'TWA Flight 800' to air on 17th anniversary of crash

Photo: Kris Van Cleave/ABC7

On July 17, 1996, a Paris-bound Trans World Airlines 747 carrying 230 people exploded shortly after taking off from New York’s{ } John F. Kennedy International Airport, killing everyone on board.{ }

The National Transportation Safety Board began its most extensive crash investigation ever, but 17 years later there is renewed debate about what brought down the doomed airliner.{ }

Earlier this month the NTSB allowed a rare look inside its Ashburn Training Center, where a 93-foot portion of the reconstructed airline is stored.

Images of the remnants of TWA 800 floating in the water off the coast of Long Island, NY are haunting reminders of the 230 lives lost when the 747 jumbo jet exploded just minutes after take-off.

The NTSB spent nearly four years piecing together the final moment of Flight 800, recovering 95 percent of the airplane and rebuilding it as investigators searched for the cause of the crash. However, lingering from the moments after the crash was talk that someone, not something, brought the plane down. There is some speculation that a Navy missile brought the flight down.

Granting rare access to the reconstructed wreckage, the NTSB showed ABC7 the center fuel tank, which investigators believe was the site of the explosion. However, the final accident report admits the “source of ignition” could not be determined with certainty, but "most likely was a short circuit."

“I do not believe it was a bomb, missile or anything in that nature,” says Jim Hurd of Severn.

Hurd lost his son on the doomed flight and is convinced the crash was a tragic accident.

“I really believe the center fuel tank did explode,” he says.

The debate about the airliner’s ill-fated final flight will begin again Wednesday evening as a new documentary debuts. It features some of the original TWA 800 investigators who believe the crash was no accident.

“Based on the witness statements, the evidence and other factors, Flight 800 did not explode as a result of a center fuel tank explosion,” says Hank Hughes, retired NTSB Sr. accident investigator.

Hughes believes an external explosion, possibly a missile, brought the flight down.

Renewing the debate is not how the family of Jill Ziemkiewicz, a 23-year-old flight attendant who was working her first international trip, hoped to spend the anniversary of her death.

“It was upsetting to members of my family. It was upsetting to me. It was going back to 17 years ago at the time of the crash. I don’t know what the point is bringing up old ideas that were tested and disproved,” says Matthew Ziemkiewicz, Jill's brother.

The documentary’s producers have petitioned the NTSB to reopen its investigation based on evidence they present, while the NTSB stands behind its findings it is reviewing the petition.