Aircraft Accidents and Taking Charge

On Tuesday, June 21, it was reported in the Alaska Dispatch News that an accident that occurred in Anchorage on December 29, 2015, was now being investigated by the FBI. The accident, ruled intentional, involved a man who allegedly flew into the building where his wife worked at. The case required heavy scrutiny due to its confusing evidence compounded by the harsh winter weather before the NTSB turned the case over to the FBI.
Make no mistake, the important part of this story is that the case was turned over to the FBI upon realization that the accident was intentional – not meant as an oxymoron – and should be treated as such by people who are used to this type of investigation.
I have often gone on about inexperienced people, about so called ‘aviation expert’ bloggers and journalists who have never been personally involved in an accident investigation. They direct the attention away from the true accident cause with their social media skills. However, even more disturbing is the ‘expert’ who refuses to turn the accident over to the proper agency due to pride or the need for a spotlight.
When American 587 crashed, the FBI was involved early on because of the confusion of how the accident happened pointed to a possible purposeful crash. TWA 800 also had the involvement of FBI due to its unusual circumstances. These accidents represented events where the unique talents and resources of the FBI were crucial to collecting evidence without contamination and to move the course of the investigation in the correct direction should it have proven to be terrorism. Once terrorism was ruled out, the NTSB took over.
By contrast Le Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) – France’s accident investigation division – did not consult the Sûreté Nationale or the Département de la Sûreté/SécuritéTerritoriale (DST) – the French version of the FBI – with the investigation into Germanwings 9535. The resulting chaos resulted in abusing evidence, creating a circus atmosphere of handling of evidence and having the investigation play out in the media instead of being contained in the investigatory group. We will never fully appreciate the damage done by this mishandling of the accident or the mishandling of Malaysia MH370.
This is the danger of ‘aviation experts’, those who decide that they have the experience and insight into how investigations must go and it is their job to influence it. It almost happened with EgyptAir 804 when the coroner stepped beyond his pay grade to announce a bomb had gone off inside the aircraft followed by another ‘expert’ report that fire broke out prior to the crash, a revelation made by an aviation blogger whose aviation credentials are non-existent.
When China Air 611 crashed in 2002, I assisted the Taiwanese Aviation Safety Council in reviewing maintenance records, digging into the aircraft’s history, interviewing mechanics and inspecting the sister ships that were grounded. We made the most of the time to gather as much information as we could. In the absence of physical evidence – the aircraft was on the floor of the China Sea – all was done to work with what was available to discover the possible cause, not throw darts at a board to sensationalize.

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