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17 July 1998: Link to NTSB-Hall/Scarry exchange and postscript and news report
10 June 1998
Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 12:57:15 -0400 From: "George O'Brien" <OBRIEN@TYCOOP.COM> Subject: More on Scarry and Plane Crash To: PHIL-LIT@postal.tamu.edu This article from the 5/6/98 Harvard Crimson concerns Elaine Scarry's NYRB piece discussed on Phil-Lit several weeks ago concerning her theories about the crash of TWA Flight 800. As I recall, Denis Dutton found Scarry's analysis particularly stimulating. George O'Brien New Haven, CT firstname.lastname@example.org ********************************************* Prof. Spins Alternate TWA 800 Theory Published May 06, 1998 By CHRISTOPHER M. KIRCHHOFF Nearly two years ago TWA Flight 800 exploded and fell from the sky off of the coast of Long Island, N.Y. Investigators have since pointed to faulty wiring in the plane's fuel tank but have yet to find conclusive evidence of what caused the crash. However, in an article in the April 8 issue of The New York Book Review, Elaine Scarry, Cabot professor of aesthetics and the general theory of value, alleges that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) overlooked a potential cause: electromagnetic interference (EMI) from nearby military activity. In her article, the English professor details the danger EMI pose to aircraft and how EMI from nearby military aircraft and warships might have caused the guidance and electrical systems of Flight 800 to malfunction. This, she says, may have led to the catastrophic explosion that killed all 229 aboard. The 19,000-word article addresses several perplexing coincidences, unanswered questions and intriguing leads. "Each piece that came forward gave me more of an obligation to make it audible," Scarry said. Her article has been distributed to NTSB staff and has garnered significant media attention, primarily overseas. In a letter to Scarry dated April 21st, NTSB Chair Jim Hall called the article "quite interesting," and said that presently "the [NTSB] investigative team is working with private concentrators and the military to determine the effects of EMI and [High Intensity Radiation Fields] on Boeing 747s." Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carrol Jr., a former carrier group commander and now deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, a private consulting firm, takes a stronger stance. He urges a full reopening of the investigation. "I think NTSB and the FBI really should evaluate Professor Scarry's hypothesis," said Carrol, whom Scarry quoted in her article. "NTSB needs to review the investigation to see to what extent the data they have gathered suggests any other cause of the fuel tank explosion." Invisible Interference EMI describes an effect that occurs when energy waves collide. Most commonly seen as the fuzzy lines that appear on a television when a hair dryer is turned on or the static heard on AM radio stations during a lightening storm, EMI is caused by the interaction of electric and magnetic fields. Small electrical devices can similarly distort a plane's navigational instruments. To prevent just such electrical interference, the FAA requires all passengers to "turn off all computers, headsets, radios and telephones" during takeoff and landing. Although the energy radiated by these devices is small, it can travel outward to antennas mounted on the skin of the plane, causing serious interference in the aircraft's navigational instruments and guidance systems. The danger of EMI is so great that it has become an offensive military weapon. "Jamming," or the use of EMI to disable enemy radar and communications systems, is an integral part of modern warfare. Planes, ships and ground-based transceivers equipped with jamming electronics can throw millions, or in some cases, billions of watts of energy at enemy targets. High intensity EMI can also cause sparks in the same way metal leads to sparks in a microwave. If a spark is close to the fuel tank, as FAA reports show, the fuel tank can ignite. "Physical arcing and overheating can be produced with intense jamming," says Carrol. "You have an arc [in military planes], but it's not in the middle of a bunch of jet fuel." Military Cover-up? In her recent article, Scarry notes that EMI has caused military aircraft crashes in the past. Between 1982 and 1988, six Black Hawk helicopters crashed as a result of EMI, killing 22. During a 1986 mission near Libya, EMI also caused the crash of an F111 bomber and disabled five others. "If military planes can be downed by EMI, why can't civilian planes be downed by EMI?" Scarry asks in the article. In trying to answer that question, however, Scarry ran into a wall of highly classified military documents. Two military reports, a 1988 Air Force