At the core of NTSB investigations is the "Go Team," consisting of technical experts needed to solve complex transportation safety problems. Specialists across the agency have a rotational duty assignment to respond as quickly as possible to the scene of the accident. Go Teams travel by commercial airliner or government aircraft depending on circumstances and availability.
During their time on the duty rotation, members must be reachable 24 hours a day. Most Go Team members do not have a suitcase pre-packed because there's no way of knowing whether the accident scene will be in Florida or Alaska, but they do have tools of their trade and necessary safety equipment such as hard hats, goggles, steel toed shoes.
Go Team Structure
An Investigator-in-Charge (IIC), a senior investigator with years of NTSB and industry experience, leads the Go Team. Each investigator on the team is a specialist responsible for a clearly defined portion of the accident investigation. Here are some examples of aviation specialty areas:
- Operations: The history of the accident flight and crewmembers' duties for as many days before the crash as appears relevant.
- Structures: Documentation of the airframe wreckage and the accident scene, including calculation of impact angles to help determine the plane's pre-impact course and attitude.
- Powerplants: Examination of engines (and propellers) and engine accessories.
- Systems: Study of components of the plane's hydraulic, electrical, pneumatic and associated systems, together with instruments and elements of the flight control system.
- Air Traffic Control: Reconstruction and review of air traffic control services provided, to include acquisition of pertinent flight track surveillance information (i.e., radar, ADS-B, etc.) and controller-pilot communications.
- Weather: Gathering of all pertinent weather data from the National Weather Service, and sometimes from local TV stations, for a broad area around the accident scene.
- Human Performance: Study of crew performance and all before-the-accident factors that might be involved in human error, including fatigue, medication, alcohol. Drugs, medical histories, training, workload, equipment design and work environment.
- Survival Factors: Documentation of impact forces and injuries, evacuation, community emergency planning and all crash-fire-rescue efforts.
Major launches also include a:
- Board member, who acts as official spokesperson;
- A public affairs officer, who facilitates media briefings and responds to press inquiries; and
- A transportation disaster assistant specialist to fulfill the Board's responsibilities under the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996 and the Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act of 2008. See Disaster Assistance for details.
Under direction of the IIC, each NTSB investigator heads a working group in one area of expertise. The groups are staffed by representatives of the "parties" to the investigation (see
The Party System).
For an aviation accident, parties generally include the Federal Aviation Administration, the airline, the pilots' and flight attendants' unions, airframe and engine manufacturers, and the like. Flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder teams assemble at NTSB headquarters. In surface accident investigations, there are fewer working groups, but the team technique is the same. Locomotive engineers, signal system specialists and track engineers head working groups at railroad accidents. The specialists at a highway crash include a truck or bus mechanical expert and a highway engineer. The NTSB’s weather, human performance and survival factors specialists respond to accidents of all kinds.
The individual working groups remain, if necessary, at the accident scene. This varies from a few days to several weeks. Some then move on. For example, in aviation, Powerplants would travel to an engine teardown at a manufacturer or overhaul facility; Systems to an instrument manufacturer's plant; Operations to the airline's training base. Their work continues at Washington headquarters, forming the basis for later analysis and drafting of a proposed report.