Sunday, October 09, 2005

Book Review: Night Fall

I have no strong desire to join the sea of conspiracy blogs out there -- here's a good one -- so I'm posting this rant in the guise of a book review. Night Fall is a fictional account of the circumstances and events surrounding the crash of Flight TWA 800 in the summer of 1996. This flight took off from JFK airport bound for Paris, but shortly after takeoff it crashed off the coast of Long Island. The official investigation concluded that an electrical short ignited vapors in the center fuel tank, causing an explosion which tore the plane apart.

The popular conspiracy theory posits that the plane was shot down by a missile fired from a US Navy vessel. It is this theory which the author, Nelson DeMille, explores in his novel. I was bemused to discover that the novel is narrated in the first person, using that cheesy private eye macho-speak. Once I got past that, however, I found it to be a compelling, well-paced detective story. The plot revolves around a race to uncover a video tape which would presumably provide incontrovertible evidence of what really caused the crash. Although this video tape is purely a work of fiction, the author includes a variety of supporting evidence which has been reported by a number of independent sources.

In my opinion, these are the three key points, all of which, to the best of my knowledge, are true:

1. The Navy was conducting exercises that night, with several ships and submarines directly in the path of the ill-fated flight.

2. Hundreds of witnesses reported seeing a flash of light rising from the surface of the ocean toward the plane prior to the explosion.

3. No other 747's were grounded following the crash and consequent NTSB investigation.

The first two points are circumstantial, and serve only to hint at a possible alternative to the official explanation. The third point is the one that really causes the official explanation to stick in my craw. I think that most people, upon hearing the official explanation, thought, "Oh, an electrical short ignited vapors in the center fuel tank. Well, that would certainly cause an explosion, so that must be what happened." As an engineer (or maybe just a reasonable, free-thinker) my first thought was, "Did you think it was a good idea to put electrical wires in the fuel tank?!" In point of fact, I seriously doubt that Boeing engineers did put wires in the fuel tank. Or if they had, surely after the crash they would have realized their galactically stupid mistake, and grounded all affected planes for a retrofit. But no planes were ever grounded. To me that says there never was a design flaw, ergo the official story is bullshit.

Mr. DeMille and countless bloggers agree.

Night Fall by Nelson DeMille, 2004

I swear I'm not trying to turn this into a conspiracy blog, but ask me sometime about Flight UA 93.

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