Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How Is a Plane Crash Investigated

In writing my book Stalking the Sky, I wanted to depict with absolute authenticity the way investigators go about examining the wreckage of a plane crash to determine the cause. 

Here's an excerpt: 

The FBI Disaster Squad, victim identification experts, was on the scene, helping with the tagging and the loading. State police would also pitch in. For many days, both groups would aid local coroners trying to match bodies or sometimes parts of bodies with names. Eventually, they would certify as deceased 339 people, in some cases on evidence as flimsy as the lone, bent earring recognized by a daughter on a table of unidentified passenger belongings.

Local police had cordoned off the site to keep onlookers and the press at a distance—theft of strewn plane parts as grisly souvenirs could prevent discovery of the crash’s cause. Gathered around the twisted debris were small groups of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Global Universal, the airframe and engine manufacturers, the airline pilots’ union and the insurance company, as well as local authorities. Only the first, the NTSB, could be considered fully objective. Their investigation team was composed of government experts whose sole responsibility was to determine the probable cause of the crash. That determination would weigh heavily in recommending improved equipment and procedures and in the court cases that would surely follow. Those found responsible could become liable for millions of dollars in claims made by the families of those on board.

Slipping among the various investigators were photographers and surveyors whose task was to record accurately where objects had been found, an important tool in reconstructing the exact sequence of events. At what point did the plane hit the ground? Were some plane parts already detached before impact? How far were bodies thrown? How far did the fuselage skid?

Power plant specialists were trying to determine if birds had been ingested into the jet fans, cutting off the air intake, or if icing had occurred or fuel starvation or fire. Airframe experts, if metal fatigue had caused failure of a vital structural member. Systems people, whether the electrical, hydraulic or control systems had failed in some way. Only by such painstaking study could future crashes be prevented.

Read more: Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle)

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