemented to prevent another occurrence, if possible, while assuring the integrity and safety of the aircraft, which is the prime thing.
But we must resist this temptation to move too quickly and implement supposed solutions based on emotion and frustration, rather than sound scientific evidence.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing, and I look forward to the testimony.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Metcalf.
Mr. BOSWELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll be very brief.
I don't really have a prepared statement, but I look at the families, I've thought about this, and I hear this tone, Mr. Chairman, from you and others that the consumer protection and concern for the families is paramount in the discussions we will have. And I think that should be right, that should be first on the list.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On the other hand, I also think we should be at least considerate of some things that I personally feel perhaps me and my colleague from Pennsylvania, maybe some others here, have been on accident investigation panels in our other lives. It's a tough thing to do. It's heavy lift.
And so I'm very considerate of the FAA and their work. I have never felt that they were trying to do anything but be scientific and put their best skills forward, and I've appreciated that. They went about it in a very professional manner.
Lastly, TWA. TWA is 100 miles from where I live, their maintenance base at Kansas City, in Mrs. Danner's district. But I for years have known some of the folks that worked there, past and currently. And I have always sensed that they are completely dedicated to what they do.
I used to know a lot about aircraft maintenance in my other life. So I'm always curious about that. And I would submit to you that they're very serious about their business, they're very prideful about it, and they work very hard at it and try to fulfill their responsibility.
So it's an important issue that's before us today, and Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that you bring it before us expeditiously, and I think you will do the right thing. My sense, as I'm getting acquainted with this group, is that we'll do the right thing, and we're concerned about those families. But at the same time, I thought I ought to mention the other two matters.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. Any other opening comments?
Mr. CRAMER. Mr. Chairman, I'll be brief. I wanted to tell you, I appreciated the opportunity for us to have this perhaps day-long hearing today. I had four constituents that went down on the TWA flight. So I have two sets of families that were there, trying to sort through information.
Mr. Forbes, I want to thank you on the record on their behalf. You may not recall, but you helped us, our office sort through some logistical issues that made life under the circumstances more merciful for those family members. I think this hearing is important for us to sort through whatever we have to sort through and remember this tragedy from the point of view of the victims and their families.
Mr. Chairman, I won't go any further, but I'll submit an additional statement for the record. Thank you.
[Mr. Cramer's prepared statement follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Cramer.
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Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to also welcome the members, the family members who are here. And I would like to associate my remarks with those of my colleagues who have preceded me.
Next week will mark the anniversary of the TWA 800 tragedy, and the families of my Los Angeles area constituents, Anna Marie Shorter, Delilia Lucien, Monique Kimtaub, Candace Zimmerman, Etta Zimmerman, Eugene Zimmerman and Dana Zimmerman still have no answers as to why their loved ones are gone. And as I read reports, it is very apparent that when we deal with tragedies of this magnitude, it is often difficult for the human psyche to grasp the full effects of such a tragedy.
I do ask those of you who are investigating this tragedy to remember the names of those victims, both my constituents and others, and remember the families. Be thorough and expeditious to conclude your investigations so that the survivors and their families can finally have peace.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you.
[The prepared statements of Mr. Poshard, Mr. Traficant, Mr. Costello, and Mr. Cummings follow:]
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Mr. DUNCAN. We will now turn to the members panel. I want to thank each of you for being here. We will proceed in the order listed on the notice of the hearing. That means that Mr. McDade will go first.
Mr. McDade is certainly one of the great leaders of this Congress, the senior Republican member. He has authored the legislation that is the primary response to date to this very serious tragedy, and a man who always puts his district and his constituents first. Mr. McDade, we're pleased to have you with us this morning.
TESTIMONY OF HON. JOSEPH M. MCDADE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM PENNSYLVANIA; HON. ROBERT L. EHRLICH, JR., A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM MARYLAND; HON. WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM MASSACHUSETTS; HON. STEVEN R. ROTHMAN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM NEW JERSEY; HON. MARGE ROUKEMA, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM NEW JERSEY; HON. JAMES H. MALONEY, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CONNECTICUT; AND HON. MICHAEL P. FORBES, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM NEW YORK
Mr. MCDADE. Mr. Chairman, thank you most kindly for the opportunity to be here. I cannot emphasize how grateful I am, the members at this table, and the families of the victims are to this committee to act with such expedition on the hearing on H.R. 2005, which has 40 bi-partisan co-sponsors.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Twelve working days ago, Mr. Chairman, I introduced that bill. And here we are in this committee holding a hearing. And we are extraordinarily grateful to you for your expedition.
I don't have to tell anybody that 230 were killed in the crash of TWA 800. Let me personalize it from my experience, and many of you have to share things like this. No citizen of any community was more brutally impacted than the people of Montoursville, Pennsylvania, which I am privileged to represent.
Sixteen people were killed who were students of a French club on their way to Europe to improve their education. They were accompanied by five chaperons, all from a small town, hopefully going to return from a trip to Europe as better educated youngsters, better educated chaperons, better Americans.
They're gone, Mr. Chairman. And as brutal as that event is, it's hard to imagine that it is made more nightmarish by an arcane statute that sits on the books and has been there since 1920. And essentially what it says is, if there's an accident beyond the 3-mile limit, you don't get any pecuniary compensation if you're a child. It's unbelievable.
The statute was passed in those days with good intent. It was designed to help widows and orphans of seamen, seamen who were lost at sea get some kind of help. The most benevolent intent possible.
In this instance, because the statute is based upon earning power alone, it deprives my citizens, your citizens, of a right to trial by jury, of a right to just compensation, of all the things that we guarantee our citizens under the American system. We've got to change it, and we can do it in this committee, I hope as rapidly as you convened the hearing.
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As my colleague, Congresswoman McDonald pointed out, we are 7 days away from the 1-year anniversary of this horrible tragedy made worse by an arcane and inequitable statute that sits upon the books and deprives these people, imagine, of the right they have as citizens of this country and every State of this country to seek just compensation for the loss of their children.
It would apply, too, if someone were retired or anybody who wasn't working. Because the standard is one standard only, earning power. No earning power, no compensation.
I plead with my colleagues, and I'm accompanied today, may I say, by Mr. William Rogers and Cynthia Cox, both of whom had daughters in that French club that was traveling to Paris to improve their education. We implore the committee to change this statute, which is crystal clear, and I know you have an enormous workload today, trying to sort through all of the problems of TWA 800. People have been working on it for a long time trying to figure out what caused the accident.
There's a clarion light, however, on one aspect of this case. And that is, that this law should be changed and changed as fast as we can.
Your willingness to hold the hearing, Mr. Chairman, and all the members of this committee indicates your interest. We know you'll continue it. We seek your help and support. We're looking to bring justice to citizens of America.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, I'll file a statement, if I may.
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, sir.
Mr. MCDADE. And may I apologize, I have a markup that started at 10:00 o'clock, and I'm going to have to leave.
Mr. DUNCAN. I understand. As I stated earlier, what we generally do in this subcommittee is we save our questions for the members for times when we can meet with them on the Floor. We know all of you have very busy schedules, and we also need to get to many other witnesses.
So each of you are free to leave as soon as you give your five minute statements.
And thank you very much, Mr. McDade, for your response to this incident.
Mr. MCDADE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, and thank you for your expedition. I can't say it loudly enough.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you.
I'm told that we left these for the Members' forum, the order in which their requests to testify came in. I guess that's the fairest way to do that. And that means that the next testimony will be from our good friend, the Honorable Robert L. Ehrlich.
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Mr. Ehrlich, you may begin your testimony, and thank you for being here today.
Mr. EHRLICH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I, too, will be brief. I also thank you and the members of the committee and Mr. Shuster and everyone connected for putting this hearing together a mere 12 days after the bill was introduced.
Mr. Chairman, I'm an original co-sponsor of this bill for the very easily understood reason that it fixes a harsh and broken statute. I know you're going to have a lot of expert testimony today concerning the history of the statute and the need for reform of the statute. But the reality of it is, our bill allows a variety of non-economic damages to be awarded in cases of this nature, as you well know.
I believe it is the right thing to do, I believe it is the right moral thing to do as well.
My real reason for appearing here today, however, besides as an original co-sponsor and to lend my support to the bill, is to introduce a friend and his family to the subcommittee. Mr. Frank Carven is here with his family. He is the Director and Vice President of the Families of TWA Flight 800 Association, Inc.
More importantly to me, he is a personal friend. I first got to know Frank when he was a staff member for the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Maryland when I was in the General Assembly, he a Democrat and me a Republican, and we became friends.
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Frank lost his sister, Paula, and her 9-year old son, Jay, on Flight 800. He is a well-known and successful attorney in Bel Air, Maryland, in Hartford County, part of the Second Congressional District, in my district. He's very knowledgeable about this particular Act, the Disaster on the High Seas Act. He is my friend, someone who I have a great deal of respect for. And I appreciate him and his family appearing before the subcommittee today. And I thank the Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Ehrlich.
Our next witness will be the Honorable William D. Delahunt.
Mr. DELAHUNT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to come before you and testify in support of H.R. 2005.
Like the distinguished author of the bill, Mr. McDade, and many of our fellow co-sponsors, I represent some of those families. I was listening to the words of Mr. McDade. I found them very moving and very poignant.
I was reflecting on the fact that I have a daughter who is going to be leaving sometime soon to study in Spain. And I think all of us who are parents, mothers and fathers, can so well empathize with those who lost their children on that flight.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There were also 15 New Englanders on that ill-fated flight. Among them were Edwin and Ruth Brooks of Edgartown, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha's Vineyard. They were respected members of the community who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary when the plane went down.
And Jane Reardon Labys, a resident of Morgantown, West Virginia, who originally hailed from Hingham, Massachusetts. Her sister, and a friend of mine from high school, Martha Reardon, a self-confessed ''old Quincy Republican,'' still lives in Hingham, and has written eloquently of her sister's rich and remarkable life.
Jane was one of those people who gives all they have to their family and their community. She wore many hats, as a realtor, home developer, community leader and an avid environmentalist. In Morgantown, she worked to create a new riverfront museum for which she was honored as community leader of the year.
She was a devoted wife to her husband, Walt, a professor of economics at the University of West Virginia, and a loving mother to her son, Paul, and her daughter, Lottie, both of whom returned to Massachusetts to attend Harvard University. When the plane went down, Jane was busy with plans for Paul's wedding, which took place 1-month after the accident.
On July 17, the first anniversary of the TWA Flight 800 tragedy, the families of the victims will gather in New York for a series of commemorative events, including a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the unveiling of a memorial at the Port Authority. Two days later, Jane will be remembered by her family at a mountaintop service near Savoie, France, where they had spent their summers together.
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The best memorial of all would be the enactment of H.R. 205, which would provide a measure of financial security to Jane's family and all those who are left behind. I again thank you for the opportunity to speak, and I want to commend you and members of the committee for the swift action and attention you have given this bill.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Delahunt.
Our next witness is the Honorable Steven R. Rothman.
Mr. ROTHMAN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, members of the committee. My name is Steve Rothman, and I'm the Congressman from the Ninth Congressional District of New Jersey. I am here today to speak on behalf of a constituent of mine who still cannot speak to strangers about her loss and the loss of her family, and who has asked me to come before you to talk about it.
On July 17, 1996, Jill Ziemkiewicz was killed. On that date, her mother, Carol Ziemkiewicz, and her entire family, were robbed of the joys and pleasures of living and celebrating life with Jill. Her mother Carol was robbed of her dreams of dancing at her daughter's wedding, as she told me before, of even meeting the right man, getting married, and then going to her daughter's wedding, playing with her grandchildren, sharing the joys of life that her beloved and accomplished daughter was about to experience.
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Carol Ziemkiewicz, Jill's mom, had her dreams shattered when her Rutgers University graduate daughter, who earned a bachelor of science degree in environmental planning, who worked afterward as a landscape design artist, who was an exchange student in Germany and who had visited Paris for 2 days.
This landscape artist decided she wanted to be a flight attendant, perhaps to get back to Paris. And so she became a flight attendant on TWA Flight 800. Carol told me about her conversation with Jill just before takeoff. Jill said she was so psyched, she would finally get a chance to see Versailles again. So Mom said, I was the kind of mother who took every precaution in the world. I bought my daughter mace. I made sure that the apartment that she got into in college was secure. But this was something I couldn't protect her from.
Jill's life ended on that plane, along with the other 230 people. But they were not the only victims on that fateful night. Those innocent people who were killed left behind friends, families and loved ones, people who continue to live, but whose lives will never be the same.
Jill's mother, Carol, asked me to send you a message. Her daughter Jill's life had value. For almost 1 year, the families have had to deal with more than the pain of losing a loved one. They have endured sitting for hours after the crash waiting for the final passenger list that would confirm their worst fears. They waited anxiously for any indication that people may have survived the crash. To this day, they wait for an explanation for the disaster.
I am pleased to co-sponsor H.R. 2005, because Carol and the other family members of the victims need to know that they can pursue justice. As you well know, without H.R. 2005, they cannot pursue justice. As you further know, this bill does not guarantee that anyone gets compensated. All it guarantees is that families will have the right to pursue and meet their burdens of proof of fault and damages in their State courts.
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H.R. 2005 will help to ensure Carol Ziemkiewicz, her family and the hundreds and hundreds of family members like them, who will know that the lives of their loved ones had value. And they will have the opportunity to appear before a jury in their home state to explain their case and meet their burden of proof.
And if there is a person to be held accountable, that person will be held accountable and will compensate these families.
Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Rothman, for a very fine statement.
The next witness is my good friend, one of the most respected members of this Congress, the Honorable Marge Roukema.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that kind introduction.
I'm here today for really two reasons, one, to give strong support to Congressman McDade's legislation, H.R. 2005, and secondly, I'm honored to introduce one of the gentlemen who will be a witness later today.
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H.R. 2005, in my opinion, is must-pass legislation that will ensure the equitable treatment for the families who suffered the agonizing loss of loved ones resulting from these international aviation disasters. We've heard an outline of the compelling reason for it. I won't go into a long explanation of my own.
But I will simply say in summary, we must bring this legislation up to the modern day. It's long overdue, and I want to congratulate you for expediting these hearings, and hopefully for expediting consideration of the bill. It has been pointed out that numerous people, including Justice Scalia of the Supreme Court, have acknowledged that the law is antiquated, and it's up to Congress to change it, as Justice Scalia pointed out.
And of course, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security has expanded on that position and stated its endorsement of changes and endorsement of fair compensation.
But, Mr. Chairman, I not only had the town manager of one of my towns and his wife that were lost in Flight TWA 800, prior to that, I had students that were lost in Pan Am 103. But the person who will be testifying to you later today is Mr. Hans Ephraimson. He put a human face on the tragedy of airlines in losing a daughter early on in the Korean Airline Flight 007 many years ago.
You will hear from him later today. He lost a 23 year old daughter when the Soviet fighter plane shot down the Korean airliner. Mr. Ephraimson called me at that time, and it focused my attention, and again, put that human face on such a tragedy. And since that time, Mr. Ephraimson has devoted himself to assisting other families in similar situations. He's been very dedicated.
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He served as the Chairman of the American Association for the Families of KAL 007 and Their Victims, a support group, as you may know, that has extended its activities to assist families involved in other airline accidents, so that they can better cope with their tragedies and the aftermath.
In addition, Mr. Ephraimson has been an active participant in the efforts to improve after-crisis management, as well as to update the modernized laws and treaties. I can't think of a better resource for this committee to depend upon today than Mr. Ephraimson, not only because of his personal tragedy, but because of the years he has spent in studying and becoming completely informed in all aspects of this issue.
Mr. Chairman, again I congratulate you. I ask for expedited consideration, and I ask that you benefit, I know that you will benefit from Mr. Ephraimson's experiences. Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mrs. Roukema, for an outstanding statement.
The next witness in the order listed on the notice of hearing is the Honorable James Maloney.
Mr. MALONEY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Lipinski, members of the committee.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My appreciation for your holding this hearing this morning. I have a statement for the record which I'll submit, and my comments will be brief and to the point, which is, that as a co-sponsor of H.R. 2005, I associate myself with the testimony of my colleagues here this morning and say to you that it is only fair, I think that's the best way to say it, it is only fair that the legislation proposed in H.R. 2005 become law.
We have all been touched, literally everyone in this country was touched by the loss of Flight 800, all of us in different ways. But all of us were affected by the incident of that evening.
In my district, my neighbor from the town of Ridgefield, Richard Campbell, was the flight engineer on Flight 800. And we lost a neighbor, a dedicated family man, a distinguished employee of TWA. But we all lost a sense of security, a sense that we could take part in air travel safely while this investigation continues without a resolution.
H.R. 2005 will provide some compensation to the families of the people who were lost in that flight. I urge you to act swiftly on it, I believe that you will, and I thank you very much for your hearing this morning.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you, Mr. Maloney. And your full statement will be placed in the record.
Our final witness on the members panel is my good friend, the Honorable Michael Forbes.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Forbes?
Mr. FORBES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Lipinski and members of the committee.
First of all, let me thank you sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, for the expeditious manner in which you're dealing with the particular legislation that I am here today to talk about, H.R. 2005, the Airline Disaster Relief Act. And I thank my good friend, Joe McDade, from Pennsylvania, for his leadership in bringing this measure about. And I'm proud to be a sponsor as well.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, this tragedy has touched all Americans, as my colleague suggested. It certainly has touched me and my neighbors on Eastern Long Island in a most personal way as well, not just because this is the site of this unfortunate catastrophe, but also because we lost many New Yorkers in this unfortunate disaster.
This is a particularly difficult day, emotionally difficult day, for the families, and I believe even for the members of this committee, because we are dealing with an issue that gets really to the heart of something I think, that we all do care about.
And we want to make sure that the tragedy that took place on that evening is not compounded, because for want of a technicality, and I think, frankly, that's how you can describe what the Airline Disaster Act seeks to remedy, the Death on the High Seas Act. We understand the intent of that law.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And hopefully, the committee, in addition to the full Congress, will help these families by correcting what I believe would be a mere technicality in making it possible for the families of these victims to seek their just compensation as the courts would decide.
This has been a most difficult time for these families, as we understand. To compound the grief and the tragedy, the heartbreak and the emptiness that these families have felt would be another tragedy in and of itself.
That's why I ask today that, in addition to the swift action of this committee, which I sincerely appreciate, that the Congress could only do as well by next week, bringing to the floor this measure and making sure that the families do not have to deal, once again, with another sense of grief and frustration and hurt because of a mere technicality. So I would encourage its enactment.
And let me just say this, because I think it is noteworthy, that there have been literally thousands of Federal employees working to unravel the secrets of what is behind this most catastrophic event. And they should be complimented.
Regardless of how we determine the general cooperation between the agencies themselves, I think that the rank and file employees have worked very, very hard. I've spent some time with them, as well as, I might add, the numerous hundreds and hundreds of people in Eastern Long Island who responded so quickly, the emergency personnel, the county, town and state officials, and the many rank and file people who tried to come to the aid at the time of this disaster.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I thank the committee for its compassion in holding this hearing so quickly, and I pray that on behalf of the families and indeed the victims that we can have a remedy for this most unfortunate technicality.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Forbes. And I certainly agree with your comments and I am hopeful and I do believe that not only can we move this legislation very quickly through this subcommittee and the full committee, but hopefully we can bring it to the Floor very soon under suspension of the rules and act on it so that it does take effect.
Thank you very much, Mr. Maloney, and Mr. Forbes, and others, for being with us.
Our first panel, our first witness is Mr. James Hall, who's been with us many times before. Mr. Hall, of course, is Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. He will be accompanied today by Dr. Bernard Loeb, who is Director of the Office of Aviation Safety, and Dr. Vernon Ellingstad, who is Director of the Office of Research and Engineering. Mr. Hall and Mr. Loeb, Mr. Ellingstad, it's an honor to have you all three with us. And Mr. Hall, you may begin your testimony as soon as you can.
TESTIMONY OF JAMES HALL, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD, ACCOMPANIED BY BERNARD LOEB, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF AVIATION SAFETY, VERNON ELLINGSTAD, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND ENGINEERING, AND DR. MERRITT BIRKY, CHAIRMAN, EXPLOSION GROUP
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Mr. HALL. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Lipinski, Congressman Oberstar, members of the subcommittee. It's a pleasure to be here with you this morning.
