ST. LOUIS—At a jubilant press conference Wednesday, Trans World Airlines officials announced that, 19 months after its tragic crash off the coast of Long Island, NY, TWA Flight 800 is rebuilt and ready to return to the skies.

TWA Flight 800 stands ready on the runway at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. The salvaged and rebuilt plane will make its return to the skies Mar. 20, flying a New York to Paris route.

"This is a day everyone at TWA has been dreaming of for a long time," TWA director of safety Walter Gorman said. "Ever since Flight 800 went down on July 17, 1996, taking 230 lives with it, Trans World Airlines has had one goal: to turn tragedy into triumph by getting that plane back together and up in the air once again."

Gorman said the rebuilt plane is the product of more than 4,200 trips to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, during which every last bit of the wreckage of Flight 800 was painstakingly collected by divers, from landing-gear cables to altitude-indicator dials to tray tables.

"TWA has spent over $400 million reconstructing this airplane piece by piece, all to ensure that you, our valued customer, enjoys the same comfort and safety on Flight 800 that you would on any other TWA jet," Gorman said. "We've literally scoured the bottom of the ocean to stock this plane with extra pillows, comfy headrests, GTE Airfones, and all the other conveniences it offered travelers the first time around. And first-class passengers can look forward to lots of other recovered amenities, from a pieced-together wet bar to extra-wide, fully dried leather seats."

Added Gorman: "Give Flight 800 a second chance—we're confident you'll like what you see."

The reconstructed Boeing 747 will make its triumphant return March 20, flying the same New York to Paris route it was scheduled to fly July 17, 1996, when it went down shortly after takeoff from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

"What a proud, symbolic moment that will be on March 20, at 9:20 p.m. EST, when Flight 800 touches down at Paris' DeGaulle Airport, finally finishing what it set out to do a year and a half ago," Gorman said.

More than 220 non-refundable tickets for the flight have already been sold. It is not known how many of those who purchased them are aware the tickets are for Flight 800.

TWA officials expressed hope that the return flight will put an end to lingering questions about the cause of the 1996 crash, which is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

"When Flight 800 finally soars through the air, it should prove once and for all to the NTSB, FAA, and any other doubters that this plane works perfectly and possesses no any mechanical defects whatsoever," TWA CEO Thomas Poquette said. "On March 20, 1998, Trans World Airlines is going to make front-page headlines once again—you just watch."