The Difference Between Major Aircraft Accidents and Minor

When I hired into the NTSB, it was my job to focus on major accidents, in other words aircraft accidents that draw the population’s attention, high profile. That’s not a bad thing; however, let’s look at the focus of the NTSB: to discover problems with how the transportation system works, whether it’s rail, aviation, marine, highway and pipeline.
Now high profile includes – as it should – accidents that take the life of public servants, e.g. Senators or Governors. However some celebrities become part of this group, whether they are sport celebrities or TV/movie. This means a large group of NTSB investigators are dispatched to look into a crash with one to three fatalities.
I once investigated an aircraft accident of a commercial airliner that flew freight; the NTSB launched maybe four investigators without the benefit of a proper hearing. The probable causes involved not only the airline, but contractors working on the destroyed jet. Could it be that there were only three fatalities on the cargo jet that became the reason for the minimal attention? Was it that the public awareness drove the NTSB to limit the number of investigators? Because I’ve known smaller high profile accidents with less issues that rated more interest.
An organization gambles its credibility when the decision to investigate or not to, rides on the attention the accident draws and not the human factor of someone losing a loved one.

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