I appreciate Congressman Forbes mentioning the employees that have worked hard on this investigation. And of course, there are numerous ones from numerous Federal agencies. I have brought with me today, Mr. Chairman, many who are standing in the hall and unable to get in here, but I would like to read their names and introduce them to you very briefly at the beginning, because the things we will be talking about really represent the work that they have done over the past year.
We have Mr. George Anderson, with the NTSB; Dr. Merritt Birky, who is in the room, if he would stand, our fine explosion group chairman. Mr. John Clark, if he would stand, the deputy director of the Office of Research and Engineering, Dennis Kridell, our trajectory study leader, Jack Drake, who is the chief of our aviation engineering division, Debbie Eckrote, who's the maintenance records group chairman, Jerome Frechette, our aerospace engineer.
Vince Giuliana, our cockpit voice recorder chairman, Dennis Grossi, our flight data group chairman, Frank Hilldrup, who worked on wreckage recovery operation and the reconstruction, Hank Hughes, who did the cabin documentation. They're coming in from the right.
Michael Marks, who is the chief of the NTSB material labs. Deepak Joshi, our structures group chairman, Al Lebo, our air traffic group control chairman, Dr. David Mayer, our data management coordinator. Matt McCormick, our chief survival factors division, Frank McGill, who's worked on the fire and explosions group.
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Charlie Pereira, who did the radar work, Jim Ritter, our chief of the vehicle performance division. Ron Schleede, the deputy director of the Office of Aviation Safety. Bob Swaim, our systems group chairman, Jim Wildey, our sequencing group chairman and Norm Wiemeyer, who's our operations witness group chairman.
These individuals I wanted to bring so the committee could see them. They're the ones who have done the work on this investigation, and I wanted them, of course, to have the opportunity to meet you all, because you all represent the people we're doing the work for.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Hall, let me say we've never really done this before, but I appreciate your doing this. Because these people should be recognized for their dedication and their diligence. This hearing is being televised to the Nation through CSPAN and in other ways. We appreciate not only the hard work that they have done, but also I know that there are many people with the FBI and FAA who have also worked very hard trying to find out as much as possible about this terrible tragedy.
So I will say thank you to each of the employees whom you just recognized. And thank you very much.
Mr. HALL. Mr. Chairman, thank you for the permission of letting me present them to you. Let me say, I know there has been comment about the disagreement that has been in the press. I'm sure that's going to be discussed more.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But let me say that for a year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FAA, the United States Navy, the Coast Guard, local and State officials in the State of New York have all worked side by side, shoulder to shoulder, on this investigation. I'm proud of each and every employee. Of course, I'm specifically proud of the employees that work at our agency.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Mr. Chairman, I wonder if we could give these folks a round of applause as a show of our appreciation to them.
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, sir.
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, sir, thank you very much. Mr. Hall, you may proceed.
Mr. HALL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Also with me at the table today is Dr. Vernon Ellingstad, to my left, who is the director of our Office of Research and Engineering, and Dr. Bernard Loeb, who is the director of our Office of Aviation Safety, and in that position has done an outstanding job, and has been under enormous pressure, being responsible not only for this investigation, but for U.S. Air 427 and ValuJet, as well as all of our aviation investigations.
Mr. Chairman, TWA 800 has been the most extensive investigative effort in the Safety Board's 30 year history. We have been on the scene in Long Island for a full year, by far a record. I would like to describe to you today where we are with the investigation and where we are going.
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In January 1997, we began to reconstruct the center section of the airplane to better demonstrate the relationship of the pieces of the structure and systems and the sequence and breakup of the plane. The 94 foot long reconstruction is the longest ever completed. And it has been extremely beneficial to the investigation.
Mr. Chairman, there is no evidence of a bomb or a missile impact in the reconstruction or elsewhere in the wreckage. Based on the evaluation of the recovered wreckage and the detailed evaluation of the sequence of events, we have determined that the fuel air vapor in the center fuel tank exploded. And the explosion of the tank initiated the breakup of the airplane.
We have not yet determined what ignited the fuel vapor in the center tank. Our investigation continues to concentrate on two main areas. First, we are attempting to determine the ignition source of the fuel air vapor in the center tank. Second, we are trying to understand the composition and characteristics of fuel air vapor.
To accomplish these two tasks, extensive testing and research have been completed or is underway. We have used a host of independent laboratories and facilities.
There are six primary ignition scenarios that we are pursuing. I'd like to briefly describe each one of them. We brought some charts and documents you may want to see later that will give you a visual picture of what we're talking about.
The center fuel tank scavenge pump. This scenario involves the potential for overheating or other ignition energy from a failure mode in the scavenge pump. As to other pumps in the center fuel tank, we have examined the jettison pumps and found no evidence that they were involved in the ignition of the fuel air vapor.
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These tests were conducted at the NASA facility in Huntsville, Alabama. Although we have not recovered the scavenge pump from the accident airplane, we have conducted several tests on exemplar scavenge pumps.
Scenario number two involves static electricity. This scenario involves the potential for generation of static electricity on an ungrounded component in the center fuel tank that could lead to a spark and ignition of the fuel air vapor. We have been conducting extensive tests at the Wright Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and at the Naval Research Laboratory in Maryland. Additional tests are planned.
The third scenario involves the fuel quantity indicating system. This scenario involves the potential for an electrical short circuit in an airplane wire bundle outside the tank, producing a spark or overheating, and ignition from the fuel quantity indication probe or compensator. We have examined the recovered portions of fuel probes from the center tank, the fuel cockpit switches, and other fuel system components. Additionally, we have conducted tests of fuel quantity probes at the Lear-Ziegler factory in Seattle, Washington.
The fourth scenario involves a number three fuel tank electrical conduit. This scenario is related to a history of deterioration of wires in an aluminum conduit that passes through the number three fuel tank. The scenario involves the potential for the spark leading to ignition of vapor in the fuel tank venting tubes, and the flame then propagating to the center tank. Examination of the wreckage has so far proved inconclusive, but this work continues as well.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The fifth scenario is a small explosive charge. This scenario involves the possibility that a small explosive charge detonated near the center fuel tank, which could lead to the ignition of the fuel air vapor. In late July and early August, we will conduct additional tests on a 747 in England. These tests will involve setting off small explosive charges around the center wing tank to determine the resulting damage and to make comparisons with the wreckage of Flight 800.
And finally, we are looking at a high speed particle penetration. This scenario involves the possibility that a high speed fragment from a meteorite, space debris or a missile warhead could penetrate the center fuel tank and cause ignition. In cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we have conducted tests and examination of the wreckage to determine if a high speed fragment may have penetrated the center fuel tank and provided an ignition source.
Specialists from Brook Haven Laboratories on Long Island have assisted us, as have specialists from the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California. To date, we have found no evidence of high speed particle penetrations.
Besides the work to determine possible ignition sources, we have been conducting numerous tests, and more are planned to better understand the flammability and explosive potential of Jet A fuel. We need to understand the characteristics of the fuel, where the ignition took place in the center tank, how it propagated, and how the environmental conditions affected the event.
We recently leased a 747 for flight tests. The airplane has been instrumented with temperature and pressure sensors and vapor sampling equipment to provide detailed characterization of the environment in the center tank and the rest of the fuel systems. It will be flown from JFK International Airport this weekend to determine the temperature profile and chemical composition of the fuel-air mixture in the center tank under conditions similar to those of TWA Flight 800.
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The Desert Research Institute of the University of Nevada at Reno is performing analyses of vapor samples from our tests. We are conducting additional tests at Cal Tech and the University of Nevada at Reno to determine the chemical characteristics of Jet A fuel under a variety of conditions. These tests include measurements of explosive temperatures, pressures, minimum ignition energy and fuel vapor composition.
Later, we plan to conduct full scale model tank explosion tests, assisted by experts from Cal Tech and other laboratories. We also plan to conduct computer modeling of the fuel-air explosions to better understand the propagation of an explosion and the consequent pressures produced throughout the 747 fuel tank.
Mr. Chairman, all of these tests are extremely complex. Moreover, because of the highly technical nature of the tests and the potential danger posed to those conducting them, each phase of the test is very time consuming.
In December, the Safety Board issued four safety recommendations to the FAA that urged both short term and long term actions to reduce the potential for an explosion in the center fuel tank of 747s and other aircraft. We suggested possible means to reduce the explosive potential of the fuel vapor, such as adding cold fuel to the center tank before takeoff, providing insulation or other methods to reduce the transfer of heat from the air conditioning units beneath the center tank, or inerting the tank by replacing the explosive vapor with harmless gas.
Current design and certification requirements concentrate on the elimination of ignition sources. However, we are asking for an additional safeguard, control or elimination of flammable vapors. FAA responded with a request for public comment, and it has not yet acted on those recommendations.
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We are working very closely with the FAA to determine long term solutions. We also believe that more could be done in the interim to reduce the possibility of another fuel tank explosion. The probability is already very low. But it might be made lower without significant risk. And we believe that effort should be made.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, our issuance of recommendations before completion of an investigation is not unusual. In fact, it occurs quite often. We issued recommendations 7 days after the Rosewell, Indiana crash in 1994, and 20 days after the crash in the Everglades last year. We issued recommendations following the 1989 Sioux City, Iowa crash on four separate occasions before our final report was adopted, the first less than a month after the accident.
Although fuel tank explosions have been extremely rare events, experience has shown they do happen. And when they do happen, they can be catastrophic. We are not saying that our short-term recommendations would prevent every accident in the future, but we do believe they would have prevented the TWA Flight 800 accident.
Before I close, I would like to mention that as part of the Safety Board's new role given to us by this committee and the Congress related to the families of victims of airline accidents, we will be assisting the families and memorializing the first anniversary of the TWA Flight 800 accident next week. Several days of activities have been planned by the family organizations, and they are being supported by units of local, State and Federal Government.
At the families' request, the FBI and the NTSB will provide access to view the reconstructed wreckage at Calverton. We expect about 800 family members to participate.
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In closing, Mr. Chairman, let me say I appreciate the interest and support of this committee through this long investigation, and the close working relationship we've had with the FBI, the FAA and others. We are certainly ready to answer any questions the committee may have.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Hall, thank you very much.
Let me ask you first, are you frustrated or disappointed by the speed of the investigation or the fact that, much of your testimony was devoted to telling us that many tasks are yet to be conducted in late July and August and certain other tests, about high speed particles, have proved inconclusive thus far.
Do you feel that progress is being made, and do you think that we're getting closer to solving this mystery, or do you think that 5 or 10 years from now, we're going to be basically where we are today?
Mr. HALL. I think we'll be able to solve this mystery, Mr. Chairman. As you know, the Board will be coming up on the third anniversary of the U.S. Air Flight 427, the accident that occurred at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We think we're getting very close to possibly a recommendation from staff on that accident.
Major accident investigations, sometimes we're very fortunate, particularly where we have modern flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders, we're very fortunate very early after the accident to be able to determine a cause.
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A great deal of progress has been made in this investigation. And of course, my frustration is with being able to express to the American people and to the committee and to those that are interested in this investigation throughout the world the amount of work that has been done.
We have retrieved some 95 to 98 percent of the aircraft from 120 feet of the Atlantic Ocean. We have, along with the FBI, looked at over 200 different particular holes or penetrations of the aircraft. They have all been tested to see if there was any evidence of a bomb or a missile.
We have found that an explosion did happen in the center fuel tank. We have gone over that center fuel tank in excruciating detail, our investigators have. We have identified the possible things that could have produced a spark or ignition in that tank. We have the best minds in the country, the best research laboratories in the country at work on this investigation.
And I feel confident that we will be able to come to a conclusion. There's always the possibility, Mr. Chairman, that we may not. But if we don't, the benefits that we will have provided to aviation in the future will be immeasurable. Because the information that we will have learned about fuel-air explosions, about the flammability of the vapors in the tanks, the information that we will have learned about Jet A fuel, will all be information that will then be available in the aviation community and in the industry to be sure that aviation safety in the future is even safer than it is today.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. Are you leaning toward a mechanical failure theory, because you have no evidence of a bomb or missile, or are you leaning in that direction, if that's accurate, because you have actual proof, you feel you are close to actual proof of a mechanical failure?
Mr. HALL. Well, I'm going to ask Dr. Loeb to comment on that as well. Let me just say briefly, Mr. Chairman, that like many Americans, immediately with the attention that was given this in the first couple of days, I thought this might be a bomb, and that we would be turning the investigation over to the FBI and we would just be in a support role on this particular event.
However, the real responsibilities for determining whether this was a bomb or a missile, we are really in a support category on that to the FBI. And you are going to hear from Mr. Kallstrom, whom we've worked with very closely, later. From the very beginning, we have been focusing, obviously, mainly on the things we're most familiar with, possible mechanical failures.
From the Chairman's standpoint, we have six scenarios. I want to be sure staff is doing everything to look at each and every one of those scenarios.
Dr. Loeb might say where we are today if he wants to mention in terms of things that we might think are more possible than less possible. But we're going to look at each and every one of them, because I think through a process of elimination, we need to demonstrate to this committee and to the American people that we have looked at every possibility that caused this tragic event.
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Mr. DUNCAN. All right, Dr. Loeb.
Dr. LOEB. Mr. Chairman, our evidence for an explosion of the center wing tank, of a fuel-air explosion, is based on solid physical evidence. There is no question about that in my mind, nor do I believe in the minds of any of the investigators involved in this accident. Certainly all the parties to the investigation agree to our sequence of events.
We have a report called a sequence of events report. It clearly establishes that a fuel-air explosion in the center tank began the destruction of the airplane. As the Chairman has said, we have six scenarios. They're not six specific things that we're looking at as potential ignition sources, but rather six areas. At this point, I would not favor any of them. I would not indicate that any are higher or lower.
In our hearts of hearts, back at the office, it changes daily, weekly, when we learn things that propel one of them to the forefront in our minds. And then two weeks later, we learn something that says, well, maybe something else is. At this point, they're all viable. We're looking at all of them.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let me ask one last question. Mr. Hall, you've heard several members mention the supposed conflicts between the NTSB and the FAA or the NTSB and the FBI. And you said that the agencies have all been working together. But you know, there have been many reports or rumors of conflicts or rifts. You made sort of an unusual request to testify separately from the other agencies here this morning. And I have granted that request.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Can you tell us today, are there problems, have there been conflicts? Can you assure us that these turf battles are not impeding the investigation in any way?
And related to that, do you think the FBI should continue its investigation, or are you satisfied that we're far enough away from a bomb or missile type thing to really, can we rule anything out?
Mr. HALL. Mr. Chairman, you cannot have an investigation that lasts a year, with the amount of media attention that has been on this investigation, with the number of people and the number of agencies involved, without from time to time having differences of opinion arise that need to be resolved.
The important thing here is that from the very beginning, as far as the Federal Bureau of Investigation is concerned, I've had a very good working relationship with the Director Freeh and Mr. Kallstrom. And if there were questions that came up that were things at a staff level or other things that needed to be clarified, that was done.
When we began this investigation, of course the FAA was under different leadership. But let me say that under Administrator Hinson and then Deputy Administrator Daschle, now Acting Administrator Barry Valentine, and with the former Secretary and the new Secretary, Rodney Slater, I have reached out and they have reached out to me, so that if there are differences of opinion that we can resolve them.
We do have one difference of opinion, and that is, one of our recommendations is a short term recommendation that the Board has made to the FAA in regard to measures that we think could be taken on an interim basis to provide additional safety to the center fuel tank while we are conducting these long-term tests.
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They have disagreed with that, and the process that is in place, and has worked very well for 30 years, for the Board to list that as unacceptable. That is certainly, Mr. Chairman, not unusual. We presently have, during my term as Chairman, three recommendations that obviously have not gotten the amount of media attention that this investigation has, that have been closed unacceptable, one on the 737 flight data recorders, which you are very familiar with, and two on a particular GE engine.
We presently have three items, two other items on the JT8 engine, that are in the unacceptable category with the FAA as well. So as the process is established from time to time where we make recommendations, our agencies may disagree.
We have a responsibility and possibly we have failed. If the appearance in the press is that our disagreement has become less than civil, then we need to correct that. That should not be the appearance that is provided to the Nation. And we should do better in the future.
We do have one small disagreement, but I do not think that that disagreement has in any way impacted this investigation or the work that is being done at the staff level.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right, thank you very much. Unfortunately we do have a general vote proceeding, and I know members have many more questions of Mr. Hall and other witnesses. We will take a recess at this point, and we will try to keep that as short as possible.
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Mr. DUNCAN. We are pleased to have, as we've had with us before, Mr. James K. Kallstrom, who is Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Mr. Guy S. Gardner, who is Associate Administrator for Regulation and Certification of the Federal Aviation Administration. We ordinarily proceed in the order in which they are listed on the notice of hearing.
So Mr. Kallstrom, that means that we will hear from you at this time, sir. Thank you very much for being with us.
TESTIMONY OF JAMES K. KALLSTROM, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR IN CHARGE, NEW YORK OFFICE, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION; AND GUY S. GARDNER, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR REGULATION AND CERTIFICATION, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, ACCOMPANIED BY THOMAS MCSWEENY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF CERTIFICATION
Mr. KALLSTROM. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, members of the committee.
Thank you for inviting me to be here today to represent the FBI, and to give you a broad overview of the FBI's investigation of the tragedy of TWA Flight 800.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As this matter continues to be an active criminal investigation on our part, I know you'll appreciate the restrictions that are placed on the FBI, and will appreciate the limits this fact may impose on my statements and responses.
When this catastrophic tragedy happened on the night of July 17, 1996, and after initial information indicated that all communications from TWA Flight 800 were normal, and that no distress calls were issued, the FBI, as well as most of the world, believed that there was a possibility that this tragedy was the work of criminals or terrorists.
As you are aware, in the first few hours following this tragedy, over 100 individuals reported seeing events in the sky associated with TWA Flight 800. That is why the FBI and the law enforcement team acted and acted quickly to begin a massive, thorough criminal investigation. If there was ever a chance that this tragedy was criminal, it was critical that the proper investigation take place immediately. From the beginning, the FBI's investigative purpose has been to reach what I have called in the past critical mass to gather sufficient evidence to allow us to state with a high degree of certainty whether this tragedy was the result of a criminal act, and if so, determine who was responsible and bring them to justice.
Our efforts have been and continue to be focused on two primary criminal theories, that the destruction of Flight 800 was the result of a bomb placed on the aircraft or a missile fired at it. The FBI's investigation has been one of the most massive, thorough, sophisticated and costly ever conducted by our agency. The FBI has expended tends of thousands of hours of agent resources participating in body recovery operations, wreckage recovery, storage, scientific examination and analysis by FBI scientists as well as outside experts.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Part of this effort has been the largest reconstruction of an aircraft ever undertaken. To date, the FBI has conducted over 7,000 interviews. Our investigation has included interviews of ground crews and mechanics in New York and Athens, passengers and crew who were on the flight from Athens to New York that preceded Flight 800, hundreds of witnesses on Long Island and surrounding areas, witnesses on other aircraft who observed the explosion, and military personnel.
A review of information available from intelligence assets, tracking of all air and water-going vessels in the area at the time of the explosion, followed by appropriate interviews and tracing of all reports of stolen boats, stolen motor vehicles and suspicious incidents during the period of time preceding and after the tragedy, and many, many other investigative techniques. In short, our investigative efforts have been exhaustive.
All of our efforts to date have failed to uncover any credible evidence that the loss of Flight 800 was the result of a criminal act. Let me reiterate something I told the committee in the briefing several months ago, and which I have publicly stated. Flight 800 was definitely not brought down by friendly fire. That is, no missile or any other action by the military and naval forces of the United States caused this tragedy.
We continue to examine the possibility that the aircraft was destroyed by a bomb, a terrorist missile or other criminal act. Each day, we move closer to completing leads and other lines of inquiry seeking to close out theories and resolve the questions of possible criminal activity.
We have not reached the end of our investigative process. And the theories of a bomb or terrorist missile, along with the possibility of mechanical failure, are still on the board.
