TWA Flight 800: THE CARGO DOOR THEORY

One of the theories being put forward by those who insist that a Navy missile played no part in the crash of TWA Flight 800 is that the 747 was brought down by a faulty cargo door. The theory is that a mislatched cargo door tore open with enough force to destroy the aircraft.

Unlike the passenger section doors, which open inwards and rely on internal cabin pressure to hold them sealed at altitude, the lower cargo doors, owing to a lack of room inside the cargo bay in which to have an inward opening door, open outward and are latched at the bottom and sides, while hinged at the top.

A cargo door, were all the latches at the bottom and sides to fail, would open into a 350 knot slipstream and be torn loose from it's hinged top.

By far, the strongest evidence against that theory is provided by Ian Goddard in the following illustrations.

[view map]Click to download full size image(78.4K).

In the above illustration, the topmost image shows the open cargo door of the NEACP ("Kneecap") aircraft. Although this 747 is modified for non-civilian use, the cargo door is identical to that found on the passenger version of the 747.

The lower two panels zoom in on part of the reconstruction of the Flight 800 aircraft at Calverton.

[view map]Click to download full size image(169K).

In the above illustration, the zoom in continues to the cargo door at the Calverton hanger and clearly shows portions of the door still attached to the lower door frame by their latches, as well as showing that the hinge at the top, which holds the door to the airframe, is still intact.

It has been claimed (over and over again) that the eyewitnesses confused the image of a falling cargo door with the object they reported as rising.

There are more things wrong with this theory than I have space for here. For one thing, the degree of luminance and the smoke trail, coupled with the first appearance of the object at near sea level, argues against this interpretation.

It has been suggested that were a falling object to fall towards a ground level observer, it might be misperceived as a rising object, much as a plane flying towards the ground level observer "rises" in viewed elevation.

But as can be seen by the following diagrams, this explanation does not work given the geometry of the aircraft and the eyewitnesses.

[door track map]Click to download full size image(149K).

In the above image, one of Tom Shoemaker's maps of the eyewitness locations has been adapted to show the relationship between the various eyewitnesses and the potential trajectory of a cargo door falling from the 747.

It is important to note that the cargo doors are on the starboard (right) side of the aircraft only.

Observe the location of witness "A", one of many reporting the sighting of an object rising up to meet the 747. It is clear from the map that there is no way that the cargo door can be approaching this eyewitness. Therefore, a falling object will appear to be falling. There is no way that a falling object, falling away from the observer, can be mis-perceived as rising.

[view map]Click to download full size image(9.6K).

This is a schematic diagram of the cargo door scenario. The view is looking west. North is at the right.

The suggested path of a falling cargo door is indicated in red. What the eyewitnesses from Long Island reported is illustrated in green.

It is clear that a falling cargo door does not come close at all to explaining the rising object eyewitnesses all saw. Indeed, the path a falling cargo door must take is almost the exact opposite of what was reported by eyewitnesses.


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