Federal investigators have created a sophisticated computer simulation of the final moments of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 showing that almost everything in the first spray of metal, luggage, and other material blown from the airplane came from one confined area on the right side of the jet, above and ahead of the wing.
The investigators say this simulation, a standard part of crash investigations, has helped them visu-alize the probable focal point of the explosion that ultimately split the plane.At the same time, investigators examining wreckage from that section of the Boeing 747 say they have found several new hints that a bomb may have exploded there, causing the airplane to crash July 17, killing all 230 people aboard.
Nonetheless, senior law enforcement officials insisted that the new evidence did not push them appreciably closer to the point where they could officially declare that the plane crash was the result of a criminal act.
An aviation expert and a law enforcement official who is an explosives specialist both said they saw several fist-size holes that had been punched through the backs of two seats on the far right side of row 23. That is in the center of the area pinpointed by the computer as the site of the initial blast. Both men spoke on condition of anonymity.
The holes in the sheet metal on the seat back are pushed through from the rear, indicating that the enormous force that created them came from behind, the explosives expert said. And row 24, the seats just behind them, is missing, he added.
No similar holes have been found in other seats, the aviation expert said.
The explosives expert said that a lot of wreckage from rows 20 to 27 was still unaccounted for but added that many of the pieces investigators do have hold "very suggestive damage."
"That's where the violent event happened," he said.
The miscroscopic traces of the plastic-explosive PETN, discovered during testing at the FBI laboratory in Washington, were also found in this general area.