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Barring some new disclosure of information, we are now in the final phase of that investigation. We have several lines of inquiry or action items left to complete so that we can ensure that we have covered every base, and that the families of the victims and the American people will be confident that our ultimate determination is based on the most thorough, most exhaustive, finest investigation that the FBI and the law enforcement team can produce.
For example, we've identified, cataloged and conducted a close scientific examination with NTSB of almost 200 holes, slits, punctures, penetrations, identified in the reconstructed areas of the airplane. We expect that the metallurgy analysis and our other remaining leads may be completed as early as 60 to 90 days from today. We don't know that for sure.
However, as I stated earlier, none of the analyses completed to date has uncovered any evidence whatsoever of a crime.
In the next 60 days, we expect to have the final results of a sophisticated analysis of the statements of witnesses who reported seeing what has generally been characterized as something ascending into the sky followed by an explosion. This analysis, which includes correlation of what the witnesses saw, what they heard, and their locations with known radar trackings of the aircraft, is extremely detailed and has involved a number of re-interviews. When completed, we believe this analysis will provide a clearer understanding of these critical eyewitness observations.
Mr. Chairman, throughout this entire investigation, the cooperation between the FBI, NTSB, the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the FAA, the ATF, State and local agencies and many, many other members of the law enforcement team has been nothing but superb. In my entire career in law enforcement, coming up on 28 years, I have worked many, many major investigations involving multiple agencies.
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And I can tell you, Mr. Chairman and the other members of the committee, that I have never seen a case of this significance with this many agencies where the cooperation, professionalism and can-do attitude was better displayed. The American people can be proud of the dedicated men and women that have labored for almost 1 year, from all the agencies and organizations, with one idea in mind, and that is to find the cause of this horrendous, horrendous tragedy.
To sum up, Mr. Chairman, we have a number of significant investigative scientific and analytical initiatives which we hope to complete within the next 60 to 90 days. The FBI's exhaustive investigative efforts have not uncovered any evidence that the destruction of Flight 800 resulted from a criminal act. It's critically important, I believe, that the investigative team representing the question, was this or wasn't it a criminal act, be methodical, be redundant, look at every possibility no matter how remote. And that's the stage we're in now.
Can you imagine if we looked at this accident and looked at what we normally see, unfortunately, or what we would expect to see and did not look over and over and over again at every possibility before we made a decision, and later on found out that it was a very sophisticated criminal act. I think myself, personally, I'd be terribly embarrassed, as would the thousands of other people that worked on this.
So that is why we're taking the time, that is why we're doing the hundreds and hundreds of things that we need to do to reach the conclusion. We're doing it as fast as we can, but we're not going to meet some artificial deadline. We're going to do what we have to do. And when we have that answer, we'll say so.
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So I thank you very, very much for your time and for your support, and for having us here today. And I'd be happy to answer any questions at the appropriate time.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Kallstrom. I know that everything looks easy from a distance. This has certainly been a difficult inquiry for the NTSB, the FBI and all persons concerned with it.
Mr. GARDNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I have a written statement that I've already submitted for the record. I'd like to summarize that in view of the many comments already made today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Your full statement will be placed in the record.
Mr. GARDNER. Thank you, sir.
First I'd like to point out at the start the tremendous effort and echo the comments already made by the many, many dedicated people in the many agencies involved in the investigation of this accident. The NTSB has worked very diligently to solve this accident, to help find ways to make this accident not happen again, and reduce the probability of other accidents happening. The FAA has worked very hard to support the NTSB in its role of investigating this accident.
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I'd like to point out some of the things that the people in the FAA have been doing in their work to support the Board in the investigation of this accident. I was not in this job at the time of the accident. But at that time, along with Chairman Hall and others, people in my organization were notified of the accident.
And Tom McSweeny, who you'll meet later on this morning, will be with me in the question period, his organization met early the next morning, 4:15 Seattle time, to begin their work to help the Board determine the cause. In the first few months of the investigation, we had at least 100 people or more spend well over 13,000 hours supporting the Board in their investigation of this accident.
We did a thorough review of the 747, both the design certification criteria that had been gone through at the beginning of manufacturing of the airplane, as well as the history of the airplane, and all the service bulletins and design changes that had been made, in the hopes of finding some clues that might lead us to the cause of this accident. They did find some areas of concern, and gave those areas of concern to the Board as possible scenarios that might have caused this accident for the Board to continue to investigate.
We also have in the FAA the responsibility of what we call continued airworthiness. What that means is the fleet is out there today, 35,000 commercial flights flying today, flying tomorrow, and the next day. And we have a responsibility to our customers, the American people, to make sure that those aircraft meet the very high levels of standards of safety that we demand from them.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I have an organization of people that work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, very dedicated people, to ensure that we've got the safest air transportation system in the world, and that we make it safer when we can.
So as part of this investigation and part of that responsibility, when we do discover, and when the Board comes up with possible scenarios, we look at those and say, even if we don't know those are the cause of this accident, could they cause an accident? And we've taken steps in a couple of areas that are in my statement to actually look at those causes and actually took some preventive measures, to ensure that those particular causes, whether or not they were the specific cause of this accident, will not cause future accidents.
Of course, the Board did give us the recommendations in December, as has been discussed. We take those recommendations very seriously. Back in the 1970s, the FAA looked very hard, did a lot of research, in the hopes of coming up with techniques that would reduce the possibility of flammable vapors in aircraft fuel tanks. A lot of work was done. However, at the conclusion of that work, we could not come up with some viable solutions for the commercial aviation industry.
In the nearly 100 years of aviation, we have lived with flammable vapors and fuel tanks, just as we do in the fuel tanks of our cars and in the heating systems in our homes. So we have had the requirement to eliminate ignition sources for some time. We worked very hard to do that, and I think when you look at history, with the Board's work in investigating past accidents in the support of the FAA, we have learned a lot of lessons, and have made great strides in reducing the ignition sources in fuel tanks.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC TWA 800 is, however, a stark reality of the fact that we have not eliminated them all.
The Board and the FAA both agree, and I admit, with strong encouragement from the Board that caused me to understand that it's time to re-look to see if it is, with the new technologies and new knowledge we have gained over the recent years, possible to reduce and/or eliminate flammable vapors in fuel tanks. Chairman Hall has already briefed you on a lot of the work that is going on under their leadership to look at the investigation and technologies in flight tests to determine specific characteristics of fuel.
We have our request for comments out in the Federal Register in April, asking all the experts in the world to come up with some techniques to solve the issue of flammable vapors. Those comments are due to us on August 1st.
As Chairman Hall has mentioned, we are working very hard with the Board on these recommendations, and I think on most of them, they agree that we are doing good work in supporting them and the efforts on our own to solve these problems.
There are some very few specific short term recommendations the Board asked us to look at, specific procedures that could be put in in the near term that would eliminate or reduce these volatile vapors. We have looked very hard at those procedures. Some we had actually looked at back as early as last October. Unfortunately, we have not come up with any procedures to date that, based on the technical data we have to date, show us that we could reduce the flammable vapors in the tanks.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There is a small disagreement, it's a technical disagreement within the FAA and the Board, and I think Chairman Hall has characterized it appropriately. It is not a sign of a breakdown in relationships between the Board and the FAA. It is a technical disagreement among technical people.
Chairman Hall has a lot of very highly qualified, dedicated technical people on his staff, as I do as well. And sometimes we disagree. And we are continuing to gather data to help us work together to find out, are there some good technical solutions to these problems that we face.
So in summary, I'd like to echo the words said, that there is a lot of effort going on by a lot of people in a lot of organizations who are very dedicated to solving this accident, so that we can ensure that we can prevent this accident from happening again, and future accidents, of any cause.
And I share the frustration, and my people share the frustration that I know the NTSB shares, and all of industry, and all the American public, and particularly I think the frustration of the families and loved ones of those who died in TWA 800, who really want to know what caused this accident, so we can get closure on this particular event and ensure that it doesn't happen again.
And I'll look forward to questions later, sir.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Gardner.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Lipinski?
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, I want to say that I think that the FBI and the NTSB and the FAA really have worked very, very long, very hard, very diligently on this accident. And it's unfortunate that in the media we have had some apparent differences of opinion between the FAA and the NTSB. But I think that is bound to happen when you are working on an issue such as this, and you are working as long and as hard as you are on it.
I really want to compliment the three agencies here for the work that they have done. I have read over a great deal of information pertaining to this particular accident, and it is very frustrating to me that as of yet, we still don't have an absolute, positive, concrete answer for why this accident occurred.
And I only do it sporadically. Those of you who are working on it day in and day out and putting in all this time and energy, you really have to be very frustrated with the fact that we have not conclusively come up with a concrete answer that we are all looking for. It certainly has to be very, very disappointing to the family members of the victims of this crash, also.
I do have confidence that in the very near future, we will come up with why this accident occurred.
But I do have some questions that I would like to ask at this particular time. Mr. Gardner, you stated that the technical data available to the FAA indicates that additional fuel will not eliminate the volatile fumes that are said to be the cause of the TWA accident. In addition, you state that there is a significant doubt that any amount of fuel added to the center fuel tank, as recommended by the Board, that's the NTSB, would lower the temperature to the point that no explosion would occur.
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On what do you base this opinion?
Mr. GARDNER. The opinion is based on our technical analysis of the available fuel flammability data that we have. It has been in handbooks for several years. I might add that last October when I first took this job, then-Administrator David Hinson had looked at some, had data based on a Boeing flight test in August that indicated that we might be able to add an amount of fuel to the tank to prevent the explosive vapors.
He asked me to find out what that amount was. I of course tasked Tom McSweeny, who I have here with me now, and his team in Seattle to determine that amount. The answer they came back with is there is no amount with which we can do that, when you look at the fuel flammability charts. The lower explosive limit of temperature is lower than we can get the fuel. I apologize, sir, this is, I can go into a lot more detail if you'd like me to, on an understanding
Mr. LIPINSKI. I'd appreciate if you'd go into a little more detail. Because so far, what you've told me, I've read in other places. But I'd have to tell you, in all candor, I still don't understand it. So I'd appreciate it if you would go into a little more. I see you have a chart there, maybe the chart will help us.
Mr. GARDNER. Let me try to first of all
Mr. LIPINSKI. If you want anyone else to explain it, it's fine.
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Mr. GARDNER. I can address the chart, sir, and I will do it.
Before I get to the chart, let me explain, hopefully very briefly, and in terms that you can all understand, because I tried to develop it in terms that I can understand, the characteristics of fuel vapors. First of all, I learned a long time ago that for the fuel triangle, you need three things, you need fuel, you need oxygen, you need heat.
In the case of an explosion in a fuel tank, the fuel and the oxygen are represented by the fuel vapors in the tank. Then the heat is an ignition source, in this case.
For those fuel vapors to be flammable, there needs to be a certain ratio of fuel molecules to oxygen molecules. The way I kind of try to think of that is when I was a Boy Scout and went camping, and was taught how to make campfires out in the field, I knew that I could not take a whole bunch of big logs and stick them in the fire pit and put a match to it and expect it to work. That's kind of like having too much fuel molecules in the vapor. We call that fuel-rich, too rich.
On the other hand, I can't take some little twigs and just scatter them around the campfire floor and just light one of the twigs and expect the fire to go. That's the same thing as if I don't have enough fuel molecules, in the vapor to keep igniting each other. That's called too lean of a mixture.
We do the same things in our cars when we tune the fuel injectors and the carburetors, you want the right amount, you don't want it too lean or too rich, or your car doesn't work.
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That amount of mixture, when it's in a fuel tank, is affected by the temperature in the tank. You can think of it this way. If I have a puddle of water out in the street, and it's on a cold day, that water takes a long time to evaporate. If it's a hot day, it evaporates much quicker.
So the hotter the fuel, the more fuel molecules get up into vapor. When I wash the dishes and I rinse them, I like to rinse them in hot water, because they dry quicker, and I don't have as much time drying with a towel. Same kind of principle.
So there is a range of temperatures at which a fuel tank will have explosive vapors, if the right amount of fuel molecules are with the oxygen molecules that will allow an explosion to occur. So there's a temperature range.
There's another effect, which is altitude, on that temperature range. You notice as you boil water, as you go up altitude, the temperature at which the water boils is lower. That's why you have to cook things longer if you're cooking them by boiling at high altitude, because the temperature's not as high.
The same effect with that fuel range in fuel, as I go to altitude, that temperature range gets cooler. And there's one more effect, and hang in with me, please, if I take that fuel tank at any given temperature, and say it's too cold to have enough molecules up in the vapor to be flammable, it's below the lean fuel ratio limit, but if I take that tank and shake it up, more molecules are going to get out of the liquid into the vapor, and therefore the mixture will be enriched. So by shaking it, I lower that cold temperature where it's too lean.
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I hope that's a good basis.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I think that's fantastic. Now, if we could replay that tape one more time maybe I could understand it all.
Mr. LIPINSKI. But I understood a great deal of it, and I very much appreciate your explaining it to me and everyone else here who's interested in it.
You were going to say something else?
Mr. GARDNER. Well, in this chart is a graphical portrayal of that, of what I just tried to explain to you. We have the two solid lines that represent the lower, lean limit, and the rich limit, if my tank is sitting still. You can see there's a wide range down at the bottom which actually is in Centigrade, but it starts there at about 110 degrees Fahrenheit and goes up to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a static tank of fuel on the ground.
As you go up in altitude, you can see those lines slope to the left. The dashed line over to the left represents how much that lower limit can move to the left in the colder temperatures if I have vibrations in the tank, which obviously occurs when you're flying airplanes around.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPINSKI. I was studying that chart yesterday, and if I had had your explanation yesterday I may have been able to understand that chart on my own. But I never did come to any concrete understanding of that chart in studying it yesterday. I almost called Mr. Aviation, Mr. Oberstar, to explain it to me.
Mr. Hall, how do you respond to this assertion, if the FAA technical data is accurate, would the NTSB's recommendations prevent an accident like TWA 800? Do you have enough data to know for sure?
Mr. HALL. Mr. Lipinski, let me make a couple of general comments, and then I will turn it to Dr. Loeb to get into more technical areas. First of all, as I said at the beginning, I have a great deal of respect for the FAA. And when we work with them together on major aviation accidents, there are pressures that are put on both organizations.
However, as Congress presently has it structured under statute, we are the lead agency and responsible for the investigation of major aviation accidents. Our concern with this discussion that was just held, and I have with me Dr. Merritt Birky, who is the head of the fire and explosive unit that is the group that worked in charge of this area in the investigation, all this information that is being discussed was discussed internally within the FAA and was not discussed as part of the investigation.
I do not know whether the FAA itself reached outside its own agency. One of the purposes, of course, of having the NTSB, as the independent agency in charge of the investigation, is to ensure that neither the manufacturer or the operator, the regulator, or the certificator of a particular product are the ones investigating themselves when an accident occurs. Therefore, I did have concern, and I had expressed that in a conversation this week with Secretary Slater, with the procedures that were followed in this particular matter that was just discussed.
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Now, in addition to that, Dr. Loeb has, and our technical people, Mr. Birky and Mr. Clark and Dr. Ellingstad, who are with me, have a technical difference of opinion which we would appreciate if you would give us the time to express that technical disagreement. My difficulty here, which I have expressed, and I think is understood, is that my responsibility to this Chairman, to this Congress, to this committee, is that we independently are in charge of this investigation, and things in connection with this investigation are done in coordination with our agency.
Dr. LOEB. As Guy Gardner has indicated, this chart does give you a picture of when a hypothetical fuel, and in this particular case we're talking about Jet A, will become explosive. The temperature conditions and altitude conditions under which it will become explosive in two possible ranges. One is the static range, and then you can move to lower temperatures at a given altitude if you get a dynamic condition, and that is, if you get vibration in the tank.
We've known this for a while. There are a couple of problems. One is that this chart is based on data that were produced in the 1970s. Jet A fuel is not Jet A fuel, even more so than some other fuels. Part of what we are doing at Cal Tech and the University of Nevada Reno is to do tests to determine what current Jet A is, and in specific, the fuel at Athens and the fuel at JFK, where they would fall in this chart, where in the range.
And they're probably not going to fall terribly differently on the static end.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPINSKI. Could I just interrupt you for one second? I hate to do this, but the characteristics of jet fuel I understand change from batch to batch. I assume that makes the situation that we are discussing here much more difficult to resolve.
The question that I have, and you don't have to answer it right now, but I'd like you to answer it when you finish your explanation, or anyone, is why can't we get a real standard on jet fuel?
Dr. LOEB. I'll answer the first part of it, yes, it makes it much more difficult, and it's not just batch to batch, but it's the ingredients that happen to be in any given batch, additives, if they are there, like anti-static additives, or other additives, contamination, if there is any water in it or other materials in it, all of these things make a difference.
As to why we can't get a standard, I'll let the regulatory agency, Guy Gardner, address that.
Just a point I would like to make, two points. One is, if you're in the static range, then very clearly, the recommendations we made would have most likely eliminated the TWA accident and also probably the Philippines 737 accident, which was another center fuel tank accident. I think our experts in fuels, the Ph.D.s that we have who spend their lives doing this, agree with us on that part of it.
One of the issues that has been raised is if you get into the dynamic level. Let me say a couple of other things. Very little is known in a dispositive way about what we're talking right now. And I want that point to be made, because we are spending large sums of money doing research in laboratories, we're going to do explosive tests, we are doing flight tests that are beginning this week and will probably take place, the actual flights, at the end of the week, to learn more about Jet A fuel, about how fuel tanks behave, temperatures and all of the things that we need to know to really resolve this problem.
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But having said that, if you are in the static range, there is a little doubt that adding additional fuel would have precluded this particular accident. Whether it would create another accident at a higher altitude, I don't know, but we'll go into that in a second.
The disagreement, as I understand it, is over the dynamic range. We are in the process, during the flight tests that we're going to be doing at the end of this week, we have instrumented the fuel tank of the 747 that will be flown to determine the vibrational characteristics of the tank.
Our calculations and what we have estimated so far, not having the flight test data, is, that you cannot get into the dynamic range based on experimental data that we have on the fuels and on what it would take to actually produce this lower range without probably destroying structurally the fuel tank.
Mr. ELLINGSTAD. If I might add to what Dr. Loeb has said, we're also talking about a different mechanism of ignition in the dynamic versus the static ranges of these fuels. Another issue is that we have relatively little information here in terms of the particular conditions that existed in the tank of TWA 800 and the importance of the flight test, as Dr. Loeb has indicated, is very critical in terms of determining that.
You had raised the question of differences in compositions of fuel from batch to batch. Unfortunately, it's even more complicated, because within a particular batch of fuel, there's differences in compositions dependent on, how full the tank is, and the ratio of vapor to liquid. And there's a function of temperature. So the kinds of hydrocarbons that come off and that are available for ignition vary as a function of altitude, as a function of temperature. And certainly, we have reason to believe that a very important part of this problem is the static explosive limit of Jet A fuel. We believe that the alteration of the volume of fuel in that tank would affect that parameter, very importantly.
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Dr. LOEB. Yes, let me touch on that issue that Dr. Ellingstad just raised, which is important, and that is, the energy levels. What it takes to produce an explosion in this tank is very simple. You need an explosive vapor in the ullage above the fuel, above the liquid fuel. That requires temperature and altitude conditions.
The second thing you need is energy. You need something that will ignite the vapor, once it's in a flammable range.
Now, in the dynamic conditions that I was talking about, which we think probably won't exist, and we won't know that until these flight tests are taken, however, if you get into the dynamic range, what happens is you get a splashing and a frothing of the liquid fuel, you get a misting and then you get bubbles coming up from which the air vapor, you can produce a vapor, but most importantly, what you produce is a mist.
To ignite that takes more energy than to ignite the vapor. We are right now having a very difficult time finding sufficient energy to ignite the vapor, let alone a mist. We think it is much more likely that if there was an ignition, which we believe did take place, it existed in the vapor and not in a mist. So we have two reasons for believing scientifically that it is not likely you will get into the dynamic conditions. And I think that really is at the heart of the difference between the two agencies.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I thank you very, very much.
Mr. Gardner, we'll wait until my next round and you can tell me about the standard on the jet fuel. Because my time has expired, has been far exceeded. Is there anything you want to say, though, in conclusion, before I give my time back to the Chairman here?
