Aug 27 2012

Looking Back at TWA Flight 800

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21 responses so far

21 Responses to “Looking Back at TWA Flight 800”

  1. MWSlettenon 27 Aug 2012 at 9:16 am

    Excellent exercise in skepticism. A couple of nits:

    Investigators looking for evidence of a missile attack look for “petaling,” like the petals of a flower, not “pedaling,” like a bicyclist. Damn you auto correct!

    The suspect fuel tank is the center wing tank, not the central wing tank. The spark that caused the explosion likely came not from the fuel quantity gauge, which resides in the cockpit instrument panel, but from the sensor or probe in the tank which sends quantity data to the fuel gauge.

  2. Chewon 27 Aug 2012 at 9:37 am

    “Of the witnesses I spoke two” should be “Of the witnesses I spoke to”.
    gentler, not jentler
    The LA mystery missile was coming from Hawaii and heading to Arizona iirc. It did not originate from LAX. The optical illusion of a “missile” climbing vertically only works when the aircraft is flying towards you. If it were flying away from you then it would look like a missile diving vertically. Something else accounted for the illusion of a climbing missile. I’ve always assumed unburned fuel ignited and traveled upward and that mimicked the appearance of the exhaust tail of a missile but I have no evidence to support that idea.

  3. Steven Novellaon 27 Aug 2012 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for the nits. Corrections made. The mystery missile flight – latest info I could find favors UPS902, also from Honolulu.

    Some of the viewers, those East of the flight 800, would have viewed the plane with it flying mostly towards them. (look at the map above)

    But I agree that other factors may have caused this in some eyewitnesses, like falling or trailing debris.

  4. SARAon 27 Aug 2012 at 1:26 pm

    There is nothing so convincing as experiencing something – hearing, seeing, whatever. It’s the same issue with people who see ghosts. You have to have an understanding of the many perception problems in our brain to be willing to overcome something you experience.

    A whole class should be taught on it in high school.

  5. elmer mccurdyon 27 Aug 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I know there have been discussions of this here before, since it’s favorite topic here, but this example – a single, brief, experience – seems the type we’re most likely to remember wrong.

  6. tmac57on 27 Aug 2012 at 7:31 pm

    @ Elmer- This is also a favorite topic of mine. A recent episode of Science Friday featured David Eagleman a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine,where he recounts an experiment where they showed subjects a photoshopped picture of them in a hot air balloon when they were young (even though they had never been in one),and then quizzed them later about the experience,and a significant number recalled vivid accounts of the fictitious incident,despite the fact that it never occurred…At least that’s the way I remember the story on the show…:)

  7. elmer mccurdyon 27 Aug 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Yes, it also seems that long past experiences, especially early childhood, are particularly susceptible. I’m pretty sure that some types of memory are less so than others, and I’ve got some feelings about what they’d be. Any overviews someone could point me to?

  8. elmer mccurdyon 27 Aug 2012 at 9:38 pm

    My feeling being: experiences that are repeated over a long period, especially recently, would be less susceptible.

  9. ccbowerson 28 Aug 2012 at 2:48 pm

    “I know there have been discussions of this here before, since it’s favorite topic here, but this example – a single, brief, experience – seems the type we’re most likely to remember wrong.”

    I’m not sure that single/brief experiences are more likely to be remembered wrong, as much as people will be more convinced that they are remembering them correctly when they are not. Its hard to convince people that their vivid memories may be inaccurate (or even suggest the possibility) … most people are quite attached to the idea that their memories are accurate.

  10. ccbowerson 28 Aug 2012 at 3:37 pm


    Related to that is the study from last year in which people who watched high imagery popcorn commercials were (1 week later) just as likely to say they have eaten the popcorn as those who actually ate the popcorn. Text only ads did not have this effect.

  11. Bronze Dogon 28 Aug 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Glad I read this. Hadn’t made the connection in my mind about the delay between seeing a distant explosion and hearing it. If I went to see the July 4th fireworks this year, it might have occurred to me. One thing that doesn’t help is Hollywood. In movies, explosions are always seen and heard at the same time, so that’s how we’re made to think of them.

