PRESIDENT CLINTON was right to believe he had to say something to the American public in the wake of a frightening air disaster that raised many fears at the peak of the summer vacation travel system. One of his most important messages bears repeating: Don't jump to conclusions until the evidence is in.
Another, unspoken, message is that regardless of the cause of the explosion of the TWA Boeing 747 airliner off the eastern Long Island shore on Wednesday, it is the federal government's (and Mr. Clinton's) business to find the cause, to insure prevention of a repetition and to strengthen the safety and public confidence in air travel.
That is true if the cause is found to be terrorism, or crew error, or structural or maintenance-related airplane problems. Civil aviation, especially its safety, remains the province of the federal government in this country.
There has been a temptation to lose sight of this in the passion for deregulation of all things, including airline scheduling and pricing. Yet the crash of a ValueJet DC-9 in Florida in May raised questions of zeal in maintenance inspection and resulted in new Federal Aviation Administration rules about hazardous cargo. Now Washington must again play the role of forensic sleuth and safety cop.
Idle speculation is not productive. One could guess at the reason for the crash, but if you don't know, you don't know. Even if the truth should remain forever shrouded beneath the North Atlantic, every possible explanation should be examined by the National Transportation Safety Board and other authorities.
What would be most wrong would be to assume that if one possible explanation is terrifying, the others aren't. If care is taken to see that no plane could go down from a bomb aboard ever again, or from crew error ever again, or from mechanical failing ever again, some good will have been drawn from this.
Pub date: 7/18/96