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Mr. GARDNER. No, sir, I think that expresses our technical disagreement.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Lipinski.
Mr. BLUNT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Gardner, on that same issue, not to talk about the combustibility of fuel or anything, don't you add another element of risk in when you begin to fuel loaded planes with frequency? Is that a totally safe thing to do, to bring the fuel truck out to do the fueling right there with a plane loaded full of people?
Mr. GARDNER. Yes, sir, that does happen out there in the fleet, particularly when you look at the hubs that have the very short turnarounds. The refueling procedures are designed to be safe, so as not to cause any dangers to the passengers on board the airplane.
Mr. BLUNT. So you have no record of ground refueling accidents that we'd need to be concerned about, if you did begin to cool off the fuel?
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GARDNER. There have been accidents. I think one of the ones that is in the notice that was referred to earlier, in the Philippines, was actually due to the ground refueling equipment. No, that one wasn't. There have been ignition sources by ground.
Mr. BLUNT. I'm assuming some analysis of that would be an important part of deciding whether that would become standard procedure or not, whether there is more chance of fueling accidents than there are of these kind of explosive accidents, of planes already full of people, already on the ground, all the equipment running, air conditioners and other things, right at the point where other people are fueling.
Dr. LOEB. You're absolutely correct about that. That's a very real issue. And we've looked into it.
Fortunately for the American flying public, the FAA has done a very good job addressing that issue. There have been ground refueling accidents in which the fuel tanks have exploded with very serious consequences, airplanes destroyed. Two things have been done to rectify the problem. One is, of course, that the refueling equipment is fully grounded and bonded so that you can't get that, and second of all, you're bottom loading the airplane, the fuel up, so that you're not splashing it down on the top, creating the static.
So the FAA has indeed addressed that particular problem, and we have not seen those accidents in years.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BLUNT. Dr. Loeb, you've been widely quoted, I think, saying that if the recommendations you made last December had been in place a year ago, that the disaster in Flight 800 would not have happened. Was that a misquote or do you really believe that?
Dr. LOEB. That is not a misquote. That is an accurate statement. I believe that. The team that is behind me believes that. I don't do these things out of the top of my head. I base them on what our investigators state. And our investigators are backed up by the leading fuels expert, the leading static experts in the country.
We are working with Cal Tech, the University of Nevada, Los Alamos, Sandia, Oak Ridge, and a whole host of other laboratories that are behind us doing work daily. And that is in fact what we believe. We believe that this particular accident would not have occurred if the tank had had fuel.
Mr. BLUNT. Even though you can't say with certainty why the accident occurred, you can say that it wouldn't have occurred if these had been in place?
Dr. LOEB. I think that is what is at the heart of our recommendations. And let me try to go into that just slightly.
Mr. BLUNT. Just slightly. I don't want to take a whole lot of time here.
Dr. LOEB. I think that is the heart. There are two things again, ignition and energy, and an explosive vapor. The FAA has taken as a part of its certification process an acceptance of an explosive vapor, and an elimination, an engineering out, of the potential ignition sources. We are saying right now, after the Philippine Airlines accident, in which we did not determine dispositively the ignition source, we came up with two possibilities, one having to do with the electrical wiring that came out because the airplane had had new logo lights put on, and the second thing was the float switch in the fuel tank. We were not able to determine absolutely what happened.
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We are not able to tell you right now absolutely what ignited the vapors in this tank. Therefore, the conclusion is, to engineer out the ignition sources is a deficient concept. It isn't working. We need to do both that and eliminate the explosive vapor if we are going to have any certainty that we can eliminate these kinds of accidents.
Mr. BLUNT. Mr. Hall, on that same topic of recommendations, in December when the recommendations were made, there were several stories, including a widely circulated AP story where folks at your organization were quoted as saying that American planes were flying time bombs and would continue to be if your recommendations weren't taken. Did you ever challenge that characterization of air travel, or did somebody at NTSB say that?
Mr. HALL. Well, Congressman, I would have, that's the first I've heard of that, but I certainly would have challenged that.
Mr. BLUNT. It was an AP story where NTSB folks said that U.S. airliners were flying bombs, I believe. I'll verify that myself.
Mr. HALL. Well, Congressman, as you know and I know, this accident was the number one news story in 1996. And one of the heartburns in this is trying to provide responsible access to the media in a responsible fashion. Clearly, if I had seen that and read that and was aware of it, I would have done everything we could to refute it. I have never heard any of our staff say anything like that, and I'm just not familiar with it, sir.
Mr. BLUNT. So you would have challenged that if you had seen it?
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Mr. HALL. Yes, sir.
Mr. BLUNT. And that is not your position?
Mr. HALL. Yes, sir.
Mr. BLUNT. Okay.
Mr. Chairman, I have some other questions, but I'll get to them later. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Again, I want to compliment both NTSB and the FAA, Boeing and TWA on the extraordinary efforts that have been made to determine the probable cause of this tragedy. An enormous amount of human effort has been made, and a good deal of progress has been achieved.
But I think in part, the hearing today is to resolve the spat that appears to have occurred in the public domain between these two premier entities, for both of whom I have enormous respect and great affection and great appreciation for the contributions they have made to aviation safety.
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On this particular issue, the center fuel tank, an examination of the tank itself, in which I participated with Board Member Francis at East Moriches last summer, indicated bowing out of the tank on several sides and the top and blackened surface from an explosion. Also at that point, the engines had been retrieved and investigated, and there was no indication of heat-seeking missile that would have struck the engines and blown them up. That's clearly ruled out.
We come down to how could this have happened, in the center fuel tank, there are two possible causes. Flammable vapors by themselves not a source of ignition, because if I understand the American Society of Testing and Materials Analysis and their standards established for jet fuel, or the entity that has established for the U.S. standards for jet fuel, I think that's the answer to the question Mr. Lipinski asked earlier, that the auto-ignition temperature point is 450 degrees. Have you tested a tank, a center fuel tank, to determine whether the temperature can get up to 450 degrees and have an auto-ignition?
Dr. LOEB. Mr. Congressman, we are doing those kinds of tests currently at Cal Tech and at the University of Nevada at Reno. We are doing precisely those kinds of things.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Gardner, has FAA conducted any such tests?
Mr. GARDNER. Sir, I'd like to turn it over to Tom McSweeny, as to the certification requirements for airplane design. And certainly that is one of those requirements.
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Mr. MCSWEENY. One of our requirements is specifically addressed at auto-ignition and to make sure it does not occur. For instance, in the area directly underneath the tank, where you have the air conditioning units, the temperature coming in from the engines there is about 200 degrees. We have set that as a limit, because we want to be well below the auto-ignition temperature, should a leak from the tank get into that fairly closed area.
So we specifically look at auto-ignition and design it out of the aircraft when we certify it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And that's the reason for the vents from the center fuel tank. And from the state of the investigation last summer, there was no indication that any of the vents from the center fuel tank were blocked, is that correct?
Dr. LOEB. No, we have no indication that the vents were blocked.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That's fine, I just want to establish that. So now we have to come down to, given the heat packs for the air conditioning units and the probability that there was some heating of the fuel, that you would have flammable vapors in the tank. Now you have to find an ignition source.
If you look at the 13 military non-combat fuel tank explosion experiences, going back to the 1970, of that number, 6 were attributed to fuel pump malfunction, 5 to electric arcing, 1 to lightning and another to pump wires. If you look at the 13 commercial incidents, going back to 1959, 6 occurred in the course of ground fueling and ground refueling and maintenance, associated with an electrostatic charge established. And another case of lightning, and then of course, the TWA 800 has not been determined.
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It seems to me the response of FAA over all this time have been to eliminate or reduce ignition source, and the focus of the NTSB recommendations in the aftermath of TWA 800 has been on reducing or eliminating or controlling or, as it's called, inerting the flammable vapors. It seems to me your two agencies should not be having a ''hissy fit'' over this. You ought to get together and settle it.
And the testimony that was very, very thoughtful and scientifically set forth by Mr. Hall says, we believe more can be done to reduce the possibility of another fuel tank explosion. The probability is already very low. But if it might be made lower without significant cost, do you believe that effort should be made? Have you determined that the probability can be made lower without significant cost?
Mr. HALL. First, Congressman, if I could, I'd ask Dr. Birky, who is more our expert on auto-ignition to comment, then Dr. Loeb will specifically answer, or Mr. Gardner, that question.
Mr. BIRKY. Well, as we understand it, presently the auto-ignition temperature of that fuel is in the order of what you said, about 400 degrees. We have no evidence, as was pointed out by Mr. Gardner and Mr. McSweeny, the temperature under that tank is considerably below that. And the surface temperatures that have been measured to date of commercial aircraft in that area would indicate, that's correct, you cannot get the temperature high enough in the tank to have auto-ignition of that fuel.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I commend the Board for having gone back to Greece and obtained samples of the fuel that was loaded aboard that aircraft and testing that fuel. Because that fuel probably conformed to the British standard rather than the U.S. standard for jet fuel on board aircraft, and could well have been a high volatility rather than the low volatility fuel used in U.S. aircraft, correct?
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Mr. BIRKY. Well, there is a bit of a difference in the volatility of the Athens fuel versus the U.S. fuel, but it's not very different in terms of flammability. It turned out to be roughly about 114 degrees Fahrenheit versus about 125 degrees Fahrenheit. And the flash point, or the auto-ignition point, would not be much different than what we have in this country.
Mr. OBERSTAR. So now, the aircraft has taken off, and there would be some agitation of the remaining fuel in the center fuel tank, and there's a presumption that, there was a presumption in the past that agitation would have the effect of possibly lowering explosive quality of the fuel. But testing has indicated that the flash point could be lowered by tank agitation. Is that correct, Mr. Loeb?
Dr. LOEB. That is correct. But Dr. Birky may want to add to that.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Well, I don't have a lot of time. The Chairman is being very generous with this time. I'm trying to get to, who is doing the right thing. I think both agencies are trying to do the right thing. You're both trying to get to the right point.
Six events since 1959 in commercial airliners occurred on the ground during refueling due to electrostatic charge, or at least electrostatic charge as a contributing factor. It seems to me that the thrust of FAA regulatory action has been to deal with the ignition source over all these years. And the recommendation made by the Board in the aftermath of TWA 800 has been to focus on actions to eliminate or reduce the flammability of vapors in the tank.
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Now, what caused FAA not to act on that recommendation?
Mr. GARDNER. It has been portrayed that the Board is looking at flammable vapors and the FAA is looking at ignition sources. I would like to clear that up. The Board and the FAA are both looking at both.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I believe that. I understand that. I'm just talking about emphasis.
Mr. GARDNER. I think we emphasize both. Based on the technologies of the past, we tried to find methods to eliminate the vapors. And we were unsuccessful. That's why we have had such a fierce look at eliminating the ignition source.
The probability of an explosion is based on the probability of there being flammable vapors times the probability there's an ignition source. Up to this point in history, there are flammable vapors. Probability is one. So we try to make the ignition source incredibly small, which I think recent history, prior to TWA 800, and even since, shows that that probability is small, although it's not zero, and that unfortunately is what resulted in the TWA 800 explosion.
So that's a small number. Ten to the minus eight, whatever the statisticians might call that number. If we can just make the probability of the fuel tank explosion, fuel vapors being there, one-tenth of what it is, that will take that overall number, ten to the minus eight, and make it ten to the minus nine, a step in safety.
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And we're looking at that, with the Board, I think, to make both of those numbers as small as we can.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Is experience from 707s, 727s, 737s, DC8s transferrable to 747s in the center fuel tank experience? There have been only two 747 center fuel tank incidents, no, including this one. There are only two 747 incidents, one was an Iranian military tanker struck by lightning, the center tank exploded, and then TWA 800.
Dr. LOEB. That was a main tank explosion.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Main tank explosion, yes. So all the other experiences, has the FAA just decided that fuel tank experience on other types and model of aircraft are different from 747s?
Mr. GARDNER. Let me have Tom McSweeny answer. I think he understands your question better than I do. Let me say that the Board's recommendations cover all the aircraft out there, and we will be investigating ways, to not just do 747s, although we're focusing on them, but we're looking at the entire fleet of commercial aviation.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That will be my last question. You've been very generous, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. MCSWEENY. The data that you have I'm sure is from our notice. And that data was generated within a week or a week and a half of the accident. We spent a lot of time looking at it.
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One of the things that is important when analyzing that data is the military experience. Until recently, the military had JT4, a far more volatile fuel. Another important thing is, when you look at some of the accident reports, where they talk about fuel pumps being a problem, you will find out that the fuel pump that was put in the airplane was different than the fuel pump that the airplane was delivered with. It was an after-market breakout fuel pump that was designed differently, was protected differently.
Mr. OBERSTAR. In each of the six incidents?
Mr. MCSWEENY. I don't know about all six of them, but I can remember two or three where that was in fact the case. In fact, there was one fairly recently in Milwaukee where that was the case. And the protection that was designed into those pumps for the civilian market was for some reason not there.
But as far as the transferability of the data, that's an important point and one we have looked at. The McDonnell Douglas products do not have air conditioning units underneath the center fuel tanks. Boeing products do, and most Airbus products do. So there is some transferability there.
One of the things we noticed when we first looked at that data was a striking absence of McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed Airplanes from that list. And we did a thorough analysis of all the parameters of fuel tanks, fuel lines, wires and tanks, everything that would go into a tank or attach to a tank between McDonnell Douglas, for instance, and Boeing and Airbus, to see if there was a little gem of design philosophy that was maybe present with one manufacturer that the other manufacturer had engineered out.
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We since have looked at that two or three times, and we really haven't seen a huge difference. All the manufacturers seem to be using common engineering, well understood practices.
Mr. OBERSTAR. But in fact the two, the three Douglas aircraft incidents, two were doing maintenance, when some ignition source was caught by the maintenance practice.
I thank you very, very much, and I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to pursue this line of questioning. I will have other questions later.
Mr. DUNCAN. It was very helpful, Mr. Oberstar. Mr. Ewing.
Mr. EWING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the gentlemen coming here and the family members coming here and you having this hearing. I don't have specific questions, because much of this information we have read and heard before.
But I think it's important that this committee stay on top of this issue and on the safety issues involved here, and I just thank all the participants for their participation here today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
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Mr. BOSWELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the explanation of vapor and all that you went through. That was extremely well done.
The ignition source, and I think that Mr. McSweeny probably answered my question, I've been mulling around this morning a little bit. We talked about the vapor, the volatility, the static source of energy, and then the question came to my mind as I thought about the tank and the mounting of the fuel pump, and have you eliminated any possibility of an arc? Does that pump stay on, does it kick on and off, how does it operate in that particular aircraft?
Mr. GARDNER. In the FAA, we recognize the primary responsibility for accident investgation is the NTSB's. We support them and try to give them all the knowledge that we can generate in that investigation.
I always prefer that the NTSB answer questions specifically about that part of the investigation.
Mr. BOSWELL. That's fine.
Dr. LOEB. There were three fuel pumps that are associated with the center wing tank, one scavenge pump and two jettison pumps. The jettisoned pumps we have recovered, done tests on them extensively through the party system with the FAA participating, and we see no indication that they were in any way a player in the accident. We have yet to recover and will not recover the scavenge pump.
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However, to answer the question that you asked directly, the scavenge pump, there would have been no reason for it to be on. We do not have dispositive evidence, but we have very suggestive evidence that it was off. We have not yet eliminated it as a possibility of being the ignition source.
However, the evidence seems to suggest that it was not on.
Mr. BOSWELL. I appreciate your saying that, and that early in the flight, with the fuel load at that time, I would understand you wouldn't expect it be on. A tragic accident happened to a neighbor of mine, not in an airplane, but in a car. The night before, he had picked up some lawnmower gasoline, did not fill the tank full, set it in his car, it had set overnight and it vaporized.
Frosty morning, he got in the car and started down the street and decided to turn on his heater and defrosters. Of course, a little arc, no protection, and he had a tragic death. So the thought just occurred to me of the possibility of eliminating an arc, and I'm sure you do that early on, and that's what you're doing.
So at least to satisfy my curiosity I had to bring it up. Because that's all it would take to make it go. And if it could happen through a crack in the system aging or whatever, I don't know. But there are several things that could cause even a well-protected engineered switch over a period of time or so. So I was just concerned, to bring that up.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Mrs. Fowler.
Mrs. FOWLER. Thank you. I want to thank Chairman Duncan for allowing Congressman Barcia and myself to participate in today's hearing. I'm Tillie Fowler from Florida. And I thank my two colleagues here to step ahead of them for just a few moments here to get something on the record.
Congressman Barcia and I want to express our interest in the area of airframe wire safety standards. And my question is directed to Associate Administrator, Mr. Gardner, however, if Mr. Kallstrom wants to respond, then I would welcome his comments as well, and I'd just like your response for the record.
Mr. Gardner, on July 2nd, the Washington Post cited FAA officials suggesting that chase wires could have played a role in the TWA crash. The Post also reported that an inspection of electrical wiring inside early Boeing 747s could have caused explosions if that had been left undetected.
So even if faulty wiring turns out not to be the cause in this incident, it seems that we should be looking to raise our safety standards as it applies to wiring inside these planes. Now, I understand that FAA requirements for airframe wiring have not changed in 20 years. Yet the technology has advanced greatly in the meantime. There are several companies in this country that are producing a new generation of airframe wire that performs superior performance electrically and mechanically, and it's got virtually no flammability and smoke generation characteristics. And I understand the Defense Department has recognized and is using this new technology, but the private sector is lagging behind.
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So for the record, I hope you could answer whether we can expect that the FAA is going to take a more proactive role in moving industry toward safer wiring, especially in light of the revelations that faulty wiring is a prime suspect in this crash. And if my colleagues would grant unanimous consent for Congressman Barcia to do a follow-up on this, I would appreciate it, and then we would have our answers for the record.
Mr. DUNCAN. Go ahead, Mr. Barcia.
Mr. BARCIA. I thank the Chair and of course, the committee members, for their indulgence.
I would just like to echo the sentiment of the gentlelady from Florida, Congresswoman Fowler, and raise some additional concerns with regard to this issue. I first brought the composite wire issue to the attention of the FAA on September 19, 1996, when I asked then-Administrator Hinson during a Science Committee hearing to look into the technological advancements made in airframe wiring in light of the fact that the current regulations governing airframe wiring were written more than 20 years ago.
On March 13, 1997, I asked the FAA for an update on my original question during a Technology Subcommittee hearing, to which the FAA replied, and I quote, ''The wire industry is providing outstanding products to the airframe manufacturers, including hybrid composite wire insulation construction. The airframe manufacturers select the best wire type based upon their independent evaluations and installation practices.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The FAA believes that with regard to flammability and smoke, the choices that are being made for today's aircraft provide outstanding performance. To assist manufacturers in the selection of the best available firesafe aircraft wiring, the FAA has developed smoke and arc tracking test methods for incorporation into an upgraded aircraft material fire test handbook, which will be published within the next 6 months.''
While encouraged by this response, I am nevertheless concerned that an upgraded aircraft material fire test handbook would do little in addressing the safety issues recognized by the McDonnell Douglas and the FAA Fire Safety Section studies, in that such volunteer testing could make accurate wire testing either cost prohibitive or without appropriate supervision, would likely increase the possibility of human error.
It is my sincere hope that in light of the thoughtful comments made by Congresswoman Fowler, its approval of and incorporation into our Nation's military aircraft and the testimony received today, we can work together in addressing this very important issue.
[The information follows:]
In a recent study conducted by the FAA, it was confirmed that wiring with composite hybrid insulation is being used in the manufacture of the newest transport airplanes, such as the MD95, the B777 and the B737. Consequently, we believe no formal government requirement for the use of such wiring is necessary.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Barcia. And with those statements by Mrs. Fowler and Mr. Barcia, we'll proceed with the questioning by Mr. LaHood.
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Mr. LAHOOD. To all of the panelists, I surely can't appreciate all of the sophisticated information. But let me just speak if I can for the families of the deceased passengers. Mr. Hall or Mr. Kallstrom, either one of you or both of you, if you set aside all of the technology and the technical information and vapors and all of this stuff, Mr. Kallstrom, do you think there will ever be a day when you wake up and tell the American people what exactly happened on this flight?
