The 93-foot-long section of the reconstructed plane was nicknamed “jetosaurus rex” during the investigation in Calverton, Long Island.
Although a massive recovery effort—led by the NTSB, the FBI, and the Navy—gathered almost 98 percent of the wreckage, investigators reconstructed only the section needed to solve the question of what happened.
Only three crashed planes have ever been rebuilt to this extent, one of which was Pan Am Flight 103, bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
The wreckage reconstruction comprises 9,600 individual pieces. The parts not needed were melted down and recycled so they couldn’t be traced to TWA 800 and possibly sold as souvenirs.
On the day the plane was photographed, at the rear of the fuselage behind a row of seats rested a bouquet of wilted flowers.
Photograph by Ron Blunt.
This giant hulk of a Boeing 747, last known as TWA Flight 800, once soared miles high carrying passengers to their destinations. In July 1996, within minutes of takeoff on a routine flight from New York to Paris, a fuel tank exploded, splitting the fuselage open over the Atlantic Ocean and killing all 230 people on board.
Investigators salvaged most of the wreckage from the ocean floor off Long Island and, using the jet’s original blueprints, reconstructed about 40 percent of the plane—a section extending from behind first class to just past the wings and including the fuel tanks. The reconstruction, which took more than 10,000 man-hours, helped prove that the plane was brought down by an internal explosion, most likely ignited by an electrical circuit, and not a terrorist attack or missile, as eyewitnesses initially believed.
Today TWA 800’s final resting place is a specially built hangar at the training center for the National Transportation Safety Board in Ashburn. The reconstructed fuselage is used to train investigators and other air-safety specialists. Says the center’s director, Paul F. Schuda: “Most [visitors] are struck by the size, and then they notice the damage. They say, ‘Oh, my God,’ even though I warn them.”
This article appears in the October 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.