Often times this is done to preserve the evidence and wreckage associated with a crash and in the instances where criminal investigations and evidence are pursued, these chains of command are useful in dealing with the implications surrounding the criminal acts.
A press room and actions involving journalists also take place in this headquarters area. After a crash is investigated, the NTSB prepares statements from witnesses or other pertinent parties in order to formulate a final report (NTSB, 2002). This final report is the synthesis of the entire investigation and includes a "probable cause" as well as detailed information surrounding the circumstances of the crash (NTSB, 2002). The NTSB and the FAA often make recommendations and even policy and regulatory changes after a final report is issued and inferences can be made about causes of the crash.
Recent Crash Investigation and Analysis
The recent air crash in Alaska involving former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens was investigated by the NTSB, just as any air crash involving U.S. aircraft would be. But since the aircraft on which Mr. Stevens and other passengers were flying on was a privately-operated aircraft, it was not carrying either a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder (Voice of America, 2010). This crash, like many other small aircraft crashes in the U.S., represent a challenge to investigators in that they are not able to use such tools to help determine probable cause and reconstruct the moments leading up to the crash itself. This is a major disadvantage in the investigation, but since this crash, like so many others, involved a celebrity, the NTSB was careful to conduct a thorough and discreet investigation.
The aircraft involved in the crash came down in a fairly remote section of Alaska, so access to the crash was very limited (Voice of America, 2010). This hampered NTSB efforts to create a headquarters of operation near the crash itself. Instead, investigators moved much of the crash from the point of impact to a hangar where they could more accurately understand the dynamics and specific circumstances that fed into the crash. Another major help to investigators was the fact that there were survivors who could help to relay the last moments of the crash in order for the NTSB staff to gain insight into exactly what happened, and to help establish probable cause (Voice of America, 2010). The NTSB was able to use reports from other pilots as well as official weather records and reports to help reconstruct the circumstances that could have potentially led up to the crash. They also interviewed other Alaska bush pilots and people who knew more about the experience levels of the pilots involved in the Stevens crash to help understand the human limitations associated with the incident (Voice of America, 2010).
After nearly a month of investigation and analysis, the NTSB was able to establish probable cause for the crash as a combination of pilot error and bad weather (Voice of America, 2010). Establishing this was not done through the typical methods of analysis like many other air crashes, but the NTSB was able to use its discretion in investigating, just as its own field manual spells out, and help to mold the investigation to the specifics of the crash itself, which was somewhat unique because of the area it occurred in and the type and size of the aircraft that crashed.
The NTSB and other regulatory agencies within the U.S. government have an established protocol for accident investigations (Faith, 1997). These protocols involve the discretion of these agencies in trying to understand probable cause as well as the use of some very specific and useful technologies. These technologies are mandatory in many U.S. aircraft, but as was seen with the crash involving former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, these technologies are not always employed (Wells and Rodrigues, 2004). Aircraft accident investigators have to rely on expert knowledge in laboratories for analyzing crash evidence as well as computer models which can use the same evidence collected at the scene of the crash to develop a comprehensive computer model for investigators to analyze. Many times, these computer models include permutations and possibilities that go on for further analysis as part of the investigation itself. Also, investigators are keen to pass along any knowledge or specific understanding that is gleaned from the crash investigations to U.S. pilot training facilities (Learmount, 2009). This can help to prevent future crashes under similar circumstances and conditions by giving pilots training experience.
The NTSB, as a government agency, performs a very specific and useful function in its investigations of air crashes. Without a governing body to help analyze and relay crash information to the industry, nothing could be learned from the disasters of the past. Certainly there has been marked improvement in the design, manufacturing, and operation of aircraft that has come specifically from past air accident investigations. These investigations not only answer the underlying questions surrounding the crashes but also give future pilots and engineers better tools and understandings to help keep them from repeating the mistakes of the past.
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Faith, Nicholas. (1997). Black Box: The Air-Crash Detectives: Why Air Safety is
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Kane, Robert M. (2003). Air Transportation. Robert Kane: New York.