WASHINGTON, DC—In what may be the most difficult news yet for families of TWA Flight 800 victims, federal investigators revealed Monday that, according to black box evidence, passengers had not finished viewing the in-flight movie Dragonheart before the airplane crashed.
"As far as we can determine by analysis of the on-board flight recorder," said National Air Traffic Safety Board investigator Gina Paz, "a violent explosion in the plane's fuselage caused the plane to go down, terminating Dragonheart before its exciting completion."
A visibly shaken Paz paused for a moment before adding, "There were roughly 20 minutes remaining in this magical, fanciful Universal Pictures release that the victims never got to see."
"This is a terrible tragedy," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Peña. "One thousand years ago, two sworn enemies—a dragonslaying knight and the last remaining dragon—formed an incredible alliance to battle tyranny in the land. No one deserves to die in the middle of such a tale."
Though the Dragonheart disaster is still under investigation, the NATSB did release several seconds of tape recordings from Flight 800's black box. On the tape, screams and loud sobbing can be heard as the popular Dennis Quaid/ Sean Connery film inexplicably stops in mid-reel following a complete loss of cabin pressure.
"My God! The screen's gone out! We're going down! Does Bowen slay the dragon? Or does he resist and honor their unlikeliest of friendships?!" a woman can be heard wailing on the tape.
Also captured by the black box is an elderly man, who shouts: "What happened? What happened to Julie Christie in her first big-screen performance in over five years?"
According to Irwin Schifrin, the NATSB technician in charge of reviewing TWA's in-flight recorder tapes, there was little indication of trouble prior to the explosion.
"Right up to the moment of the explosion, everything was proceeding normally," Schifrin said. "Passengers responded well to Quaid's portrayal of the idealistic armored knight. There was a brief moment of trouble at the beginning, when some passengers had a hard time accepting Connery as the dragon's voice, but it passed without incident. Then, you can hear the explosion. Not long after that, the movie stopped—and the screaming began."
To help ease the pain of the victims' families, TWA is sending each of them their own copy of Dragonheart.
"It's the least we could do," said TWA spokesman Malcolm Schlesinger. "Even if the victims never lived to see the end of the movie, at least now their loved ones can.