Disappointing Data

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EAST MORICHES, N.Y.: The voice recorder tapes from the doomed TWA Flight 800 cut off 12 minutes into the trip with an unusual noise lasting a mere fraction of a second, but authorities hope that sound will explain what caused the plane to explode into a fiery ball last week. James Kallstrom, assistant FBI director, told reporters Thursday that "we know there was a catastrophic explosion; it was caused by some kind of a bomb, obviously. We're not further describing how that would be, whether it was carried on whether something hit the plane from outside and caused it to explode." But Kallstrom then contradicted himself, saying he was not ruling out other possibilities, such as "a mechanical problem that has nothing to do with terrorism or criminality, or something in the cargo that would have caused a mechanical problem." Robert Francis of the National Transportation Safety Board could not say what the sound was, and said the flight data recorder tape had been contaminated by water and needed further study. Francis said divers on Wednesday found the data and voice recorders, which are carried in the tails of jetliners, almost directly underneath a Navy vessel. TIME's Elaine Rivera reports that the investigators appear upbeat, even though the first analysis of the two black boxes revealed no major clues. "Kallstrom called himself an optimist, and speculated they'll have an idea what cause the crash within one week." While forensic scientists continue to evaluate the information from the tapes and data recorder, Rivera says, the FBI is continuing what they're calling a "world-wide investigation." She adds: "There have been some very low points in this investigation, but it seems the NTSB and the FBI are now on the right path." -->