As all of you know, transportation is one of the largest and most dynamic
industries in our economy. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation,
11 percent of our Gross Domestic Product is generated by transportation.
This amounted to $688 billion in 1993.
All of us here utilize our massive transportation infrastructure many
times a day:
Unfortunately, when you have so much activity, it is inevitable that
accidents occur in our transportation system. And that, often, is when
my agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, is called into action.
Most of you know us because of our high-profile aviation accident work,
but the Board also investigates highway, rail, pipeline and marine accidents.
The NTSB was established in 1967 by Congress to determine the "probable
causes" of transportation accidents and issue recommendations to prevent
future accidents. We are independent of the U.S. Department of Transportation,
and have no regulatory or enforcement powers.
Since 1967, the Safety Board has investigated more than 100,000 aviation
accidents and almost 10,000 surface transportation accidents as the world's
premier transportation accident investigation agency.
On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Safety Board investigators
travel throughout the country and to every corner of the world to investigate
significant accidents, developing a factual record that often leads to
safety recommendations aimed at ensuring that such accidents never happen
In its 29-year history, the Board has issued almost 10,000 recommendations
in all transportation modes to more than 1,250 recipients. Our recommendations
serve, to a great extent, as a main area of government transportation safety
oversight. We don't only look at transportation companies or individuals
when searching for a cause, we also look at the role the pertinent state
or federal agencies might have played.
It is quite a task. While we often examine the safety programs of billion
dollar corporations and government agencies having tens of thousands of
employees, to give you an idea of our relative sizes, the annual budget
of my 350-person agency would fund the Department of Transportation for
just nine hours! At an annual cost of less than 15 cents a citizen, I think
the National Transportation Safety Board is one of the best buys in government.
Despite some highly publicized accidents in recent years, our transportation
system has a remarkable safety record:
This safety record is due in no small part to the efforts of the National
Transportation Safety Board, which issues recommendations after every major
accident to prevent future accidents. Let me give you a short list of aviation
improvements you're probably familiar with that came out of our recommendations:
And it's not just in aviation. The NTSB has had a hand in improving
safety in all modes of transportation. For example:
Some major safety improvements are inspired by investigations that the
Safety Board participates in overseas. For example, the crash of a South
African Airways Boeing 747 in the Indian Ocean led to NTSB recommendations
that resulted in major revisions in fire protection standards for airliner
Board investigators have recently been dispatched to Cali, Colombia,
where an American Airlines Boeing 757 crashed just before Christmas; to
Arequipa, Peru, where a Boeing 737 crashed; to Ascunsion, Paraguay, where
a McDonnell Douglas DC-8 cargo airliner crashed on takeoff; and to Dubrovnik,
Croatia, where a military transport crashed, killing Commerce Secretary
Ron Brown and 32 other Americans.
On February 6, 1996, a Boeing 757 chartered from Birgenair of Turkey
crashed off the coast of the Dominican Republic. We immediately offered
our assistance to the Dominican authorities because this was the second
fatal 757 accident in 6 weeks. Time was of the essence; if there was an
airworthiness problem developing with this major airliner, we had to find
Adding to the urgency was the fact that the wreckage was at the bottom
of the ocean. The radio beacons on the flight recorders, even if they were
in serviceable order, would last only 30 days. Without the signals they
emitted, finding the recorders would be almost impossible.
Over the past decade or so, we have been involved in several deep water
recovery efforts. For example, the voice recorder from an Air India Boeing
747 that was brought down by a bomb over the Atlantic Ocean was retrieved
and read out in our laboratory. A cargo door was found almost 3 miles below
the surface of the Pacific Ocean about a year and half after it blew off
a United Airlines 747, killing 9 passengers. Clearly, we needed to launch
a similar effort in this case.
The Safety Board organized an international consortium of government
agencies and private companies to fund a search and recovery mission. Within
2 weeks of the accident, a ship chartered by the U.S. Navy was steaming
to the Dominican Republic to begin the search.
The following video briefly shows the fruits of those labors, as we
follow our ultimately successful attempt to recover the flight recorders
from about a mile and half below the ocean.
[AT THIS POINT, CHAIRMAN HALL NARRATED A 5-MINUTE VIDEO PRESENTATION
ON THE UNDERWATER RECOVERY EFFORT]
Because of our expeditious recovery and readout in our laboratory in
Washington, we were able to determine very quickly that the aircraft apparently
encountered an operational problem related to faulty air speed readings,
and not an airworthiness issue involving the aircraft. This saved the investigating
parties potentially millions of dollars by enabling us to determine that
we did not have to undertake a massive wreckage retrieval effort.
This year has seen us busy in the surface transportation modes, as well.
Thus far, 1996 has been a tragic year for the railroad and rail transit
industries. Since January 1, the Safety Board has launched on 20 railroad
accidents resulting in 23 fatalities, hundreds of injuries, and over $77
million in damages. We will soon hold a public hearing on the worst of
these accidents, the late January collision of an Amtrak passenger train
and a commuter train outside Washington, D.C., that killed 11 people.
In early February, we launched a team to Sweetwater, Tennessee to investigate
a tank car failure that threatened the water supply and forced the evacuation
of some residents. Our highway and rail investigators are in the midst
of investigating the tragic grade crossing accident last fall in Illinois
that killed 7 highschool students.
I know that you have a very short time here before you all have to get
back to work so I'll be happy to take your questions now. I want to thank
you again for inviting me and for giving me the opportunity to speak about
an agency I'm very proud of, and an agency you as American citizens and
taxpayers should be very proud of, as well.
If you're ever in Washington, drop by and I'll show you around.