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The Naval Surface Warfare Center began tests with a 16-inch battleship gun Friday to determine whether an accident might have caused the April 1989 explosion aboard the USS Iowa that killed 47 sailors.

Last week, a test at the center along the Potomac River determined that propellant bags for the big guns can ignite when subjected to unusually high pressure. But tests inside a gun are needed to determine whether that could have happened on the Iowa.The tests, using a gun on land, are based on new information from Sandia National Laboratories of Albuquerque, N.M., which studied possible causes of the Iowa explosion for the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Sandia labs reported they failed to find evidence to support the Navy's official explanation that the fatal explosion was probably the work of a disgruntled, suicidal gunner's mate using a detonator.

The labs managed to come up with a possible accidental cause, which the Navy had ruled out.

After a test at the surface warfare center May 24 initially confirmed the Sandia labs' findings, the Navy reopened its investigation of the blast and suspended all live 16-inch gun firings on battleships.

In last week's test, experimenters dropped a weighted stack of propellant bags onto a steel plate. Seventeen such tests were done with no result, but on the 18th test the bags ignited.