When an airplane catches on fire and jet fuel is the catalyst, the amount of time that the plane and the object around it will burn is dependent on many different factors. One of the primary factors is the amount of fuel that is still contained on the plane. For instance a jet that is taking a transatlantic flight will have more jet fuel than a regional flight. Investigators would need to know this type of information so that they can estimate how much time it might take for the fuel to burn off or the types of measures that need to be taken to extinguish the fire.
Investigations can also be effected by the presence of cabin fires. According to Improved Fire- and Smoke-Resistant Materials for Commercial Aircraft Interiors: A Proceedings, (1995) post crash Cabin fires have been extensively researched. A great deal of this research has occurred in an attempt to make the cabin safer so that if a fire does start in the cabin people can still survive the crash. In many cases people survive the initial impact but they die in the post-crash fire. In an effort to stop this from occurring studies of the materials present in the cabin and the rate at which they burn have been studied and materials that are more fire resistant.
Cabin fires can also reveal a great deal about how a crash occurred or what might have triggered the crash. For instance investigators can teall whether or not a fire statted in a cabin before the crash or of if the cabin fire began after the crash. This can be determined by evaluating the temperature and the degree of burning that has occurred. If an investigator can determine where the fire started, he may also be able to tell why it started and whether or it occurred because of pilot error, mechanical failure or some other type of defect.
Overall is appears that have a real knowledge of fire chemistry and the causes of fires as it pertains to aircrafts is useful in determining how a crash occurred. In addition, when professionals know how cabin fires start they can do more to prevent them from happening. In addition, this knowledge with allow airlines to better instruct passengers as it relates to how they can escape in cases there is a cabin fire.
What Investigators need to know
As a result of the damage that can be done to evidence as a result of a fire, there are certain factors that investigators must learn and take into consideration in determining the cause of a crash. According to an article entitled "Fire and Explosion Investigation"
Investigators must understand fire chemistry and fire investigation procedures. Investigators must also learn the following;
Types of fire evidence and how to identify the evidence.
Common patterns and behaviors of fire within the context of aviation.
The procedure of recognizing and investigating explosions.
Normal airport fire response and suppression skills
How and where to get technical fire investigation assistance
Utilize case studies and practical exercises to strengthen and demonstrate the kills obtained by training.
Attribute of Aircraft Fluids and Materials.
Identifying in-flight and post-impact fire evidence.
Aircraft Fire Investigation Techniques
Examination of explosions
All of these skills are essential to having the competency necessary to properly investigate airplane crashes. It is important to note that investigators have to attend school where they are taught all of the aforementioned principles. These investigators also have to receive the correct certifications before they are allowed to investigate crash sites.
The purpose of this discussion was to examine the ways in which fires make the reporting an investigating of accidents problematic in incidents involving aircraft. The research indicates that many crashes are likely to end in fire. As a result there must be a concerted effort to understand the chemistry of fires so that crashed sites can be reconstructed in a way that will reveal why the accident occurred.
Understanding fire chemistry is also important because it can assist engineers in creating airplanes that are safer. In addition, airlines will have the ability to better inform passengers as it pertains to getting out of the plane safely if a fire does occur. In the long run this may save many lives. In fact such knowledge has already saved many lives.
several federal and privates agencies are responsible for investigating aircraft crashes. Theses agencies include the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT). Though these organizations serve different roles they all work together to ensure that investigations are handled appropriately.
The research is clear that understanding fire chemistry serves an important role in understanding why aircraft accidents occur. Without such knowledge investigators will have difficulty identifying the cause of aircraft accidents. Overall, the research indicates that fire is a deadly factor in accident investigation, whether it be the cause of the accident or a result from the accident, understanding fire chemistry can open up ways to save more lives from fires in aircraft accidents.
Aircraft Accident Investigations." Retrieved June 6, 2008 from; http://www.enotes.com/forensic-science/aircraft-accident-investigations
"Fire and Explosion Investigation." Retrieved June 6, 2008 from; http://www.scsi-inc.com/FEI.html
History and Mission. Retrieved June 6, 2008 from; http://www.ntsb.gov/Abt_NTSB/history.htm
Improved Fire- and Smoke-Resistant Materials for Commercial Aircraft Interiors: A Proceedings, (1995). Retrieved June 6, 2008 from; http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=4970#toc
Moore, M.T. McCoy, K., Levin A. And Hampson R. (2009) Retrieved June 6, 2008 from;
Landing hailed as 'Miracle on the Hudson,' probe begins. USA TODAY
"The Role of Chemistry in Fire Management." Retrieved June 6, 2008 from; http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/resources/coned/fe-curriculum/hs-chem-72.pdf
Robbins W. (2009) 50 Killed as Plane Hits House Near Buffalo. New York Times.