Because I think in reality, when you set aside all the scientific information and all the other stuff, the relatives want to know. Will they ever know? Will you ever be able to tell them precisely what happened on this flight?
Mr. HALL. Congressman, I would like certainly Mr. Kallstrom to comment as well, let me say that the families of this flight are extremely important human beings. I am equally concerned about the families of U.S. Air Flight 427, and United Airlines Flight 585, both that are accidents that have occurred that we have had the responsibility to investigate that we have not been able to come up with a probable cause as of this date.
We continue to work on these investigations. As I mentioned to the Chairman, we're going to try to find a probable cause. Because we do everything we can, because we know that's the only way that in the minds of the families and many of the American people this issue will be put to rest.
But as Mr. Kallstrom alluded to, it's our responsibility to do this in a professional, thorough and methodical way, so that in the process, we're sure that we're not providing any misinformation or false hope or false answers to the American people that we have to go back and correct.
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So this has been very time-consuming, and frustrating. It took a long time to get the airplane out of the water and reconstructed. These tests that we're referring to this morning with vapors, and I identify with you, Congressman, I have no technical background, so I just try to follow it the best I can. But all these tests and things are very dangerous in themselves. Because we're looking at trying to understand how this explosion occurred and doing this work in laboratories and the flight test is dangerous in itself.
So I certainly hope so. And I think so, and I believe that given all the resources that this Congress, you know, we've spent some $27 million that has been appropriated to our agency, and we will have spent $30 million by October 1. By the support that we've received from this Congress, using all the best laboratories, facilities and minds we can find that we are going to find out the cause of TWA 800.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Kallstrom.
Mr. KALLSTROM. Mr. Congressman, let me also give you a non-technical answer. Let me give you an emotional answer.
Mr. LAHOOD. Good.
Mr. KALLSTROM. The investigators, the FBI agents, the police officers, the Coast Guard people, the people that brought the bodies ashore, the people that were there, the people that have the tragedy in their face, the people that related to this professionally and emotionally, everybody, wants the answer.
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We don't know the answer. Please understand, we don't know it and for some other reason we're not saying it. We don't quite know the answer yet, because we're not done with the process.
Now, my agency and all the law enforcement agencies that support me are changed with answering the question, was it criminal or wasn't it criminal. And we don't want to rush to judgment on that. We don't have that answer and are standing around waiting to have a good time to say it. We're doing everything humanly possible around the clock to make sure, in this world we live in today, with the tragedies we've seen before, when this happened that night, we had on trial in the southern district of New York, Ramzi Yousef and other co-conspirators for a plot hatched in the Philippines to blow up 11 wide body American flag carrying jumbo jets. A very sophisticated, different type of dastardly technology than we had seen before.
So the answer is, we couldn't agree with you more. We couldn't agree with the families more. We want that answer ourselves. If this was a criminal act, we don't want the cowards that did it to have one more hour, one more day, one more week or one more month, obviously. But the significance of standing up and making an opinion on whether this was or wasn't is so, in our view, important, that we have to be right. We have to measure ten times and cut once.
So believe me when I tell you, in fact, let me add one other thing. The FBI lost one of their very dear friends in this accident. The wife of an agent in our office was one of the senior attendants that we lost on that flight.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So understand, please, that we want the answer. And when we say what we think it is or we think it isn't, we're going to be able to say with a good conscience that we did everything. We did it ten times, we looked under every rock, we left no stone unturned, we took no day off to get that answer.
Mr. LaHood. So the answer to the question, Mr. Kallstrom, is that you believe some day you are going to wake up and tell the American people exactly what happened?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Well, I don't know what you mean by wake up, but some day I think, the FBI, if by wake up you mean we're asleep and are going to wake up, I don't agree with that. But if some day we're going to know whether it was criminal or wasn't it, I believe we will. And the next point is, I believe some day we'll know exactly what happened. Because I think NTSB has the best science in the world on this. They have a bunch of experiments and tests that are on the flight path. I think we'll know. I think the probability is we will know.
Mr. LAHOOD. Can either one of you tell us, based on the fact that you have 28 years of experience, and Mr. Hall, I know you have an enormous amount of experience, generally when do you think that will be? Is it going to be a year from now? Two years from now? Five years from now? A month from now? When is it going to be?
Mr. HALL. Well, from our standpoint, Congressman, we have a week's hearings planned in the first week or second week of December in Baltimore, Maryland. I have asked Dr. Loeb and Dr. Ellingstad to try to complete as many of these tests as possible so that when we open the factual record on this investigation, which we will not do, however, until the FBI has made its determination, and Mr. Kallstrom and I have had discussions on this point, I would hope that we could have this completed by the second anniversary of this accident.
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But, Congressman, I am looking now at the third anniversary of U.S. Air 427 in Pittsburgh coming up this September. And as Mr. Kallstrom stated so well earlier, the only thing worse than not waking up and giving the answer would be to wake up and give incorrect information or the wrong answer. And I assure you, that won't happen. If we have an answer, everything that we know, you will know, the American people will know. And I pray that we will have the answer.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Kallstrom, I don't want you to believe that the term that I used, wake up, meant that you'd been sleeping at the switch. Contrarily, I don't at all. I respect very much the work you have done and all the agents have done. The fact that you have so many experienced people working on this I think gives us assurances that you will give us the answer.
And I know you know this, there is a tremendous amount of frustration and emotion built up in the survivors in wanting to know what happened. And I know you know that, and I did not mean the term wake up that you had been asleep at the switch by any stretch of my imagination or yours.
May I ask Mr. Kallstrom one other question? I know that you've had under your possession or the possession of the investigation the belongings and the possessions of those who were deceased. Can you give us any idea when those might be released to the family members?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Sir, let me just say, I know you didn't mean that, I just wanted to for the record make a point, for all the thousands of people that have worked around the clock on this thing.
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Mr. LAHOOD. Understood.
Mr. KALLSTROM. As far as the personal effects, we are not holding any of them, the FBI, for evidentiary purposes. They've all been turned over to the vendor.
Mr. HALL. Congressman, Mr. Peter Goltz, who is in charge of our Government and Family Affairs Office, advises me that all of the associated effects have been returned. Simply, that means that things that have been identified with a particular individual. The unassociated effects I think are being cataloged so that the families can identify what might belong to them. And that process is well underway.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. HALL. And if I could just make one more comment, Congressman. While I know there is great interest in the cause of this particular accident, we do feel that we have made recommendations and we are working with the FAA to be able to prevent a future accident like this. So that work is ongoing as we try to find out exactly what happened here.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. LaHood.
Mr. Traficant has asked me to come to him next with a couple of brief questions, and then I'm going to go straight to Mrs. Danner, and we're going to give Mrs. Danner some extra time, because she has direct representation of many, many TWA employees.
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Mr. TRAFICANT. I would just like the panelists to answer my questions yes or no. If you can't, just say you can't answer it.
First question, Mr. Hall. Hypotheses and theories and opinion, not a fact, correct? Hypotheses is theory, correct?
Mr. HALL. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. To this point, has any physical evidence, conclusive forensic physical evidence, to prove that it was a mechanical failure that caused the explosion of the center fuel tank? Yes or no.
Mr. HALL. We're looking at that.
Mr. TRAFICANT. I want a one question answered. I know this is tough at this point.
Mr. HALL. No.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Mr. Kallstrom, were there in fact traces of PETN and RDX found in that plane wreckage?
Mr. KALLSTROM. There were explosive chemicals found.
Page 105 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. TRAFICANT. Isn't it a fact that PETN and RDX are widely known as components of Semtex
Mr. KALLSTROM. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT.a terrorist substance?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Isn't it a fact that plane was underwater for several weeks, at least?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Other than the theory of the dog having placed these rudiments of such chemicals on the plane, is there any other evidence of any kind that would support in any way the chemicals getting on that plane?
Mr. KALLSTROM. There's other remote possibilities, yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Basically very remote, would you say?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Let me ask you this. Is there any evidence that documents that this wide body 747 was in fact visited by a dog at St. Louis?
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Mr. KALLSTROM. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. You have a general gate number, or do you know for sure that the dog was on that plane?
Mr. KALLSTROM. We know for sure. Well, we have the report of the St. Louis Airport Police that document the training, very specifically documents the training, documents the packages that were put on, documents the
Mr. TRAFICANT. My question, not to interrupt you, was it conclusive that a dog was on this plane that blew up?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Yes.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Okay, fine. Now, Mr. Kallstrom, we have the presence of PETN, RDX. We now know the manner in which the plane had broken apart. The flight data recorder contained no hint of a mechanical malfunction. With that background, isn't it a fact that the potential of a terrorist act is very prominent here?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Absolutely. And that's why we've done what we've done. And why we're continuing to do what we're doing.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Now for the FAA. Isn't it a fact that you issued your own analysis of this crash? Yes or no.
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Mr. GARDNER. We issued an analysis.
Mr. TRAFICANT. An analysis. Isn't it a fact that your findings differ from the NTSB's official report?
Mr. GARDNER. No, sir.
Mr. TRAFICANT. It is not?
Mr. GARDNER. No, sir.
Mr. TRAFICANT. Is it a fact that you are resisting the recommendations of the NTSB
Mr. GARDNER. No, sir.
Mr. TRAFICANT.relative to aircraft design and operational changes?
Mr. GARDNER. No, sir.
Mr. TRAFICANT. It is not? I would just like to say one thing in closing. It doesn't take a long time, as a former Chair, if something does stink, when you find the precursors of evidence of chemicals that are widely known in terrorist activities, that plane in St. Louis, there should be conclusive evidence to show that that dog was there.
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And I have one last question for Mr. Kallstrom. Isn't it a fact that where that dog was to have visited those aircraft, that is not the part of this plane where the precursors of Semtex were found?
Mr. KALLSTROM. That's not true. And if I could just add, for your information, it's very important where the packages were put, Congressman. And the test packages that we looked at, and that were in very bad condition, that unfortunately were dripping those chemicals, were placed exactly above the location in the airplane where we found the chemicals on the floor.
Now, that isn't 100 percent that that's where they came from, but that's exactly where it was.
Mr. TRAFICANT. One last question. From the visit from this canine, would the residue of these chemicals still remain, having been underwater for several weeks, in a saltwater environment, they would still have remained, and they would have enough potency as placed from that dog to have withstood the rigors of that environment that would break down such chemicals?
Mr. KALLSTROM. We think so. The place we found the chemicals are on the two-sided tape that actually holds the floor panel, the carpet panels in the plane. And the scientists tell me, NTSB scientists would agree, and of course, understand we found very, very minute traces, the scientists tell me that would be the only place on the plane, the absorbent, sticky material, where those types of chemicals could survive. And the other comment I would make is that an incredible amount of this chemical leaking out of these packages fell into that spot.
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Mr. TRAFICANT. Mr. Kallstrom, let me just say one last thing. There's nobody that has better science and forensic evidence in dealing with criminal activity than the FBI. And the point that I would like to make is, and one last question of you, yes or no, have you determined with absolute forensic proof a mechanical failure and a mechanical condition that produced this explosion?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Absolutely not.
Mr. TRAFICANT. No further questions. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Traficant.
Mrs. Danner, do you want to go ahead and start or wait until you come back? We'll break, then, for this vote, and start with Mrs. Danner when we come back.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let's go ahead and call the hearing back to order, please.
And we'll proceed now with the questions by Mrs. Danner.
Mrs. DANNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First of all, before I move into the questions that I have of the panel, I would like to follow up on my colleague's question regarding the drug sniffing dog, and the plane when it was in St. Louis, if I understand it. Both Congressman Traficant and I would like sent to our offices immediately the documentation that shows the plane number, not just the gate where it was or was not located, but the plane number. And we do have that, I assume?
Mr. KALLSTROM. I don't have that with me, but I would be happy to furnish any documentation we have.
Mrs. DANNER. And it does indicate the plane's number, as well as the fact that it was just located at a certain gate?
Mr. KALLSTROM. My information is that it was the exact plane. What series of numbers or identifiers was specifically used to reach that determination, I don't personally know. But my information is that it was exactly. Of course, that was key to us. It would be nonsensical for us to involve the wrong plane.
Mrs. DANNER. But like any piece of equipment that has a serial number, so a plane is notified.
Mr. KALLSTROM. Exactly. I'll be happy to furnish you with the documentation that convinced us it was the exact plane.
Mrs. DANNER. Thank you. I would appreciate that.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You know, when there is a murder, when there is an automobile accident, one of the first things that the investigators ask for are eyewitnesses, are there any eyewitnesses. I was pleased to hear you, Mr. Kallstrom, say that you all have interviewed, and I assume have interviewed all the people who purport to be eyewitnesses, immediately after, or as soon thereafter after the accident?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Yes, ma'am. Just to give you some idea of that, 48 hours after this tremendous tragedy, we had close to 700 of our agents doing interviews.
Mrs. DANNER. And how much emphasis do you place on eyewitness reports?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Well, I made reference to the fact that we talked about a missile from almost the beginning of this tragedy. I wasn't even back to the office yet when we had information through FAA of air crews that were reporting things in the sky. No one ever said a missile, none of the witnesses. But by that morning, after the tragedy, we had upwards of 100 people on their decks, golf courses, driving, whatever they were doing out there, in different places, in boats, standing on bridges, that described to us events in the sky which we took very, very seriously.
And we had a missile theory. We talked about it at the first press conference or the second press conference. We said, there's a possibility a missile shot down this plane. I think that's the first time anyone's ever said that in the United States.
And of course, that theory had two legs. Friendly fire, but not because we thought that was the case, but what if a missile went up there, where would it have come from. Well, friendly fire, or a terrorist. So those were the two legs of the theory. And we interviewed and ended up with over 200 witnesses to these events in the sky from many different locations.
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Mrs. DANNER. And you've interviewed all of them?
Mr. KALLSTROM. We've interviewed all of them, most of them more than once. Some as many as three and four times, yes.
Mrs. DANNER. Then I need to switch my questioning over to Mr. Hall. Because according to the Associated Press, and obviously as an elected official, I know that the newspaper accounts are not always terribly accurate, I must make that statement. But the Associated Press quotes one of your staff as saying the NTSB does not place undue weight on eyewitness accounts. What does that mean?
Mr. HALL. Well, I do not know which investigator made that comment, Congresswoman. But obviously eyewitness information can be valuable. We have found through 30 years of investigative history and our professional investigators tell me that obviously many times there can be conflicts between people that have seen the same event, and because of the shortness of the event or whatever, the excitement of the moment, the information can be incorrect.
So we place more emphasis on the physical evidence that is available from the accident, but we certainly don't discount the eyewitnesses.
Mrs. DANNER. There are press reports that investigators believe mechanical failure is the most likely cause of this accident. Is that accurate information?
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HALL. Well, Congresswoman, as I said earlier, we are looking still at six scenarios. One of those scenarios involves the possibility of a small charge being on the tank or a high velocity fragment which could be either space junk or the breakup of a missile penetrating the tank. We have no evidence at this point but we continue to look in that area.
Mrs. DANNER. Once again quoting this time not the AP, but an article in actually this morning's paper, investigators have ruled out a large bomb, but say a small shaped charge, and I would ask you all to expound on that phrase later, could have been placed near the rear wall of the center tank. A shaped charge is a small amount of explosives that could have punched a hole in the center tank and not leave the typical telltale signs of big bombs. Small pieces from the rear wall, which is accessible from the ground, are still missing. Is that correct?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Well
Mrs. DANNER. Excuse me, Mr. Kallstrom. First of all, the physical evidence, then we'll get into the bomb. Is that part of the plane still missing?
Mr. HALL. I would like to have Dr. Ellingstad, if I could, comment on that.
Mr. ELLINGSTAD. We have recovered to date a very large portion of the center fuel tank. We have no evidence from the wreckage that has been recovered with respect to that data, any indications of that kind of penetration. We're certainly still looking at that with respect to the reconstruction that we have done, with respect to documenting and cataloging every shred of metal that we have come up with.
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Mrs. DANNER. Is there a piece of the rear wall missing that would be large enough to have contained the explosive area?
Mr. HALL. Let Dr. Loeb comment on that.
Dr. LOEB. The answer to your question is yes. But the answer to your question is yes, but. There are areas within the center tank that we do not have material, material is missing, material that is large enough to perhaps have something penetrated it, a small charge, a fragment of space debris coming in, a missile wall, warhead that fragmented.
So we have embarked upon trying to determine whether we can rule that out conclusively. We have tests that are going on, that were referred to earlier in the testimony, in Brunthingthorpe, England. The FBI is participating in those tests with us. They are specifically to look at the manifestations that would remain if you had a small shaped charge go off on the tank.
We are going to place those charges in a number of different positions on the tank, five, probably, to be specific, on the rear, on the beam that is just behind the forward spar on the top, on the bottom, specifically where access to the tank could be had from someone relatively easily.
The majority of the material that is missing is on the left side body rib. Fortunately for us, there is no possibility that someone could have placed a charge there, because the left main inboard wing tank is sitting there, full of fuel. So we're looking at that. We're also looking at the fragmented warhead possibility. The FBI has done a lot of work on that. They can talk to you about that.
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We're looking at it, the answer is yes, and we're going to try to determine whether that was a possibility.
Mrs. DANNER. Just to reiterate, then, there is a large enough piece missing that could have contained a small fragment that would have ignited the vapors?
Dr. LOEB. That is a possibility.
Mrs. DANNER. Now, Mr. Kallstrom, sorry to have interrupted you, but you can tell me about this. Explain to me shaped charge, that's a new phrase for me.
Mr. KALLSTROM. It's just really a little explosive device that would be directional, that would go in one direction. So its energy would be like on a beam, as exposed to 360 degree broadcast. It's just another device.
The point I would want to make is, and the reason that we have not that it wasn't criminal is we're not done with the investigation. As we speak, we are crawling all over that plane, the mockup, with metallurgists, forensic scientists, to try to figure out any possibility.
And I take it one step further than what Dr. Loeb just said. We're not just looking where it could be easily put. We're looking at where it could be put under any circumstances. Making the assumption they could have access for hours. And that's our job to do that. So that when we reach a determinationwe're not looking to get out of this or make an easy exit or come up with an answer without doing the work.
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Mrs. DANNER. I didn't say you were. I just had an impression from what I've heard in committee, from what I've heard from other interested parties, from what I've read and seen through the media, that the FBI was, in a manner of speaking, the terrorist issue was being set to the side in favor of some other theories, because new theories are constantly coming forward. I think it was just a week or two ago that someone began postulating that this might have started out in one of the wings, and that come back in. That was something that, it was almost a year before we even heard that postulation.
So it looks to me as though people are
Mr. KALLSTROM. But Congresswoman, understand this. The FBI's job, with the law enforcement team that supports us, our only goal is to answer the question, was it criminal or not. So I mean, NTSB and other people do all kinds of experiments. That doesn't detract us from what we're doing. We're focused on answering that question. We're not going to answer it until we can say with great certainty that it didn't happen.
Mrs. DANNER. I appreciate that, and I'm sure that the families appreciate it as well.
I'm reading also something, Mr. Gardner, that you said. There are several accidents on the record now that we could not definitely determine the cause. But more resources have been applied to finding a cause for this accident than any other aviation accident in history. And there's a very tough decision, when do you admit you're not going to find the cause.
Page 117 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, because Mr. Hall said that this is the third anniversary of Flight 427, do we assume that this is going to go on, 3, 4, 5 years, perhaps? Anyone may answer the question, but I was quoting your statement.
Mr. GARDNER. Well, since it was my quote, let me make a comment and then turn it over to Chairman Hall. That statement, based on my understanding of what Chairman Hall thinks, I mean, he has the responsibility of deciding how long to investigate an accident and what resources to apply to it to find the cause.
And my comment about the, that is a tough decision, and I believe I'm speaking for the Board. No, I'm not speaking for the Board, but I think Chairman Hall would agree with me, that's an incredibly tough decision, when to decide that you have exhausted all possibilities of investigating accidents.
Let me say that I have flown for most of my career as a pilot, in the Air Force and NASA. And I have flown all kinds of aircraft, vehicles. And I have lost a good number of friends in aircraft accidents. Most of those accidents, we have found the solution to. Some we have not. And those are very difficult.
Mrs. DANNER. Thank you.
