THE TINIEST TERRORS

A SPARK PROBABLY DOOMED TWA 800--AND OTHER 747S MAY NOT BE IMMUNE

Could there possibly be a tinier or more innocent-seeming measurement than the millijoule? The unit of energy denotes roughly the wallop packed by a dime dropped on a table from a height of 2 in. But as the National Transportation Safety Board revealed in hearings held in Baltimore last week, minuscule can mean sinister. Calmly, patiently, safety-board explosion expert Merritt Birky explained that a spark carrying one-quarter millijoule of energy was all that was necessary to ignite the contents of the 12,890-gal. central fuel tank of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 off Long Island--a tank that then exploded, destroying the plane...

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