Study and the other a $35 million three-year Pentagon investigation, have studied the effects of EMI on aircraft. Yet, findings remain classified, with access denied to both the public and NTSB investigators of TWA Flight 800. In fact, the only government report on EMI available to the public is a 1994 NASA study detailing the dangers of a special kind of EMI called High Intensity Radiated Fields (HIRF). "HIRF may often [have] inadvertent effects on civilian aircraft," the NASA report says. Compiled by researcher Martin Shooman, report findings indicate that EMIs occur at "an intermediate and not insignificant level." Scarry questions the secrecy of military activity on the evening of the Flight 800 crash. If there is no danger, she says, why have reports been classified and why has the military refused to divulge any information on the location and activity of military planes, helicopters and ships "in the vicinity"? The Pentagon was unavailable for comment yesterday. In her article, Scarry cites evidence of military activity the night of Flight 800's crash. Planes take the route Flight 800 was flying, referred to as the "Betty route," when military exercises force the closing of air space located over Long Island in areas adjacent to TWA 800's flight path. Scarry says she does not know the "level or intensity" of military exercises underway at the time of the crash because the Pentagon refuses to publicly divulge such information. In the article, she explores the possibility that the 10 or so military aircraft the Pentagon admits were "in the vicinity" at the time of the crash could have effected Flight 800. Most intriguing, she says, was the presence of a Navy P3 Orion, an airplane full of electronic counter measures, that crossed 6,300 feet above Flight 800, intersecting its latitude and longitude "the moment the catastrophe began." "If a sudden pulse or electromagnetic spike can short out a wire or...by disrupting electronic circuits, simply cut off the fuel supply or make the flight controls on a plane go dead," Scarry says, "isn't it relevant to determine the electromagnetic features of the air through which the plane aspired to fly that night?" Evidence From the Black Box A Boeing 747-100 like Flight 800 has over 150 miles of electrical wiring, Scarry says, and many systems can be disabled or act erratically in the presence of EMI. According to Scarry, EMI can cause a pilot flying such a craft to lose control of steering mechanisms as the aircraft control surfaces (rudders, ailerons and flaps) become unresponsive to cockpit "fly by wire" controls. In her article, Scarry cites evidence that Flight 800 may have exhibited symptoms of EMI interference prior to its demise. "Registered [in the voice recording of the crew] there may be two problems identified as the classic signature of EMI: sudden interruptions in fuel flow and false instruction to the control surfaces on the wing flaps or rudder," Scarry says. One minute and 52 seconds before the voice recorder stopped, the captain of Flight 800 said, "Look at that crazy fuel flow indicator." Fifteen seconds later he commented that the control surfaces were not responding as they should. Then, 60 seconds before the catastrophic event caused the voice recorder to stop, the captain had to reissue a throttle up command to the first officer because the airplane responded so slowly. Scarry infers that these events point to an "electromagnetic event at second zero...powerful enough to knock out the plane's transponder, cockpit communication system, and black box simultaneously." "The door has opened," Scarry said. "People need to understand what transmissions were there and include that in the array of many factors that are looked at in an accident." The NTSB has been "looking at external and internal EMI from the beginning" said Shelly Hall, an NTSB spokesperson. NTSB is trying to "pinpoint the source of ignition," she said, "the fuel quantity indicating system has wires running from the cockpit to the fuel tank." Whether military EMI was the cause is still under investigation. article "quite interesting," and said that presently "the [NTSB] investigative team is working with private concentrators and the military to determine the effects of EMI and [High Intensity Radiation Fields] on Boeing 747s." Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carrol Jr., a former carrier group commander and now deputy director of the Center for Defense Information, a private consulting firm, takes a stronger stance. He urges a full reopening of the investigation. "I think NTSB and the FBI really should evaluate Professor Scarry's hypothesis," said Carrol, whom Scarry quoted in her article. "NTSB needs to review the investigation to see to what extent the data they have gathered suggests any other cause of the fuel tank explosion."