I try to keep the tone of the blog on the light side because a.) there’s enough sad and icky stuff in the regular media and b.) I’m a pretty upbeat person. Having said that, this week’s blog, in which I will at share information about the aviation industry that I find interesting and think my readers will as well, will also touch on private airplane crashes, which are never a happy event. I say that because even if the pilot walks away, an airplane has been badly damaged or destroyed, causing heartache for the owner.
There was a plane crash on Friday, January 4, in a town just north of where we live. A Bonanza H-35 (N375B), built in 1957, attempted to glide to the small Palm Coast (Fla.) airport after the engine quit, but ended up going through the roof of a home, killing the pilot and both passengers. The woman in the home miraculously got out OK.
As is to be expected, the local media gave this unfortunate event a lot of attention. It had all the elements of a dramatic story: solid citizens (the pilot was a teacher, the two passengers were engaged to be married) in a harrowing situation over which the pilot had no control (rough weather and an airplane with engine trouble). The tower personnel were extensively quoted and the radio dialog between the tower and the pilot was transcribed for readers to share. People who saw the airplane getting lower and lower as it neared the airport were also interviewed.
As always happens when an airplane crashes, an investigation as to the cause has begun. The pilot reported a vibration and smoke in the cockpit, and then while following instructions from the tower to get to Palm Coast, indicated in one short, sad sentence that he had “zero oil pressure.” Throughout the last minutes of the flight, the pilot was also dealing with heavy clouds that affected his ability to know where he was in relation to the airport or, indeed, anywhere to land (beach, road, field, etc.)
Every airplane crash is assigned an IIC – Investigator-In-Charge. This individual can be from a government entity or private company. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is in charge of this investigation so the IIC is an NTSB employee, Terry Duprie. As is typical of an airplane crash investigation, Duprie stated it could take up to a year to find a cause of this crash.
The NTSB is typically the “go-to” agency for airplane crash investigations. A lot of people think that the FAA – Federal Aviation Administration – investigates crashes. This is not the case. The FAA manages flight regulations so in some cases, they contribute to investigations by determining if laws or aviation safety issues were ignored. The FAA does track and publish “incidents” through its huge ASIAS (Aviation Safety Information and Analysis System) database. The incident database itself has it Accident Incident Data System, with the unfortunate acronym “AIDS”…
Other agencies can get involved in airplane crash investigations but only as needed:
- FBI: Gets involved if a possible national security breach is indicated by the crash situation
- ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization): Produces and manages protocol to follow if the crash involves two or more countries
- Local police and rescue groups: Retrieves and treats injured victims and gathers remains of those who perished; fights any fires or hazardous material spills that may result from the crash. Also assists in retrieving airplane parts post-crash.
- Airplane manufacturers and operators, insurance companies, OSHA, the EPA, news media and independent consultants may also be called upon to assist in the investigation.
The NTSB typically gathers information from eyewitnesses and others as needed, including those entities in the list above. Each party writes up its findings and submits it to the NTSB. The NTSB reviews them all, writes up its own report and then loads the report into its publicly accessible database. The NTSB makes every attempt to just report information and keep bias out. If appropriate, it will make safety recommendations to outside parties (aircraft manufacturers, air traffic controllers, the FAA, etc.) that those entities may decide expand into rules for future flight safety.
The pilot in the Palm Coast crash was so close to the airport when the airplane went down it just breaks your heart. If as a result of the investigation, something is found that would encourage one other pilot do something differently to safeguard him/herself and anyone flying with him/her, it would be a very good thing.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.