Picking Up The Pieces

“Tears filled her eyes, as the faces of the flight crew stared at her from her kitchen table, smiling, knowing the secret, but unwilling to tell.”

Flight For Control


Karlene Petitt



I was working at a summer camp during the evening of July 17th, 1996, having just returned from my introduction to commercial aviation and international travel, when I received a phone call from my mother to inform me that TWA Flight 800 had crashed near the coast of Long Island.



PICKING UP THE PIECES: A Tribute to TWA Flight 800


The quote above from Flight For Control comes to mind as this is not only one of the deadliest aviation catastrophes it is also one of the most complex.  I remember watching a documentary on the N.T.S.B. investigation of this case and I remember the millions of recovered pieces rescued from the site of impact and each and every detailed piece that was placed back as if it were a true scale sized model airplane (as best as possible into their original positions in order to draw any new information.)



PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER: Resurrecting the damaged plane



As in any air crash case, answers were needed and fast.  Time was of the essence and grieving families wanted answers.  Investigators wanted to know something so that not only would they be able to answer the victims’ families and loved ones, but to try and implement a solution to the problem.



N93119 – Boeing 747-131



The N.T.S.B. came out with the official report of the crash on August 23, 2000, probable cause being:



“[An] explosion of the center wing fuel tank (CWT), resulting from ignition of the inflammable fuel/air mixture in the tank. The source of ignition energy for the explosion could not be determined with certainty, but, of the sources evaluated by the investigation, the most likely was a short circuit outside of the CWT that allowed excessive voltage to enter it through electrical wiring associated with the fuel quantity indication system.”


What is most scary about the outcome is not knowing the source of the short circuit outside the CWT. Despite the N.T.S.B.’s closing of the case, so many theories remain.  Also, all so troubling, is nearly two years later, a somewhat similar ignition catastrophe occurred on September 2, 1998 on board Swissair Flight 111, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 (HB-IWF).  The right side ceiling above the flight deck caught fire due to faulty flammable material and spread rapidly destroying aircraft systems which led to the its unfortunate demise.  Fourteen crew and two hundred fifteen passengers perished into the Atlantic near St. Margarets Bay in Nova Scotia.



HB-IWF – McDonnell Douglas MD-11



So many unexplained aviation catastrophes have happened before and since because of fault maintenance.  It is not a mystery why the fear has been etched in stone for so many to step inside an airplane, especially a commercial one.  How much will it take for one human being to realize the life’s worth of another, if not lives?  What is even more scary is that it could have been you on that plane, less alone me.


My mother told me over the phone that evening, that as a result of the tragic event of TWA Flight 800, my former school district was suspending programs for students to travel internationally and for good reason.  One of the reasons was there was a group of foreign language students on board TWA 800 as a part of a class trip to Paris.  My first aviation and international travel experience was one of the last, if not the last, to take place for our district.


This case should not have to be.  Everyone should have the luxury of being able to fly, travel, and to feel safe doing so.  How much will take take to dive deep in the minds behind the aviation industry and pick up its broken pieces that have been shattered? 



The coast of Long Island. May every soul rest in peace and may all the pieces of our broken industry be rescued…. (Photo courtesy of one of my students)



In my humble opinion, the aviation industry is no longer on the verge of crashing, it has crashed.  The faulty maintenance of aircraft, pilots, cabin crew, and even I am sorry to say passengers is beyond astronomical.  The pieces need to be picked up so that we can not only be strong for the victim’s families, we can repair an industry that has been such a tremendous asset to our world. 


We can pick up the pieces to make a tribute to the victim’s whose lives those faces sitting across the table from you who were taken so untimely…



5 thoughts on “Picking Up The Pieces

  1. Yes, we must pick up the pieces. I was flying for Tower, and heading to Paris behind TWA800. Just before departure a passenger came on board and was complaining because he didn’t have a meal. I told the FA he could have mine. She said, “No, we have food. He just wants a First Class meal.”
    I asked why they didn’t have a first class meal for him. She said, “He was supposed to be on 800, but missed his flight.”
    I thought this was so odd that he missed his flight, and we put him on ours, and in First Class, and he was complaining about anything.
    After TWA blew up, I was so tempted to go tell him. But I thought, “When he realizes what has happened, and he should have been on that flight, perhaps he’ll figure it out. If he doesn’t, my telling him won’t do any good.”

    I cannot listen to the voices of crash victims before an accident without tears filling my eyes. Then the silence. It’s heartbreaking.
    Thanks for a great post.

    • Karlene, perhaps sometime you will expand your writing on your experiences that fateful evening. I will be all eyes. 😎

      As for Mr. Ungreatful, I will share a similar experience to his and how I personally dealt with it: I was scheduled back to JFK from CDG with their flag carrier (on a 777) and it was the early flight. I ended up missing the flight because my pick up to the airport was a no-show that morning and I was livid. I ended up flying back home on a later flight with a US partner carrier on a 767. Not only was I without my pre-ordered special meal, I was not on the 777 accompanied with the GE-90s I reserved going back to JFK on – not that I am a picky AvGeek. How did I deal with it? By being an mature adult (Thank God I was raised by great parents), keeping my mouth shut, and by being greatful that I was able to get back home safe, alive, and in one piece, to a kosher steak dinner and using the additional money (that I didn’t have to fork out at DeGaulle for another ticket home) to pay for it.

      Mr. Ungreatful will realize one day that his living days could have been numbered. It’s the same for all of us. But our mission is to do all we can do to keep it from happening as we have so much to life for. All of us…

      Even though I read FFC 4 times, that quoted statement above from the book really caught my eye for the first. It really did make my eyes water (no wonder why Kat had to excuse herself after seeing Sandra’s profile) as there is so much you want to do to save a life of another human being. To save one life is to have saved an entire world..

      • Yes, one day I will write more. But we never know when life will strike us down. Maybe we just need to appreciate every day.
        4 times… wow! Thank you!

  2. While I do not have any loved ones that perished in the TWA800 disaster, I have been to the TWA800 memorial twice. Aside from the mosquitoes on steroids, I felt at peace when viewing it.

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