Aircraft Accidents and the Clock

As per the Aspen times, via Curt Lewis, on June 4, 2015, the NTSB released its Factual report for a Learjet 60 accident that occurred three years before. The accident occurred at Aspen-Pitkin County airport on June 7, 2012 and – thankfully – all six humans and two dogs aboard survived, uninjured. The probable cause: the jet skidded off the runway due to low-level windshear, despite the tower warning of the condition ten minutes before the mishap.
It was most likely investigated out of the NTSB’s Denver office, which means one or two investigators for a non-celebrity accident. These investigators are not paid as much as Washington investigators, but their workload is incredibly higher. All this considered, why would it take three years to determine the cause?
In 1996, TWA 800 crashed in Long Island Sound with a loss of 230 souls. It took four years for the report to be adopted, but there were numerous circumstances that were specific to this accident that played havoc with the investigation: Missile theories, 16 months of FBI co-control, the great loss of life and recovery of inaccessible fuselage sections 130 feet below the ocean surface. Yet with all this, the report still posted within four years.
In contrast, in 2003 Air Midwest 5481 crashed in Charlotte airport; all 21 people were lost. The final report was adopted thirteen months later in February 2004. There was testing conducted, interviews and a fuselage that required re-assembly, but the accident was concluded in just thirteen months.
The Aspen accident had several advantages: the crew members survived, the airframe survived, mostly intact, and the passengers survived. Investigators had access to an intact fuselage and engines, undamaged by fire, inflight break-up or salt water. Air traffic controllers were accessible; mechanics could speak to the aircraft’s integrity; and the pilots could lay out their flight.
As I mentioned, the Denver office – like all the NTSB Field offices – is over-worked and improperly recognized. I’ve worked with the field office investigators and they are great at what they do; they do wonders with limited resources, time, and, in some cases, experience. They also recognize when they are overwhelmed and need help, especially in specialties like air traffic or jet piloting.
So what took so long to find a cause when jets are making regular landings in like conditions every day? The findings would have been helpful two years ago. Could the problem lie in … Washington headquarters?

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