  12. BillyJoe7on 28 Aug 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I’m not sure that Hollywood is to blame. There is always a disconnect when you see something happening in the distance (like someone chopping wood) and hear the sound with a slight delay. It always seems wrong and you have to remind yourself that sound travels slower than light.

  13. tmac57on 28 Aug 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Bronze Dog makes an interesting point that I hadn’t really thought about concerning the way movies (and TV for that matter) usually don’t accurately portray the sound delay between distant,noisy,events,and the sound delay.For the average person who rarely witnesses an airplane or Death Star blowing up in person,there likely is a ‘cinematic bias’®, that may affect not only the way we perceive an unexpected and rare event,but also the way we reconstruct such and event when recalling it for authorities.

  14. DLCon 29 Aug 2012 at 2:26 am

    That’s the problem. no shoulder fired missile could have reached the aircraft (the best of them have about 3 mile range, with a 3 lb warhead meant to take down helicopters. ) and a large ship-fired or surface unit (truck mounted) missile would have been very noticeable for miles around.
    Must have been Zeus’ slingshot.

  15. tmac57on 29 Aug 2012 at 7:55 am

    Note to self: Proofread twice,submit once :)

  16. Bronze Dogon 29 Aug 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I do think Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment media have some part in shaping our expectations about uncommon and dangerous events, which can alter our perception when they do happen. Of course, we do have various instinctive intuitions pointed out, but I think the entertainment business has a habit of catering to them for the sake of sensation at the cost of realism.

    I did originally have one part I was going to put in about conspiracy theorists and how to me it seems they’re also heavily influenced by entertainment: Disasters don’t happen by accident because there’s always some villain who planned it. A character is “genre savvy” if he recognizes that within the movie and appears clever when his prediction comes true. It seems to me that a lot of conspiracy theorists try to be genre savvy about real life, where movie logic doesn’t apply.

  17. tmac57on 29 Aug 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Bronze Dog-Those are some plausible ideas. It might make a worthwhile line of research,if someone hasn’t already looked into it. Who knows how often we are tripped up in our dealings with reality when we are basing our actions on what a Bruce Willis or Lisbeth Salander would do any any given situation beyond our normal experience?

  18. Heptronon 31 Aug 2012 at 8:53 am

    To reinforce the most recent post of Bronze Dog, this is something I found on YouTube regarding the Pepcon chemical plant explosion from years back. Below are 2 links.

    The first link shows the video of the explosion which seems more raw in that there is no narration or dramatic music. The second video is from the show ‘Destroyed in Seconds’
    If you watch the first video first, you can see the shockwave from the explosion spread across the ground, then you hear it. The second video, and any that seemed to be made into a TV production, have the sound sync up with the sight of the explosion.
    This always bothered me that they didn’t show the delay between sight and sound because I assumed most people would think that’s how sound works. I guess that’s exactly what happened with Flight 800

  19. tmac57on 31 Aug 2012 at 9:37 am

    Heptron-Nice example! That perfectly illustrates what Bronze Dog was talking about.Thanks.

  20. stereoblueon 01 Sep 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I heard a report on NYC radio that day that said the plane was shot down. I remember that pretty vividly as I was impressed by the boldness of that decision and wondered what sort of political fallout that would have in the days to come (its not everyday the military shoots down a plane full of its own citizens). It doesn’t surprise me that the news was wrong that day, but hearing that sort of report and then the subsequent retraction does lend itself to conspiracy thinking… so I’m also not surprised that accusations of a cover-up still exist.

  21. BillyJoe7on 22 Sep 2013 at 7:56 am

    I don’ t usually watch 60 minutes (because i don’t trust them to provide me with reliable information) but we had visitors over tonight and guess what they wanted to watch?
    And guess what the show covered?

    I remember reading about this conspiracy somewhere but couldn’t remember where so I googled it.
    There was a link to an article written by Stephen Novella, so I guessed it would be covered here.

    And how did 60 minutes cover it?
    Well, let’s just say that 60 minutes did not let me down.

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