Mr. Hall, when does one determine how to terminate an investigation?
Mr. HALL. Well, I certainly think once you have exhausted every possibility, and we're certainly a long way from that on this investigation.
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Mrs. DANNER. A long way? Tell me what is the lengthiest investigation you have going on. Is it Flight 427?
Mr. HALL. Yes, ma'am. I would have to refer to some of my colleagues, the professional staff on the Board, but I think it is the longest investigation that's remained open at the Board.
Mrs. DANNER. Mr. Chairman, considering my colleague, I will pose the rest of my questions, and I have a number of them, in written form to the three different entities that are present here today, and would ask that you get back to me in an expeditious manner with your responses. I appreciate that very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BLUNT [assuming Chair]. Thank you, Mrs. Danner.
Mr. Oberstar, back to you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We've had this panel here for quite some time, and I know there are other witnesses that we want to hear from. Mr. Kallstrom, I would hope that the FBI will move expeditiously, accelerate its expeditious action, let us say, to conclude its aspect of this case. Because it seems to have an inhibiting factor upon the roles of the other two agencies. And I can't make a judgment for you, I can't tell you how to do that. I can only say that in some way, there is both a perception and a reality of slowdown in the other, and certainly of FAA, of the criminal aspect.
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Mr. KALLSTROM. Well, let me just say, Mr. Congressman, that we are moving as quickly as we can. We're being as thorough as we can. We've reassigned countless assets from other major investigations to work on this.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I understand.
Mr. KALLSTROM. I have absolutely no knowledge, your comment about we're slowing down NTSB or FAA is the first time I've ever heard that. I can't think of anything we do that would in any way slow down anybody. We're providing tremendous support for this investigation, the security of all of the materials, the Calverton hangar, communications, all kinds of things. I mean, if your recommendation is for the FBI to leave before we've done our investigation
Mr. OBERSTAR. I didn't say that, and you know that.
Mr. KALLSTROM. I cannot think of anything that we do or anything that we put in place. Maybe Mr. Hall would comment on that.
Mr. HALL. Congressman, I think, as I've indicated throughout the testimony, we've worked together side by side in a very cooperative fashion. Obviously, with a criminal investigation, there are certain, what's the word on evidence, trial rules of evidence, rules of evidence, and handling of evidence that have been followed.
The only thing that we would not be in a position to do until the FBI does complete its investigation is have a public hearing, and open our public record. But I don't think in any other way joint participation would have an impact on our investigation.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. You will withhold public hearing until after the FBI has concluded its phase of this work?
Mr. HALL. That would be our preference, yes, sir.
Mr. OBERSTAR. In the aftermath of the Aloha 737 tragedy, which produced a catastrophic hull failure, unprecedented, the FAA moved expeditiously, without delay, to call a worldwide conference on aging aircraft. I addressed the opening session of that conference.
This committee moved in the aftermath to enact legislation, put a legislative framework around maintenance of high-time aging aircraft. It was the first failure of its kind, scared the daylights out of aeronautical engineers and airframe maintenance personnel and airline operators. And no effort and expense was spared to address the issue of aging aircraft from one incident.
It seems to me, with 26 incidents, that there is a cause here to call the same kind of worldwide conference on center fuel tank experience, and to bring together the best minds from all other aviation entities in a conference with a very tight timeframe and with a very clearly focused objective to not proceed through the time consuming, very difficult, Federal rulemaking procedure and highlight this issue and try to bring it to closure, as was done with the aging aircraft issue.
In the aftermath of the aging aircraft conference, there have been three subsequent conferences on the same subject, monitoring the progress. And I suggest the same be done in this case.
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I'd like your response, Mr. Kallstrom. At least to the extent of saying you'll discuss it with the Administrator, the Secretary, and recommend that it moves ahead.
Mr. GARDNER. Yes, sir. I see that as a great follow on to the extensive comments that we have asked for. And we have really activated the entire world to help us address this issue. And I will certainly proceed with that idea. I think it's a great idea.
Mr. OBERSTAR. A final observation is, with great respect again for the NTSB and the enormous contribution they made, not only in this case but in all other cases of aviation safety, and let me repeat the expression of respect I have for the NTSB, its reputation and its credibility rest upon its dispassionate, objective, reasoned, scientifically sound and meticulous analysis of accident data, at the accident site and in the laboratories, not in the TV studios. Not with the somewhat alarmist rhetoric with which Mr. Loeb discussed this subject recently in a television interview. In an era and an arena of finites, it is inappropriate to talk of absolutes.
And I understand ideas and words can escape in the course of an interview. But to say it absolutely could happen, that is, vapor buildup, accident again, to say it absolutely could happen, is alarmist in my judgment. And it's uncharacteristic of the NTSB.
Work together. Continue the course that the NTSB has set, very high standard, basing actions, judgments, recommendations on scientific, factual evidence. Be the prod and the goad that you are supposed to be to the Department and to the modal Administrations. Don't engage in this kind of activity. It's a disservice to the NTSB.
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Thank you again.
Mr. HALL. Thank you, Congressman.
Mr. BLUNT. Mrs. Danner, do you have any additional comments?
Mrs. DANNER. I would just like to associate myself with my colleague, Mr. Oberstar's remark. He has expounded on what I alluded to in my earlier remarks, and I believe him to be absolutely correct in what he says. I would suggest to you, Mr. Hall, that you determine who is going to be the spokesman for your department, and see that they speak for the department and not for their own personal self-aggrandizement.
Mr. HALL. Thank you, Congresswoman. Let me briefly respond on both of those points.
We are a very small agency. There are 360 people, and we are very grateful for the appropriated funds that you provide us. But we do not invest a lot of money in a public affairs office.
We have, however, some very able and capable people in that office. Our agency is responsible for having to respond on a responsible manner in inquires from a number of what was so-called the number one and number five news stories of 1996, something I still find unbelievable considering it was a Presidential election year.
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We get into a situation where each and every network, each and every newspaper is competing for information. We are a public agency. You've heard a lot of talk about cover-up. Mr. Kallstrom and I constantly have to deal with, you know, what are you hiding and what are you doing.
And let me just tell you, Congresswoman, it's kind of hard to hold your temper when people are challenging your integrity. I'm very proud of my public service, and I know Mr. Kallstrom and everyone at this table is.
I made the decision to put Dr. Loeb on television, because Dr. Loeb has a very able technical background, and I am sure that Dr. Loeb and I both wish maybe we'd been in the cutting room with Mr. Sam Donaldson when he decided what he'd put on the air.
But those mistakes are made. We apologize for them. We're doing the very best we can. We'll try to keep that to a very minimum in the future.
I have never had a problem with admitting a mistake or taking criticism. I think that criticism is valid, it's to the point. I would say that, the only thing I would say about Dr. Loeb is, he isn't the only guilty party. The Chairman is not a very good talking head himself. And sometimes when you get on TV and they ask you these questions and you do your best to answer, and you said, oh, my gosh, I shouldn't have said those two or three words.
And I know I have a license to be irresponsible in this job, and all I can tell you is, every time I open my mouth publicly on behalf of the agency, I'm going to try and be responsible. And if you feel that I'm not, please, as you have done here, bring it to our attention. We'll try to correct it and do better.
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Mrs. DANNER. We appreciate that very much, and we will hold you to the adjective you used, responsible response. Thank you.
Mr. BLUNT. I do think, Mr. Hall, a number of members on the committee do feel strongly on this issue. And I sure, along with them, appreciate your response to it today.
Before I go to Mr. Cook, Mr. Kallstrom, would you just, to pursue another area for a second, would you just give us some information on how many witnesses on the ground or in other airplanes at the time believe they saw something coming from the ground headed toward that plane and what you've done to pursue that?
Mr. KALLSTROM. I wouldn't want to say that they all saw something from the ground. There were about 200 people that saw events in the sky that they described. None of which described a missile. A number of those did describe events they thought were ascending. It breaks into different categories, though, of what they actually described. About 200 people altogether.
Mr. BLUNT. How many of them would you say saw approximately the same thing?
Mr. KALLSTROM. A good bulk of the people on the shore report, and we triangulate that they're describing roughly the same event. So let's say 60 or 70.
Page 125 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BLUNT. And you've talked to all 200 of those people?
Mr. KALLSTROM. We've talked to all of them, most on multiple occasions, some three or four times, yes, sir.
Mr. BLUNT. Mr. Cook.
Mr. COOK. Yes, first of all, Mr. Kallstrom, I'd just like to follow up on some of the questioning of my colleague from Ohio, Mr. Traficant. I really didn't hear you say that the chemical substance that he was referring to was in fact RDX or PETN. But let's just assume it was. Let's assume that was the material.
Mr. KALLSTROM. It was.
Mr. COOK. It was the material. Does that, the idea that there are residues of that, does that make the terrorist theory or the idea that PETN or RDX bomb that certainly is used a lot by terrorists, and it certainly is a bomb that would be capable of doing what happened to Flight 800 happen.
But finding a residue like that, is that really consistent with an RDX bomb going off?
Mr. KALLSTROM. I think finding residue is consistent, but it does not get you to the critical mass of making a determination that it was a device. It certainly points you in the direction.
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Mr. COOK. Well, of course it does. But if I could just talk for a minute about two types of explosives, as a manufacturer of explosives, we take solids and liquids and through slurry, or emulsification processes, make what you are referring to, Mr. Gardner, as an oxygen balanced explosive.
Those also occur naturally. They certainly occur probably a lot more often than we would like to admit, even in any kind of fuel container, whether it's somebody's gas can at home or a jet tank, there are, whenever you have the vaporizations, you have some naturally explosive mixtures once you've turned them into gases. They're oxygen balanced, and there's no reason to assume that somewhere on the scale it can't become oxygen balanced.
And it's common. It's got to be common, in my opinion, and in fuel tanks that have very little fuel in them, to have these mixtures occur a lot.
I guess what I'm really driving at is, given evidence of the fuel level in the center tank and the likelihood of these vapors and these oxygen balanced mixtures, they've got to occur hundreds of times every day in airliners. I still fly them.
And given the residue, is it likely, and the fact to me that if an RDX or PETN bomb is going off, we're really not going to see a lot of traces of that RDX. When it detonates, it pretty much consumes, unless there have been some drippings, I guess.
Mr. KALLSTROM. I think that's the reason why, when we first discovered, when the laboratory forensic scientists discovered the traces on the absorbent material, and the other materials we had around there were devoid of the typical signs you would see of a device, we knew clearly that this was a pointer, but we needed the forensic, the metal, we need the other evidence.
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When we found out specifically that the testing that took place in St. Louis with the police officer, and he was interviewed, he described where he put the dummy, not dummy, but real packages, and we examined that, and we saw that they were very old and in particular, the one that was in the general vicinity, right above where we found these traces, was leaking those chemicals.
I think the pointer then was not necessarily in the direction of a device, void of any other collateral information. And I can tell you, we're looking for that collateral information. That's what we're looking for.
Mr. COOK. If I can have the liberty to finish off this, I would just like the opinions of Mr. Gardner, Mr. Hall and Mr. Kallstrom on the assumption explosion occurred, now, I know that hasn't even been finally determined, but under that assumption, can't you at least give us an opinion as to whether it's most likely from those vapors, through possibly faulty wiring, which FAA investigations of other 747s of that age show that those do occur. they chafe and scratch wires, an obvious ignition source, would cause an explosion if a wire somehow, if there were any kind of an ignition source, it would bring temperatures of those mixtures that get that way, that's going to explode by nature. It's like the law of gravity, it's going to happen.
And I would just, and this obviously points to mechanical failure. I really think that this committee would appreciate our opinion, if you can express one at all, as to whether it's most likely an explosion from mechanical failure or an RDXPETN type of terrorist or missile or explosion. You must have a sense of that, based on everything you've seen.
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I think it would be useful for us to understand, and I know you can't be definitive. And my prediction is, and this is an unfortunate thing to say, but I don't think we'll ever know for sure the cause. Because I happen to think it was mechanical, and I happen to think if it was a wire, you'll never know that for sure, 100 percent. But you might eliminate some of the other possibilities, it will be about 99 percent on your scales.
But I would still appreciate your opinion at this point.
Mr. GARDNER. Yes, sir, and I'm going to apologize ahead of time, because I'm going to let Chairman Hall answer about speculating on the probability of one scenario from another. To support what, I think what he'll probably say, let me just mention that back in previous careers, I have chaired accident investigations, and I have supported accident investigations. The way I believe they should be done, and I believe the way the Board carries out their investigations is first, you try to develop all the possible scenarios.
And you do that, investigate them all before you make any kind of judgment as to which is the most likely. Because if you do that, you could well fall into a trap of focusing all your efforts on what turns out to be not the correct one.
So a good accident investigation, in my opinion, does not speculate on scenario which is more probable than another, but looks at them all, tries to eliminate all of them except one, in order to determine exact cause.
Mr. COOK. But Mr. Gardner, even after as much time has gone past as has gone past since this tragedy? I mean, I think you're right, obviously I wouldn't argue with that. But it's been a lot of time, and don't you have to start going down a path?
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Mr. GARDNER. And let me point out, whether or not I have a personal opinion, which I actually try to not have, my official position with the FAA is, we do not speculate on probabilities of causes. I firmly believe that the right answer is, and as we operate, that's the NTSB's responsibility.
Mr. COOK. I imagine you're all going to say the same thing.
Mr. HALL. Well, Congressman, let me, if I could indulge a moment, say the same thing. Basically we have a process that's served the aviation industry in accident investigation for the better part of a century. We have a factual period of investigation, which is what we're in now. At the time we complete that, then we will start doing an analysis.
I can only reference an investigation that occurred recently in New Jersey that came to the Board, where a train engineer missed a signal. There was a lot of speculation in the newspaper and everything about fatigue and split schedules and that was a theory that everyone had. We followed that very closely.
In the process of the investigation, we found out that this particular operator had concealed a medical condition from his employer successfully, and that in fact was a cause of the accident. So until we are in a position for the staff to make a recommendation to the Board on probable cause, we just try the best we can not to speculate.
I can't say that sometimes the media, you'll say something and you can't control exactly how everything's written. But that's how we try to operate.
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Mr. COOK. Mr. Kallstrom before you answer, I just want to, I remember well a couple of months ago a hearing with this committee where you were very, very persuasive in terms of no chance of any Naval assets, I think was the expression you used, or friendly, mistakable reasons, but you certainly left open the terrorist question, and that's still open in your mind, I'm sure.
But really, haven't we gone quite a ways in terms of the fuselage and just the nature of some major piercing or explosive? Because quite honestly, to me, in the explosives business, a bit of residue, even of a very, very high explosive like RDX, and a very sensitive explosive, like PETN or RDX, isn't very persuasive. If there's nothing else in terms of the hull or
Mr. KALLSTROM. Well, it didn't persuade us either.
Mr. COOK. Yes. That's what I'm saying. Can't you be a little more definitive, than maybe Mr. Hall and Mr. Gardner?
Mr. KALLSTROM. Let me just tell you this. We have found no evidence that convinces us or even begins to convince us it was a criminal act. We've said that publicly on many occasions. But we're not done with the process that we want to complete. We have a bunch of fresh eyes up there now. We're looking at the same holes we've looked at five times or ten times before.
But we're looking at them in three dimensions now, because the mockup was completed a number of months ago. We didn't have the benefit of the mockup.
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And I think the prudent thing for us to do in law enforcement is to let that process run, get it done as quickly as possible. I couldn't agree more with Congressman Oberstar, and bring the best people. But we're just being super careful not to avoid missing something.
Mr. COOK. I for one, all of us very much appreciate that. But I for one appreciate your saying it, because I think there was a feeling after Mr. Traficant's questioning that it was likely a terrorist act. And that's simply not the case, and I'd just like to make sure.
Mr. KALLSTROM. We have no evidence of that.
Mr. BLUNT. Ms. McDonald.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And first, I would like to thank the family members for their indulgence for being here all morning, as we have tried to grapple with this issue ourselves, as members of this committee.
Mr. Hall, I will question you on your comments in your presentation. One is the explosion that ignited the fuel vapor in the center tank. Is there not a type of burn or residue that we can discern perhaps what really took place in terms of this accident? Is there anything that we can glean from that as to why this plane exploded?
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Mr. HALL. No, ma'am. But I can ask Dr. Loeb, if he would, if he wants to elaborate on that.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Please.
Mr. HALL. I would like, if I could, Mr. Chairman, before Congresswoman Danner leaves, if I could just clarify one thing on behalf of our staff.
Mr. BLUNT. That would be fine.
Mr. HALL. Congresswoman, I had not picked up in the dialogue that you and I had that the reference that you made in your earlier remark to self-aggrandizement was directed at Dr. Loeb. And I would like to set the record straight. Dr. Loeb has spent 25 years in public service. He is a civil servant, not a political appointee. I made the decision for him to be on TV because I thought it was important that the American people get the very best information we had about the investigation as we proceed.
None of my association with Dr. Loeb has ever led me to any opinion, and I hope you would not share the opinion, that anything that he did was self-aggrandizement. He did what I asked him to do as a public servant, to keep the American people informed.
I do regret that, I take Congressman Oberstar's criticism at heart, and we accept that, and we'll try to do better. But I think the feeling was left with my staff that this is a matter that I need to correct. And I want to be sure I did that.
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I apologize for not having picked that up at the time.
Mrs. DANNER. You just said that he did what you instructed him to do. You have just said that to me.
Mr. HALL. I requested him to appear in the program and provide information, yes, ma'am.
Mrs. DANNER. I would suggest that most people who deal with the media know that sensationalism generally is what leads any news program. And I would suggest that you and those who speak for you keep that in mind in future conversations they have with members of the press.
Mr. HALL. I appreciate that and understand that. The only thing I wanted to correct was the self-aggrandizement statement.
Mrs. DANNER. Well, you know, in Washington, each person has their own opinion. I just heard a colleague say that he virtually is assured in his own mind that it's a mechanical failure. And I certainly don't agree with that, either. So we don't always agree on things, do we, here in Washington or anywhere else.
Mr. HALL. No, ma'am, but the nice thing about America is, everybody gets their opinion, and I appreciate your letting me express mine.
Page 134 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. DANNER. Certainly, you're right.
Mr. BLUNT. Ms. McDonald, I'm sorry for the interruption. Go ahead with your question.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Thank you. Dr. Loeb, will you respond to the question again of the explosion that ignited this fuel vapor in the center tank. Would perhaps a burn from this explosion or residue give you some indication of why we had this accident?
Dr. LOEB. Unfortunately, the physical evidence, including the evidence of sooting, the evidence of fire and so forth, does not help us beyond the notion that we had an explosion in the tank. It does not unfortunately provide us with the keys to determining where the ignition took place, and therefore perhaps aiding us in determining what ignited the vapors.
The very act of the explosion destroys so much of the physical evidence that it makes it very difficult, and unfortunately just does not lead, it's not like a road map where it leads us to any particular place. And as a result, what we have to do is back into it, and that is, do a lot of tests and see if we can back into the situation.
It just doesn't leave the physical evidence that says it was static electricity or that it was the pump. At least, we have none now.
Mr. ELLINGSTAD. If I might add, Congresswoman.
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Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Yes.
Mr. ELLINGSTAD. The factual record in the investigation establishes that there was an explosion in the center tank. The issue that we're trying to deal with in a number of different ways is the specific thing that ignited the vapors in the tank. We have evidence that shows that that's the case. We're working on that on a number of different fronts. On the one hand, we're dealing specifically with these issues, the scenarios that the Chairman has mentioned, the static electricity, the electrical appliances in the pump and this kind of thing.
On the other hand, we're also conducting a variety of test operations that involve the flight test that we're doing up in New York, that involves computer modeling, that involves scale explosion tests that are planned for the next couple of months. And through that testing, we hope to work that problem backwards as well, to try to discover if we can where in this complex center tank the explosion may have happened.
By working this problem from both directions, looking for potential things that could have provided the spark or the energy to ignite it, and then trying to understand the nature of the explosion dynamics to identify where that might have happened, we hope that we can converge and try to answer that. But we're not ruling any specific ignition source out. We're considering all of a half a dozen things that the Chairman mentioned. We're open to other things as well.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. I do recognize the complexity of this problem. But it just seems to me, as I try to grapple myself, that there could be some microscopic residue or something that we could glean as to the explosion.
