Review

Deadly Departure: Why the Experts Failed to Prevent the TWA Flight 800 Disaster and How It Could Happen Again

by Christine Negroni

No
airline crash in recent years attracted more worldwide attention
than that of TWA Flight 800.
It
was not just that some 236 people were killed on the flight minutes
after it left John F. Kennedy Airport bound for Paris early on the
evening of July 17, 1996 --- the plane had seemingly exploded in
midair for no immediately obvious reason. Such things simply were
not supposed to happen.
Within days the conspiracy theorists were in full cry. An
onboard bomb, said some; a ground-fired missile, said others. But
to the professional investigators whose job it was to find the real
cause, the answer soon became obvious: An explosion in the giant
aircraft's nearly empty center fuel tank had somehow been
triggered, tearing the plane apart in seconds.
Christine Negroni, an experienced television journalist whose
specialty is aviation, has told the whole story in this absorbing
book. It is not a long book but it manages to weave together
satisfactorily several different stories in more than adequate
detail.
In
prose that combines crispness with an obvious sense of fairness,
she tells the personal stories of many passengers and crew members
--- who they were and how they happened to be on the doomed
airplane. Another strand of her story follows the fierce turf
battle among the investigators, mainly that between the
conspiracy-minded FBI and the more technically oriented National
Transportation Safety Board. Their squabbling eventually involved
the White House itself in keeping the investigation on
track.
Another story splendidly told is that of the rescue crews who
had the grisly task of recovering wreckage and body parts from the
waters of Long Island Sound. And Negroni is eloquent on the ordeal
of the relatives who gathered near the crash scene, hoping for some
explanation or at least for recovery of the bodies of their loved
ones. They were understandably impatient with the slow pace of the
investigation and anxious to shift the effort toward recovery of
bodies. They were also, of course, relentlessly stalked by the p
ress, whose presence numbered in the thousands in the days
following the crash.
Negroni pieces together the story through scores of interviews
and a thorough examination of the investigatory paper trail. Unlike
many authors of such books, she is careful to distinguish between
verified direct quotations and remarks that can only be imagined
under the circumstances. Her writing is journalistic without being
sensational. She does not use the printed page as an oratorical
soapbox, preferring to make her indictment of the industry in
understated but no less damning prose.
Negroni is obviously distressed by what she sees as the FBI's
immediate and groundless rush to find a terrorist conspiracy in the
disaster; her sympathies clearly lie with the less glamorous "tin
kickers" of the Safety Board. In fact, she dismisses the conspiracy
theorists, the most prominent of whom was former Kennedy
administration spokesman Pierre Salinger. Her cast of characters is
large and varied, but many of its members come alive as pe
rsonalities thanks to her journalistic skills. There are heroes
here, but there are also self-serving operators and ax-grinders
aplenty.
There is a technical side to Negroni's book, explaining how and
why the near-empty tank filled with gasoline vapors was a bomb
waiting to go off, and she explores the aircraft industry's
culpability in the disaster as well. Her conclusion is chilling:
The industry had known about this problem for many years. Such
explosions had happened before but nothing was done about the
situation because addressing it would cost too much: "When the cost
outweighs the benefit, certain hazards are considered an acceptable
risk."
It's
enough to make you cash in your airline tickets.

Reviewed by Robert Finn ( Robertfinn@aol.com) on January 21, 2011

Deadly Departure: Why the Experts Failed to Prevent the TWA Flight 800 Disaster and How It Could Happen Again
by Christine Negroni

  • Publication Date: March 15, 2000
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060194774
  • ISBN-13: 9780060194772