Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
Good Morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members, Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener.
We are pleased to have with us this morning our colleagues from the Swedish Accident Investigation Board: Asa Kastman Heuman, the Director-General; Urban Kjellberg, Inspector Fire and Rescue; and Maria Hemmar, Head of Administration. Thank you for being here and sharing your experiences with the Safety Board. Ms. Heuman is retiring on April 1, which will cap off a long and distinguished career with the Swedish Accident Investigation Board. We all wish her well in her retirement.
Today we meet in open session, as required by the Government in Sunshine Act, to consider the accident report on the July 31, 2008, crash of East Coast Jets flight 81 – a Hawker Beechcraft Part 135 aircraft – that crashed during an attempted go-around after landing in Owatonna, MN. All 8 on board, including the 2 pilots, were killed.
This accident serves as a reminder that aviation is an unforgiving environment - no detail is too small to be overlooked, not the winds, nor the communication between crew members, or even how much sleep they get. The small things do matter and in this case they accumulated to result in a tragedy.
On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this accident. I know several of you are in the Boardroom and watching via webcast. We recognize that your lives were irrevocably changed when the crash occurred, and we apologize for your long wait for this final report. While all of us at the Safety Board wish that we could complete every accident investigation in a shorter time period, the reality is we simply don't have the resources to prioritize every significant investigation.
And as staff will explain in a few minutes, additional issues surfaced during the investigation, and the staff's evaluation of those issues led to additional findings and safety recommendations. We know that nothing can replace the loss of your loved one. But we do have the opportunity – and the obligation – to take every step possible to ensure that the lessons of this tragedy are well-learned and that the circumstances are not repeated.
Over the past several weeks, the Board Members have read the draft report and each of us has met with staff individually and submitted requests to modify or clarify sections of the report. Today, however, is the first time that all of us are meeting together to discuss the final draft.
Staff has prepared opening remarks and 4 presentations, each of which will be followed by a round of questions from the Board members. We will then consider the conclusions, probable cause determination and proposed safety recommendations. These are the Board's actual deliberations on the report; therefore it may be revised as a result of our discussions. Approximately 30 minutes after we conclude, an abstract of this report will be available from the NTSB Public Affairs office and posted on the NTSB's website.
I'd like to express the Safety Board's appreciation to the many groups and individuals who assisted the Board with this accident investigation. In particular, I'd like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Evidence Response Team, the Owatonna Police and Fire Departments, the Steele County Sheriff's office, the Minnesota Highway Patrol, and the American Red Cross. Your assistance and support on-scene immediately after the accident and during our investigation was invaluable.
Perhaps the clearest take-away from this accident is that attempting to get airborne again after landing is a difficult maneuver and a decision that should not be taken lightly. This accident is the 4th major accident in a 3 year period in which pilots were unable to stop safely after landing. But it is the only one in which the pilots attempted to get the aircraft airborne again – and with tragic consequences. Among the safety recommendations proposed in the report is a recommendation to establish a predetermined "committed-to-stop" point at which pilots will know that continued braking is the safest option.
Part 135 flights operate in a distinct environment. More frequent takeoffs and landings, possibly less experienced pilots, smaller airports without air traffic support services, flights on less familiar routes into less familiar airports – all of these factors can make Part 135 flights particularly challenging – but also offer an opportunity for lessons to be learned to improve the safety of these operations.
Now, one final comment. Our discussion today is intended to be candid and open so that we shed light on what happened to this aircraft. However, we should also keep in mind that everyone on board flight 81, including the flight crew, lost their lives in this accident. It is not the Safety Board's role, nor our intention, to judge individual actions beyond what's relevant to the investigation.
Staff, would you please begin.