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The other question is, are we to conclude that the, Mr. Hall, that the characteristics of this fuel-air vapor in the fuel tank is something that is unlike you have ever had or dealt with before?
Mr. HALL. I'll let Dr. Loeb comment on that. The Congresswoman wanted to know if this was unlike any vapor we had
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Characteristics and composition unlike
Mr. HALL.characteristics we had seen before. I believe the answer is no, but I wanted to be sure I was technically correct on that. No. No, ma'am.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. You have not seen anything like this before, am I correct?
Dr. LOEB. No, just the opposite. The characteristics are in fact similar. They are not dissimilar. They're similar to, for example, the explosion in the center tank of the 737 in the Philippines. So there are similarities. There are definitely similarities. In fact, that's one of the things that led us early on to believe that this was a possibility.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Mr. Kallstrom, is there ever a statute of limitations, be it lives are lost, that we will conclude an answer is, we really don't know, we really don't have the answers, so that the families can be at peace? Is there ever a time? I've heard Mr. Hall say, we're still looking into other flights that were, that he's dealing with to try to come to conclusions as to why we had those accidents. Is there ever a conclusion that we have to come to and say we really don't know?
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Mr. KALLSTROM. Well, I think we're on a track to answer the question, was it criminal or not. We're not quite at the end of that process yet. We're optimistic we can answer that question in the next 60 to 90 days. We hope we can.
That's our mission, and we very much want to do that.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. Of course.
Mr. KALLSTROM. So I hope that would be the case.
Ms. MILLENDER-MCDONALD. And I hope so, for the sake of the families.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Ms. McDonald.
We'll have one other questioner here, Mr. Lipinski wants to follow up, and that will be our last question of this panel.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you very much.
I happen to believe that it's the center fuel tank, and something ignited it, the fumes, and that's what happened. That's my opinion. Since it's a free country and it's Washington, we can all express our opinion.
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And based upon a lot of things that you gentlemen have said today, and a lot of things that I have read that you have said, I feel that there is a lot of other people who feel the same way I do.
In light of that, I ask the question, the only time we use this center fuel tank, really, is if we're going to fly from this country to the far east. You're shaking your head, where else do we use it to fly to?
Dr. LOEB. The returning west bound flights out of Athens carry fuel in the center wing tank.
Mr. LIPINSKI. What if we flew from Athens to Shannon and refueled?
Dr. LOEB. That would be a possibility.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Okay. Well, in light of the fact that, once again, I'll get back to, most of the time, the only time we use the center fuel tank is when we're flying to the far east. Why don't we do one of two things, pull them out except for the planes that we're going to use to fly to the far east, immediately, or tell all the air carriers they've got to fill them up, totally and completely.
It would seem to me that that would reduce the chances of this accident recurring. And as I say, other than flying to the far east, those coming out of Greece, Athens, they could stop at Shannon and refill the wing tanks.
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I'd like to have comment from the FAA, from the National Transportation Safety Board in regard to that suggestion.
Mr. GARDNER. Yes, sir, let me let Tom McSweeny address that a little bit. But I believe we also have to put fuel in that tank just to get back from Europe to the United States.
I'll let Mr. McSweeny amplify that.
Mr. MCSWEENY. Believe me, I've asked that question of myself and my staff.
There's a couple of responses I'd like to make. First, as far as emptying the tank, we would either have to use some other airplanes on the legs from Europe, or as you say, have airplanes land in Shannon. The accident that occurred, as tragic as it was, is a very, very remote accident.
What we really want to be careful of in trying to, even in the interim, deal with that accident, is making sure we don't make things less safe. Making more takeoffs and landings, the most prominent part of the flight when you have a possibility of an accident, to me is not a very good solution.
As far as filling up the tank, I would not agree with that at all. Right now, just about every airplane that has a center fuel tank lands with that center fuel tank empty. That's a level of safety, should there be an accident on the ground on landing. You do not have fuel underneath the passengers.
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Landing with a full tank does not, in my mind, make things any safer in the landing and takeoff aboard environment. If it was a choice, I would clearly go for the choice of taking the fuel tank, swabbing all the fuel out, and blocking them off. But it does severely impact the system. And I would not like it to result in more takeoffs and landings for the same leg of travel. Because that is the point at which you're exposed, you have the highest exposure to a possible accident.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I appreciate that information. I would say, then, that my idea is not a solution to the problem. But I've heard a lot of talk about the center fuel tank being very dangerous on the landing and takeoff. I wonder if the plane should ever have been designed in the first place with that center fuel tank, in all honesty.
Mr. Hall, do you have anything to say?
Mr. HALL. Of course, Congressman, I would see what comment Dr. Loeb and Dr. Ellingstad would have. But I think our recommendations essentially speak on that subject. We've never suggested that the 747s land with a full center wing tank.
We have never said that's the solution to the problem. We've said we think it was a prudent thing to do on the interim, to lower the probabilities of, as rare an event as this is occurring, while we're trying to find out more information, that we thought that was a reasonable recommendation. Of course, it's that recommendation on which we presently are in disagreement.
Page 141 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPINSKI. Well, unfortunately, we've been here an awful long time. I have a lot of questions which I'm going to give to various individuals on this panel that I want answered.
But I'm just going to conclude. I understand that the FAA office in Seattle has a theory about a spark starting in one of the wing tanks. And that's what ignited the fumes in the center fuel tank.
I assume, Mr. Gardner, you're aware of that theory?
Mr. GARDNER. Yes, sir, and so is the Board. That is one of the theories that Chairman Hall mentioned, and one of the scenarios that they're looking at, in his opening statement.
Mr. LIPINSKI. It seems to me that based upon the information I have about that, that's a very real possibility. Because there are some time factors that are in there. And I'm sure that you will all pursue that very vigorously.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for your testimony. I certainly appreciate it.
Mr. BLUNT. We are grateful to the panel, and we are eager to move on to the family panel. I think the family members and others here can see that the committee is very interested. We've had a number of briefings. This is the first public hearing we've had on this issue.
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And we're grateful for the time we've taken from all of you today, and we'll apologize before we start to our family panel that we're later than we thought you would be in getting you up before us. And we're ready for that to happen right now.
Let me go ahead and introduce this panel. Our first presenter will be Joe Lychner from Houston. He is the husband of Pam Lychner and father of Shannon and Katie, who were on the flight. After Mr. Lychner, Frank Carven, who is the brother of Paula Carven and the uncle of Jay Carven, who were on TWA 800. And then Ms. Cynthia Cox, the mother of Monica Cox, from Montoursville, Pennsylvania. William Rogers, Jr., also from Montoursville, the father of Kimberly Rogers, and Hans Ephraimson-Abt, from Ridgewood, New Jersey, who is the father of Allison, who was on the Korean Airlines flight.
We're pleased that you're here. We certainly are sympathetic to all your families have gone through. I know even more than us, you'd like to achieve closure as much as possible. Though we also realize that it will never be possible for this to not be a part of your lives. And it's helpful that you could take your time to share with us today.
Mr. Lychner, do you want to start?
TESTIMONY OF JOE LYCHNER, HOUSTON, TX; A. FRANK CARVEN, III, BEL AIR, MD; CYNTHIA E. COX, MONTOURSVILLE, PA; WILLIAM S. ROGERS, JR., MONTOURSVILLE, PA; AND HANS EPHRAIMSON-ABT, RIDGEWOOD, NJ
Page 143 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LYCHNER. Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Joe Lychner from Houston, Texas. And 1 year ago today, on July 10th, I was the luckiest man in the world. I had a great home, a loving family, including my beautiful wife, Pam, who was 37, my daughter Shannon, who was 10, my daughter, Katie, who was 8. We had it all.
I had recently started a new position with my company, and that's why I was not with my family when they boarded TWA Flight 800 for a short stay in Paris.
One year ago, on July 17, one week from today, a combination of an original design deficiency in the Boeing 747 center fuel tank and the age of the 25 year old TWA aircraft killed my entire family. I must apologize in advance to the other family members who are here today, but I feel that I must describe to you my nightmare so that you can just for 5 minutes walk in my shoes.
My life was cast into a living hell that will last until the day I die. My entire family, everyone I loved, everyone that loved me, everyone I depended upon, everyone I trusted, gone. Not in an instant, but in a terrifying, mutilating 2 1/2 minutes that I will replay in my mind every waking and sleeping moment for the rest of my life.
Imagine this. Imagine your family sitting in row 43 on the right rear section of the 747. Your 8-year-old daughter sitting right next to the window, right next to your wife. As they take off, your daughter is so excited to be going on her first international flight.
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Your older daughter is sitting across the row in the middle section by herself. As they take off, there's a sense of relief, because the air conditioning units are finally starting to cool the cabin.
Then it happens. A loud bang that at first seems so unreal and so out of place. In an instant, your wife knows that something is very wrong. She reaches for your 8-year-old daughter and holds her tight. She turns to reach for your 10-year-old daughter, but she's too far away. But she sees the fear in her daughter's eyes, but there's nothing she can do about it.
The initial explosion was big, but not big enough to kill your family instantly. They were sitting too far back in the plane. Now everyone is screaming. For 30 seconds, the plane holds together. There's hope in their minds that they may be able to make it back to JFK or at the very least, make a water landing.
Then the plane that is going almost 400 miles an hour starts to fall apart. The front part of the plane falls off, and the cold night air rushes down the interior. Everything in the plane becomes airborne. The majority of the plane keeps flying, and your family is now terrified beyond belief.
Your 10-year-old daughter is trying to get low in her seat to protect herself. Your wife is clutching your 8-year-old, as she turns to see your 10-year-old daughter hit by a piece of airborne luggage traveling at 400 miles an hour. Mercifully, your 10-year-old is now dead.
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Then the plane starts to rapidly fall part. The sides of the plane disappear, and your wife and 8-year-old daughter, still alive and strapped in their seats, are thrown from the plane. Now they are free falling but still holding to each other.
For 2 minutes they fall, knowing that they're going to die. When they hit the water, their ordeal is finally over, but mine is just beginning.
After their bodies are recovered, you swear that you will find the people who did this to your family and bring them to justice.
Now, imagine this. A room full of corporate lawyers employed by Boeing, TWA, and their insurance carriers, sitting in a room strategizing on how to limit their companies' liability for killing 230 people. They happen upon an antiquated law that was written in 1920, known as the Death on the High Seas Act. They believe that they have found a legal loophole which will allow them to make a claim that over half of those 230 people on the plane are worthless.
I can assure you that my family was not worthless. It's a moral outrage that Boeing and TWA would attempt to shield themselves from justice by hiding behind a law that everyone, including themselves, will readily admit was not designed to cover international air travel. Boeing and TWA should be ashamed. They should be ashamed of themselves for taking this path. And I think that they are, judging by the fact that they're not here to defend themselves at these hearings.
Boeing and TWA and their insurance carriers will come to you and attempt to make you and the world believe that they are open to compromise. They will try to portray themselves as willing to work with Congress to modify the Death on the High Seas Act for future deaths. The key word in my last statement was future. They will try to exclude TWA 800 from these modifications. And I would like to be perfectly clear, excluding TWA 800 from these modifications to the Death on the High Seas Act is totally unacceptable.
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After the horror that my family experienced at the hands of Boeing and TWA, it is unfortunate that the only justice I can achieve is through civil action. Intentional or unintentional, one thing is certain. They are responsible for the death of 230 people. The distinction between the plane going down 9 miles offshore rather than 3 miles has no bearing on the value of my family's lives.
Please do not let Boeing and TWA elude justice.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Lychner.
Mr. CARVEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Frank Carven, from Bel Air, Maryland. I lost my sister, Paula, and my 9-year-old nephew, Jay, on TWA Flight 800. My sister Paula was a flight attendant for TWA, who was on vacation with my nephew, and served TWA for 18 years.
First, I'd like to thank Chairman Duncan for the rapid response in holding a hearing on H.R. 2005. The families of Flight 800 and KAL certainly appreciate his assistance and that of his staff in such an expeditious hearing on this matter.
Also, this hearing would not have been possible without the dedication of Representative McDade and his staff. As noted this morning, Congressman McDade's support for the families of Flight 800 has been unyielding. And he has garnered the support of a bipartisanship of approximately 40 members of this body to join as co-sponsors on this bill.
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I certainly want to thank Congressman Oberstar and Congressman Lipinski for their support in the past, and their continued support.
On a personal note, I'd like to thank my friend, who also happens to be my Congressman, Bob Ehrlich. He and his staff have been with me every step of the way. When Flight 800 went down last summer, one of the first phone calls I got was from Bob Ehrlich, to offer his condolence and to offer any assistance that he could provide.
I'm here today not only as a family member, but also as the Director and Vice President of the Families of TWA Flight 800 Association. Our association is a non-profit organization, incorporated under the laws of the State of New York. There are a number of directors of our organization here as well as family members in this room today.
Our association was formed in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy. It was formed to assist family members of Flight 800 in any way possible. The association was also an active participating in supporting last year's Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act. In fact, Joe Lychner and I serve on the Department of Transportation's Task Force which is developing the criteria to implement that act.
Our organization strongly supports H.R. 2005 in its present form, which would amend the harsh inequities of the Death on the High Seas Act of 1920. You have heard and I am sure you will continue to hear heart wrenching stories about the impact this law has on families and victims who have died, through no fault of their own, in aviation disasters which occur more than 3 miles from the U.S. shore.
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As you may know, under the provisions of the Death on the High Seas Act, claimants are limited to those individuals who are economically dependent upon the decedent. As a result, unless a person on Flight 800 was a ''breadwinner'' of the family, the airline and other defendants use this law to bar claims for the loss of life, thereby avoiding any responsibility or accountability.
To this date, no one can really explain to me in any rational terms why an individual who perishes in an aviation disaster less than 3 miles from our shore has value, while an individual who perishes 3.1 miles from our shore has no value. The loss to the families in each event is the same: a loved one has died.
Artificial lines in the water should have no bearing on the value of a person's life. DOHSA has no rational basis to the loss of life in aviation disasters. My limited knowledge of the history of the act is that it was enacted to afford widows and orphans of persons lost at sea some monetary compensation, which is limited to pecuniary damages only, awarded without a jury, by a district court sitting as an admiralty court.
This may have been a major step in 1920, but in 1997, it has the exact opposite effect, where it bars persons from compensation for the tragic loss of a loved one.
Let me say unequivocally that no amount of money or any form of compensation whatsoever can replace the loss my family has sustained. No amount of compensation will bring back my sister or nephew. Paula was our only sister, and my mother's only daughter. She was the focal point of our family. My mother lost her daughter and grandson on Flight 800. The airline did not acknowledge that that was a tragedy.
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Who would tell my mother that according to their position, that their lives had no worth. Just last July, TWA told the families of those who were passengers on Flight 800 that their loved ones had died. This July, TWA is telling those same family members that not only is your loved one gone, but they have no value in the eyes of the law.
The airlines and other defendants are for all intents and purposes shielded from any liability. No one is responsible and no one is accountable. This situation is unacceptable, unconscionable and shocks the sense of decent, reasonable and caring human beings.
Individuals recover for loss of a loved one in a car accident, people recover for spilling hot coffee on their laps, families recover for the loss of a loved one in any aviation disaster which occurs less than 3 miles from our shores. The victims of TWA Flight 800 seem to have been lost twice, once at sea last July and again in the courts of justice of this great country. Please do not abandon the families in their time of greatest need.
One week from today will mark the 1-year anniversary of this terrible tragedy and there is still no known cause of the explosion. You cannot bring back the people we lost on that plane. You cannot compensate the families for the emptiness left in their lives as a result of this tragedy. And you cannot bring back to us those who perished on that hot July night, last July 17, in a ball of flame and jet fuel 9 miles from our coast.
What you can do is give the families a level playing field, give the families a fair and equitable day in court, give the families a chance to tell their stories about the losses they have suffered, and the emotional injuries they have sustained. Anything less than what has been set forth in H.R. 2005 would be yet another abandonment of responsibility and accountability.
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Even today, the defendants are using H.R. 2005 in their brief to the court in New York to bolster the position that DOHSA applies to TWA Flight 800, and that the claimants are limited to those who are economically dependent and damages are limited to pecuniary damages only. This is the ultimate irony.
On the eve of the anniversary of TWA Flight 800, this body, which represents the people of our great Nation, can do more for the families of aviation disasters than has been done for them in the history of aviation. You can do the right thing, you can do it for all the right reasons, and you can do it at the right time.
On behalf of the families of Flight 800, and those who have lost their lives in all other aviation disasters, I would urge you to pass H.R. 2005 in its present form.
Thank you very much.
Mr. BLUNT. Thank you, Mr. Carven.
Ms. COX. Thank you. First I'd like to thank Congressman Duncan and the committee for hearing the families' sides of the issues on H.R. 2005 in such a timely fashion.
This bill, introduced by Congressman McDade and 40 co-sponsors, tries to rectify the inequities that the families of aviation disasters face due to an antiquated 1920 law, commonly known as the Death On the High Seas Act. This course of action has been recommended, not only by the Supreme Court, but by the final report of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security.
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At the tender age of six, my son Brian can be reprimanded with just the simple question: What is the rule. He will invariably answer, treat people the way you would like to be treated. With the simple application of this philosophy, children quickly learn how to apply equality in almost any situation.
My daughter Monica was only 16 at the time she boarded TWA Flight 800, and she made me proud time and again with her application of this philosophy. In elementary school, she was a student teacher for the mentally challenged. She wanted to be a veterinarian back then.
The saying goes that kids can be cruel. Monica would take her fair share of another child's cruelty when she would stop them from teasing or tormenting someone who was smaller, weaker, or physically or mentally handicapped.
By the end of sixth grade, she was happy that she could raise money for the Special Olympics, and she had received a Presidential academic fitness award. She was beaming with pride as she read me the accompanying letter from President Bush, explaining that the President himself had declared that the winners were the role models for the next generation.
By the time she was in junior high school, it was on to student council, taking the SATs by the age of 12 at the request Johns Hopkins University. By that time, she had planned to become an oral surgeon. In high school, it was on to Project Harmony, a group dedicated to promoting harmony amongst diversity.
After seeing a show on how plastic surgeons were doing pro bono work in third world countries to correct birth defects in children, she decided that being a reconstructive plastic surgeon would help a greater number of people, including children with birth defects and accident victims.
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Just months before the flight, Monica had an English assignment in which she was to review a story about parents who had lost their son in a war. Her writing shows an idealism common to youth, and an insight that is not. She wrote in part, ''An entire race trying to destroy each other? Parents losing their babies? And they are proud to protect a boundary that has no meaning?'' She continues later with, ''When a soldier dies, he's gone, forever. Medals and glory cannot sooth a mother's tears.''
Most young intellectuals are inquisitive by nature. Monica was no exception. I can say with all certainty that if she were here today I would be floundering for answers to her questions on how a law such as the Death on the High Seas Act could provide such inequities.
I know I could explain to her how the Warsaw Convention provisions are which state that the plaintiff must prove willful misconduct. I could do this by comparing it to the difference between the manslaughter charge, which compares to the lesser degree of liability imposed on domestic flights, and the second degree murder charge, which compares to the higher standards imposed on international flights.
She would be pleased to know that this particular inequity seems to have been resolved in November 1996, and will not be applied in the future. But how would I explain to her that because she died beyond the boundary, which would have no meaning to her, and if we rise to the higher standards of liability imposed and prove willful misconduct, no one will be held accountable because she had no income?
Page 153 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC How would I explain to her that if a child had miraculously survived the crash of Flight 800, the survivors would not face the limitations of the Death on the High Seas Act, but the families of those who perished would? How would I explain to Monica that the family of another Pennsylvania child, Natalie Calhoun, who also tragically died at sea, only within the 3-mile boundary, didn't have to face the Death on the High Seas Act, as a result of the decision upheld by the Supreme Court of the Untied States?
How would I explain that while both children died at sea, one set of parents had access to American tort law and a jury trial, and we won't?
As the song says, children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Passage of this legislation will teach the youth of today that they are worthy of equality today. And it will reinforce the value that we as parents try to instill in our children. But each of us is accountable for our actions.
