NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB CALLS FOR MORE AGGRESSIVE ACTION ON
HAZARDOUS MATERIALS IN AIR CARGO SHIPMENTS

July 21, 1998

Washington, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board today recommended that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) develop new methods to improve the detection of undeclared hazardous materials offered for air shipment, and require air carriers to maintain systems to provide vital information on hazmat shipments to emergency responders on a timely basis.

The recommendations stem from the Safety Board's investigation into a fire aboard a DC-10 aircraft, operated by the Federal Express Corporation, which made an emergency landing at Newburgh, NY, on September 5, 1996. The three crewmembers and two passengers evacuated the aircraft, sustaining only minor injuries. The airplane, which had been enroute from Memphis to Boston, was destroyed by fire after landing. The Board's report cited an in-flight cargo fire of undetermined origin as the probable cause of the accident.

The Safety Board found that the transportation of undeclared hazardous materials on airplanes remains a significant problem and that more aggressive measures to deal with it are needed. The presence of aerosol cans, containers of acidic liquid, as well as several illicit packages of marijuana on board the accident flight, illustrates that common carriers can be unaware of the true content of many of the packages they carry, the Board said. The report also noted that DOT regulations do not adequately address the need for hazardous materials information on file at a carrier to be quickly retrievable in a format useful to emergency responders.

Specifically, the Safety Board recommended that DOT "require, within two years, that a person offering any shipment for air transportation provide written responses, on shipping papers, to inquiries about hazardous characteristics of the shipment, and develop other procedures and technologies to improve the detection of undeclared hazardous materials offered for transportation."

The Board also recommended that DOT's Research and Special Programs Administration "require, within two years, that air carriers transporting hazardous materials have the means, 24 hours per day, to quickly retrieve and provide consolidated specific information about the identity (including proper shipping name), hazard class, quantity, number of packages, and location of all hazardous materials on an airplane in a timely manner to emergency responders."

The NTSB report faulted the aircraft captain for not requiring his crew to follow prescribed checklists in reacting to the in-flight fire. Investigators found that the crew's failure to cut off air flow to the cargo area, as required by the checklist, provided a continuing source of oxygen that contributed to the intensity of the fire. While descending, the aircraft was not depressurized, making it difficult to open the doors and delaying evacuation, investigators said. The Board issued a number of procedural and training recommendations designed to deal with these shortcomings, and with the use of protective breathing equipment and smoke goggles.

The Safety Board also asked the FAA to require airports to improve coordination with fire departments and other state and local agencies that might become involved in responding to an aviation accident involving hazardous materials, develop detailed emergency response plans, and test those plans through periodic joint exercises.

The NTSB's complete report on this accident, PB98-910403, may be purchased from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161, (703) 487-4650. The report also will be placed on the Board's web page (www.ntsb.gov) in the near future.

 

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.