As more info comes out, I’ve switched back to “glass-half-empty” of sabotage mode. While it’s extremely unlikely for a piece of primary structure to simply fall off on an airplane, airplane crashes themselves are extremely unlikely, as evidenced by the demonstrable fact that they are rare. Such events are, almost invariably, caused by a fatal and improbable combination of circumstances and events, and I now think it likely that this will be eventually found to be the case here as well, even given the horrendous coincidences of timing and location.
While it’s possible that it was deliberate, the particular plane (full of Dominicans on the way to the Caribbean) seems improbable (though, of course, the saboteur might not necessarily know the destination or manifest), and I would think that there would have been an attempt to do multiple aircraft nearly simultaneously, as occurred on 911, rather than a single isolated case. Also, now that they’ve determined that it wasn’t a fastener problem, it’s harder to come up with a theory of just how the tail would have been deliberately weakened in a way that an inspection wouldn’t catch. Also, absent some kind of active device (e.g., radio controlled charges), I don’t think that one could really plan when or where the aircraft would hit. It seems likely to me that, even given the fact that it was Mike Moran’s and the other fire fighters’ neighborhood and timing on Veterans’ Day and all, the location of the impact was just a tragic coincidence–a few seconds more and it would have ended up in the ocean.
Airbus was the first major manufacturer to use composites for primary structure, and we are only now getting enough life in the fleet to really understand long-term fatigue issues. Given that the vertical stabilizer did not come off quite as cleanly as originally reported, I’m now willing to entertain scenarios in which a stress-fatigued stabilizer came off, perhaps under whipsaw loads from hard rudder action to control the plane in unusual wake turbulence. Once the stabilizer was lost (particularly if the pilot didn’t realize this had occurred, which seems likely, since it’s fly-by-wire with no direct force feedback), there would be no essentially no yaw control from the airplane. This could result in fairly high g-loads on the engine pylons as it went into a flat spin (they aren’t designed to take much in terms of lateral loading–they’re cantilevered below, and are designed mainly for vertical loads), and could easily snap off, taking both engines. Once the engines were gone, there was no hope at all, because those would have been the only possibility of yaw control (using differential thrust).
Although I don’t buy the official story about TWA 800, I think it unlikely that there’s any coverup here–I just don’t see a motivation for it. If people think that the government is trying to keep us calm by hiding the “real” reason–terrorists, my response is that I’d much rather think that it’s terrorists, which we are already addressing, and could come up with new maintenance security procedures to address, than that we don’t know what happened, and that there’s a possibility that the entire Airbus fleet (and perhaps even Boeing as well, since they’ve started using composites in their latest series of aircraft as well) is at risk to an unquantifiable defect. Thus, at least to me, the current government position is more likely to keep me off an airplane than a sabotage theory.