My experience with reading the various reports with regard to United Flight 823 is that they have been to the point and not too difficult to understand.
Having had no background in aviation; some of the terminology and abbreviations, at first, were alien to me. However, the useful tool of the Internet has gone a long way in assisting me to make adequate judgments on prioritizing and making decisions as to how the matter of United Flight 823 should be presented. I can humbly make the personal statement that this website is not the end all or be all. Instead, I see my purpose more as an interested party who wishes to raise questions that the reader might see worthwhile in considering. Above all else, I would remind the reader that neither the Federal Aviation Administration, nor anyone else, has found conclusive evidence as to the cause of the inflight fire that took place on July 9, 1964. Saying that, I would ask the reader if it is best to accept that there will never be real answers, or is it better to carry on in an attempt to find out exactly what happened?
It is tempting to view the task as insurmountable and just assign it to the “dustbin of history”, but I would remind the reader of the Pan Am flight 103 investigation that took place after an aircraft was destroyed over Lockerbie, Scotland. A tiny piece of a circuit board from a cassette player took investigators in the direction that eventually led to the identification of those responsible for placing a bomb on the aircraft that killed 243 passengers and 16 crew members.
One paragraph, on Page 9 of the Civil Aeronautics Board Aircraft Accident Report deserves a good amount of scrutiny, as I find it extremely confusing: “An inflight fire existed in the passenger-occupied portion of the cabin. The only flammable liquid carried as a part of the airplane above the fuselage floor is hydraulic fluid in a reservoir located in a compartment between the carry-on luggage rack and the lavatory. The reservoir was damaged by impact and fire and was empty. Another source of flammable liquid known to have been aboard the aircraft was a one-gallon can containing a commercial paint modifier. This can was recovered in the wreckage area, crushed with no evidence of fire damage to either the can or its paper wrapping.”
The first part of the above paragraph, that mentioned the hydraulic fluid reservoir, specifically stated that the reservoir was empty. The last part of the above paragraph mentions a one gallon can containing a flammable paint modifier. If one were to parse words, the first operative word is “containing”, which I take to mean the one gallon vessel still held liquid. The second operative word is “crushed”. I'm left to wonder how a can containing a liquid could still be viable in the sense that the liquid would still remain present in the can in spite of the can being crushed.
In my opinion, the ambiguity is exacerbated because the report fails to state, without equivocation, whether or not the can of paint modifier is empty-which is how the reservoir that “carried” the hydraulic fluid was described.
Data given by the National Bureau of Standards from Page 12 of the C.A.B report: “The carbon deposits taken from both the free fall items and under floor wreckage at the crash site were identified as being the produce of incomplete combustion of saturated aliphatic hydrocarbons. Examples of this type of fuel are kerosene, gasoline, paraffin, hydraulic fluid, lighter fluid and naptha. Of these examples, only kerosene, hydraulic fluid, and lighter fluid were known to be aboard the aircraft. The lighter fluid was not known to be aboard in sufficient quantity to produce the amount of fire experienced. Kerosene in the form of engine fuel and hydraulic fluid were aboard the aircraft in quantity.”
Once again, the report produces ambiguity by stating that the only flammable products known to be aboard the aircraft in quantities to produce the amount of fire experienced were kerosene, hydraulic fluid, and lighter fluid.
The aforementioned one gallon can of “paint modifier” was also described as being flammable.
This brings me to the use of the words, paint modifier. I have been a painter/contractor for all of my life. I have worked with every type of manufactured coating imaginable. Never have I used, or heard used, “modifier” to describe any type of paint additive. When I first came across the word “modifier”, I assumed that someone from the United Kingdom had coined that word. After reading Dr. Graham's report and posting excerpts of his findings in a previous article, I noticed that he, whom I assume resided in the UK in 1964, used the words paint thinner, instead of paint modifier.
The naphtha mentioned above, an example of a saturated aliphatic hydrocarbon, was omitted as an example of what was known to have been on board the aircraft. Naphtha is an available product for use as a paint and varnish thinner or “modifier”.