I would like to thank the committee for allowing me to testify today, which in turn gave me an opportunity to show a little of who Monica was and who she could have been. Because if the Death on the High Seas Act is applied to Flight 800, I won't have the opportunity to do so in a court of law.
Mr. BLUNT. Thank you, Ms. Cox.
We have to go cast a vote right now. We may start up pretty quickly, we'll start back when either Chairman Duncan or I return. So that will be within the next 5 to 10 minutes. So thank you all.
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Mr. DUNCAN [resuming Chair]. We're going to go ahead and proceed once again with the hearing. I want to apologize to the family members who have testified so far, I'm very sorry that I had another meeting that I had to attend. But we will proceed now with the family forum. And we're down now to Mr. William S. Rogers. Mr. Rogers, you may begin your testimony, please.
Mr. ROGERS. Thank you. Good day, Mr. Chairman, honored representatives and ladies and gentlemen.
I have great respect for our system of Government and you define the system so very well. It is indeed an honor and a privilege for me to testify before you and your distinguished colleagues, and I thank you.
On July 17, 1996, our daughter Kimberly, age 17, and our only child, fell 2 1/2 miles to the burning surface of the Atlantic Ocean, the result of an aviation disaster of horrendous proportions, in which 229 other people lost their lives as well. TWA Flight 800 exploded at approximately 8:31 p.m., and it altered my wife's and my lives in ways we never thought possible.
We've had to learn to adapt to life without a child. We've grown more able to apply the necessary social makeup and show the emotions that people expect of us. While outwardly smiling, the torrent of tears continues to flow within us. Being a stoic while you spiritually and emotionally bleed to death is not easy.
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We try to cope and have succeeded fairly well. But for us, closure is a word that isn't in the dictionary, it doesn't exist for us, it can never be. At the same time, we do not ask for pity, nor do we want it. There are countless others who are far worse off than we. I will not immerse myself in self-pity, either.
Kim would not want us to leap from a cliff into the yawning chasm of self-inflicted sorrow, but to climb the cliff, and try to make a positive from a negative, and so we shall. Kim was that way.
She was also a National Honor Society student and a member of several school clubs, a soccer player and a teacher of little ones, a school-appointed member of the Lycoming County Historical Society, community participants and one of the gentlest and kindest souls I have ever known. Kim always gave, she never took. She was sharp of mind and had enough credits to have graduated as a junior.
I'm a brittle diabetic, which means I can't control my sugar levels very well, and I have several associative diseases as a result of diabetes. Twice she saved me from what would most certainly have been a diabetic coma.
What has the loss of her companionship meant to me? Everything. She was my nurse and cared for me with all that she had. She cannot be replaced, and I have no one else left to take care of me. I lost my best friend, and the person who loved me unconditionally, as I loved her in return. How many people can ever be that fortunate? But now everything is gone.
Page 156 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On July 6, 1989, Natalie Calhoun, beloved daughter of Lucien and Robin Calhoun, residents of Pennsylvania, was killed while riding a jet ski manufactured by Yamaha, while in territorial waters off the coast of Puerto Rico. She was a credit to her grief-stricken community and to her family, I'm sure, just as Kim was to us.
In a decision handed down on January 9, 1995, Yamaha versus Calhoun, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Calhouns could recover damages under U.S. law and using a court system, which is all Americans' birthright, because Natalie so tragically died within less than a marine league from the Puerto Rican shores.
Exactly one week later, this same court decided in Zickerman versus Korean Airlines, that the DOHSA written in 1920, in an age before trans-oceanic flight even existed, would be applied to a KAL 007 victims family, thus negating any ability to recover any non-pecuniary damages within the United States court system.
Does one's life become worthless after crossing an invisible line on the ocean's floor? Are we only map coordinates or are we human beings?
Does this mean that we no longer have the dignity and virtues that any other human being has or had before crossing this line? No. I think not.
In fact, the United States Supreme Court, as well as the Gore Commission, have asked Congress to remedy this inequity, that surrounds death both on land, within a marine league of our shores, as well as a tragic death on international waters.
Page 157 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This law has been corrupted for selfish use. This law was originally intended to benefit families, not to steal away their right to their just due. Yet, as we have so sadly learned, whether you're young or old, black or white, breadwinner or child, the grim reaper does not choose favorites. Nor should we, by virtue of an archaic law from an age before aircraft ever flew between the continents. Why wouldn't death be equal? It's the ultimate equality. Death is death no matter where it occurs.
The Death on the High Seas Act is like an albatross around the shoulders of Lady Justice. We have come to relieve that burden, to lighten her load, and we shall do it. We ask all men and all women of good conscience to help us to do that.
Our children were people of fine character and dignity, some far better than adults whom I've met. Help us to retain the sanctity of life, and in the restoration of equality for the victims and their families of all tragedies which occur at sea.
We have come, too, only because of the immense efforts of Congressman McDade, his 42 co-sponsors, and our Senators Specter and Santorum, to tell you of their fight for us. We have asked, and they have responded. In a classic case of Government at work for and with its people, they have done and continue to do everything in their power to help us.
Our great thanks to you, Congressman Duncan, a major supporter of the Aviation and Family Assistance Act, for bringing this bill to the attention of the committee in such a rapid and timely manner. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for affording us this opportunity to be here so swiftly.
Page 158 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our daughter Kim was a human being, not a ticket stub. I ask all of you to honor her accomplishments as a human being and to treat her with the respect she deserves. She was a living, loving young woman and our child, not a piece of flotsam, her life brutally ended. We will not allow her to be declared worthless and simply discarded because of what has now became an inhumane, 77-year-old law out of time and out of place.
In closing, I ask for the unanimous passage of H.R. 2005 as originally introduced. Thank you for allowing me to sit before you and speak. It was an honor to be here today. This is my oral testimony. I respectfully ask for you to allow my lengthier testimony to be made a part of the record.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Rogers, thank you very much.
The statements of all of the families, which I had read these before I came in here, although I did not get to hear some of the witnesses present them, but I can tell you, Mr. Rogers, one of my children is a daughter who was 17 at the time of this horrible tragedy. And she's 18 now. And I was fortunate to grow up in a close family and have a close family now.
I can't fully comprehend the loss that each of you have suffered. I don't suppose anybody could who has not been through that. But I can relate to some extent, thinking of my own children, at the horror that you all have been through. And I can tell you that there are many, many people in this Congress who want to try to do everything possible that we can, not only to help you, but to see that things like this don't happen again.
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Despite our best efforts, I'm sure they will, but we want to make sure that they happen as infrequently as is humanly possible. And I appreciate more than I can say in just a few brief words the fact that each of you would come here today and testify. Because I know this draws back up memories that are very, very painful. And I know this is not an easy thing to do.
But I think it's something that hopefully will be very, very important for many years to come. So I appreciate your testimony.
Now, we'll hear from Mr. Ephraimson-Abt.
Mr. EPHRAIMSON-ABT. Mr. Chairman, my name is Hans Ephraimson-Abt, and I'm the father of Alice Ephraimson-Abt who perished at the age of 23 on September 1st, 1983, with 268 passengers and crew from 15 countries, when a Soviet fighter plane disabled Korean Airlines Flight 007. After a 12 minute descent, KAL 007 crashed into the sea, broke apart and sank, with all of its passengers alive, who drowned.
None of our loved ones were ever recovered. We are still looking for their remains.
For the last 12 years, I am also the chairman of the American Association for Families of KAL 007 Victims, a support group that has extended its activities to assist families involved in other air accidents to cope better with their tragedies' aftermath. We also participate actively in the efforts to improve after crisis management, as well as to update and modernize laws and treaties. We support comprehensive regulations where needed to improve domestic and international civil litigation.
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Mr. Chairman, next to me is sitting Nicola Truppin. Nicola Truppin and her sister, Andrea, lost their father, an internationally renowned gynecologist. She has come all the way from Boston, she has two children, she has a job, to appear for before you. She was the first chair of our organization and only retired to take care of her family, and because she was in need of a job. She has done a much better job than I am doing, and I wish she still would head our organization.
Congress has cared greatly. It has shown unfailing concerns with the plight of air crash victims, and has enacted reasonable legislation, such as the Aviation Security Improvement Act of 1990, in the aftermath of Pan American 103, the Lockerbie tragedy. Last year, after the ValuJet crash, the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996 was introduced. It became law under your chairman's leadership.
The Secretary of Transportation is already chairing a task force to proceed with the law's implementation. The National Transportation Safety Board has actively and successfully assumed its added role assigned to it by the President and by Congress to coordinate aviation crisis management.
We know of no Government agency that has implemented a law with such speed, vim, vigor, dedication, sensitivity, gusto and as yet minimal funding. And I would like to mention that I was privileged to be asked to join the TWA 800 families at Kennedy Airport. I am privileged to relate to them ever since.
I have never seen agencies like the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies work in such lockstep as in the TWA 800 after crisis relationship with families and with the investigation. I think we, all of the families, want to compliment them for their concern.
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Regretfully, in the press of other legislative business, the Death on the High Seas Act issues were not addressed by the 104th Congress. But when the TWA 800 families and ourselves brought the urgent need for legislation recommended by the Supreme Court and by the Gore Commission to the attention of Congress 2 months ago, Congressman McDade, whose constituents are the families of the high school children of Montoursville, Pennsylvania, now joined by over 40 bipartisan co-sponsors, introduced the Airlines Disaster Relief Act, H.R. 2005, which was assigned to the House Aviation Subcommittee, and an identical bill, S. 943, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Specter and Santorum.
Again, you, Mr. Chairman, actively supported the legislation by scheduling a hearing at the shortest possible notice. We would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, Congressman McDade, the present, and we hope the future sponsors of H.R. 2005, Congressman Shuster, the Chairman of the Transportation Committee, Congressmen Oberstar and Lipinski, the ranking committee and subcommittee members, and their dedicated staffs, for their efforts and their support.
Your staff smiles on us, and your support lifts our hearts. We express our families' gratitude to our representative, Congresswoman Roukema, who from the time Alice was taken from us under such brutal circumstances 14 years ago, has been a caring friend and a staunch supporter of all of the families of tragedies that have occurred since then.
And I want to correct Congresswoman Roukema's remark today. It was she who was who tried very strenuously to reach me from Germany to extend her hand and her heart to my family and to give us solace over the ocean.
Page 162 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We also appreciate Congressman Mendendez' interest and support as soon as our concerns were brought to his attention.
The Death on the High Seas Act of 1920 was passed by the 66th Congress to give damages to widows of seamen who perished in international waters when workmen's compensation or other remedies were not available. In 1920, Civil Air Transportation was in its infancy. The Supreme Court in the Zickerman decision of 1996, 77 years later, applied the Death on the High Seas Act to take away damages awarded to an elderly, impecunious mother of an air crash victim that occurred more than 3 miles from the shore, while allowing full economic and non-economic damages in a separate decision under State tort law to a family whose daughter died in an accident within coastal waters that is less than 3 miles from the shore.
The Death on the High Seas Act is about Muriel Mahalek, the mother of Muriel Kole, who perished with Flight KAL 007 on September 1, 1983. Muriel is a proud 77-year-old devout subway token clerk, now retired from the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, with a monthly pension of $400, living in a walk-up in Brooklyn, New York. She worked diligently, often on double shifts, and now she can only grieve for the loss of her daughter, whose remains have not been recovered, and can only look forward to end her life as a Medicaid patient, at public charge and expense.
Today, Muriel Mahalek goes to church every day to pray for the soul of her daughter, whose remains were never recovered. She has no grave to visit.
On a bleak Friday afternoon in December 1992, during one of the heaviest snow storms that paralyzed New York, Muriel Mahalek was awarded $28,000 for the death of her daughter. In January 1996, over 13 years after the death of Muriel Kole, the Supreme Court took Muriel Mahalek's $28,000 award away from her, as not recoverable under the Death on the High Seas Act, just because her daughter had perished more than 3 miles from the shore.
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Had her daughter been a victim in an automobile accident in Brooklyn, Muriel Mahalek would have been entitled to full economic and non-economic damages.
Before it's untimely death, Flight KAL 007 circled for 12 minutes, partially over the land of two islands, as well as within and outside of the 3-mile watery boundary that is the threshold of the difference between State tort law and the restrictions of the Death on the High Seas Act. Fate had it that the plane finally crashed into the sea outside of the 3-mile limit.
Had Pan American Flight 103 been on time, it would have exploded over the high seas, with the Death on the High Seas Act applying to its passengers, including the 30 Rutgers University students. Because Pan American 103 was behind schedule, it crashed over land. KAL 007 and Pan American 103, TWA 800 had the right to damages measured by fate.
Muriel Kole would have attended her mother in her old age. She would not have had to live in a walk-up in Brooklyn alone, uncared for. But now Muriel Mahalek, with a meager MTA pension of $400 and social security, grieving for the loss of her daughter, whose remains have not been recovered, can only look forward to ending her life as a Medicaid patient at public charge and expense.
In 1983, the Korean Airlines carried liability insurance coverage of $400 million per flight. In 1989, a court found Korean Airlines liable for damages because of its willful misconduct. Yet, under the Death on the High Seas Act, there is nothing available to afford Muriel Mahalek the quality and the dignity of care this hard-working woman would have been entitled to and her daughter could have provided to her had she been alive.
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Mr. Chairman, every day, all passengers whose flights are taking off or are approaching any of our airports on the eastern and western seaboards, flying more than 3 miles beyond our shores, are potential victims of the Death on the High Seas Act. No time should be lost to restore equality among the passenger rights.
And I want to point out to you the letter the Air Transport Association submitted to your committee, supporting the abolition of the Death on the High Seas Act in aviation cases while opposing retroactivity to the TWA 800 families. In fact, Section 109 of Title I in the U.S. Code, which is cited in this letter, specifically says that Congress can enact retroactivity to the TWA 800 families because it says that retroactivity should not apply absent of clear language to the contrary. The clear language of H.R. 2005 allows the extension of the American tort law to the TWA 800 families.
Follow the Supreme Court's and the Gore Commission's recommendations to provide equal treatment for all victims and their families wherever their tragedies occur, I submit to you more fully my written statement, which is more elaborate. This concludes my testimony.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me this overtime, and for your attention.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Ephraimson-Abt, thank you very much for your testimony. I guess I have several thoughts, but one is to say that $28,000 for the death of a daughter seems to me to be a great insult, and then to have the Supreme Court take even that meager award away is adding great injury to a great insult, in my opinion.
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But certainly, it's obvious that you loved your daughter very, very much, to come here almost 14 years after her tragic death, and testify in the way that you have in hopes of helping others.
I was interested to hear Mr. Rogers say that in his opinion, there is no word such as closure in the dictionary. It seems to me that that is a word that is now being over-used. And it seems to be used most often by people who I suppose mean well, but they are usually people who have not had to undergo what each of you have had to undergo. Because I know that these events will be with each of your for the rest of your lives.
But as I said earlier, I hope that we can help, at least in a small way.
I thank you again very much for your testimony. And at this time, I will go to Mr. Pease for any questions or comments that he might have.
All right, Mr. Lipinski?
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I simply want to thank all the witnesses for coming here and testifying. I know how difficult it has to be for you. And once again, I express my sympathies and condolences to all of you. And I'm sure that very shortly, we will take some action to at least start moving toward some justice for you.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Lipinski.
Mr. COOKSEY. I too want to share my sympathy. I'm a pilot, have been for 30 years, and I think every time I fly, there's a risk involved. Yet, there are accidents and they are always tragic.
The question that I would like to ask of the staff is a monetary question, or perhaps someone here knows the answer. What would be the likely financial difference if this bill was passed? You said it was $28,000 in your case. Had this been within the 3-mile limit, what would it have been? Has anyone done that, or does anyone know the answer to that?
Mr. EPHRAIMSON-ABT. Excuse me, maybe I can answer it. The Death on the High Seas Act was enacted in order to allow widows of seamen to get some losses for their pecuniary damages, which means a widow who loses a wage earner. Naturally, elderly people were not necessarily always dependent on their children yet, or children who are growing up and are not providing to their families income, under the Death on the High Seas Act, would get nothing.
And in international accidents, we have in addition the Warsaw Convention, where you have to prove first liability with a very high threshold, which is willful misconduct, and willful misconduct in the over 70 years of the Warsaw Convention has only been proven 10 times.
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So you have two thresholds. You have the threshold of to prove willful misconduct, otherwise you have a cap of $75,000, and how can a widow live with $75,000 with children. And then suddenly, you have full liability, and if the death occurs 3.01 miles from the shore, the law says then you have to have another threshold of the Death on the High Seas Act, and anybody who has not suffered provable economic damages is getting nothing.
Mr. COOKSEY. That gives me some insight. Another question, and again perhaps it's a question of staff, what is done in say, Great Britain, France, Germany, under the same circumstances?
Mr. EPHRAIMSON-ABT. In the first place, as the Supreme Court noticed, many countries don't have a Death on the High Seas Act. So they have full liability.
In the second place, Congressman, those countries have a very high level of social services. Britain has, for instance, in Pan American 103, even the American families who were involved in Pan American 103 had the right to obtain pensions under the social security system, which then were repaid when they got damages in this country.
But those pensions are fairly high, and compensate to what you would get as damages in this country, where we don't have a social security system, which gives you pensions, which would replace the income of their husbands, or would give you some kind of bereavement money, like insurance companies do.
But we don't have that system in this country. So the only way families can recoup some of their damages is by getting damages actions in courts and court-adjudicated awards within their way of life or within their income. I hope that's clear.
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Mr. COOKSEY. That answers my question.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Dr. Cooksey.
Mr. BLUNT. Mr. Chairman, thank you again for having this hearing today. As I said when you were gone, the Chairman has really done a great job with the committee, and in both private hearings and lots of discussions, keeping us on track with this tragedy. This is our first public hearing today and certainly, family members coming, Mr. Ephraimson-Abt, your coming and sharing your experience, which has gone on even longer, has been a helpful part of this today, and we are grateful to you.
I know that this will never be over, and there's really nothing we can say that will make it over or make it any better. We'll remember you in our prayers and remember the families and what they deal with every day. I know that no kind of compensation would ever be adequate. This is just something that you'll have to live with, and we'll pray that you have the strength to live with it.
Mr. EPHRAIMSON-ABT. Mr. Chairman, could I just say something?
Mr. DUNCAN. Sure.
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Mr. EPHRAIMSON-ABT. Thank you, Congressman, for your kind words. May I just supplement my answer to Congressman Cooksey?
When Victoria Cummock and I were at Kennedy Airport, we had several meetings with the President of TWA, Mr. Erickson. And we pointed out to him the questions of the Death on the High Seas Act, and also the question of the Warsaw Convention. We also made him aware that for instance, American Airlines, in the case of the Cali incident, had waived entirely the limits of the Warsaw Convention and went right to damages.
And we encouraged him to do the same thing. Unfortunately, the attorneys for TWA 800 have not followed that path, and are preserving their rights under Warsaw and DOHSA very aggressively.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I do not have any specific questions for this panel, since I have been chasing around several other committee meetings.
I do want to simply make a suggestion for the record, Mr. Chairman. And we had a hearing on an issue related to this last year. It appears to me that there is a terrible problem dealing with the liability of the airlines after an accident. There are multiple lawsuits filed, a great deal of time, effort and money is spent in the courts on attorneys, in a situation where people are grieving.
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And it seems to me a much better approach in situations like this where it's very difficult to establish any particular culpability that we should consider legislation which would establish a standard payment that airlines would make to relatives of passengers in any case where there is an accident where the airline is at fault. And that this standardized payment be adopted in this Nation for accidents within our border, and perhaps persuade other airlines to adopt it on an international basis.
It would save a tremendous amount of time, litigation and anguish on the part of the people involved, and would be a far better way of dealing with it without the difficulties we currently face. I simply want to get that suggestion on the record, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, thank you very much, Dr. Ehlers. Certainly that's something we can look into.
Well, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, for being here with us today. Your testimony and your assistance has been greatly appreciated and very helpful and encouraging to us.
And we will take a very brief recess while the staff sets out some materials and calls the members, and we will then proceed with the markup on the two bills that we have before us this afternoon. Thank you very much.
That concludes this hearing.
Page 171 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Whereupon, at 2:57 p.m., the subcommittee proceeded to other matters.]