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Speeches

Opening Statement - Board Meeting: Alaska State Troopers Helicopter Crash
Christopher A. Hart
Washington, DC
11/5/2014

Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Acting Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board Members: Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener. I also want to welcome Colonel James Cockrell of the Alaska State Troopers, and other Alaska State Trooper personnel in the audience today.
 
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider for the first time the report on the crash of an Alaska Department of Public Safety Helicopter near Talkeetna, Alaska, on March 30, 2013.
 
Tragically, the crash took the lives of the pilot, an Alaska state trooper serving as a flight observer, and a snowmobiler they were in the process of rescuing. On behalf of the entire NTSB staff, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones and colleagues in the crash.
 
The pilot and the trooper in this crash died in the service of others. They routinely shouldered risk in the line of duty to enhance the safety of their fellow Alaskans.
 
But we will ask today whether they accepted unnecessary risk. As we will hear today, safety in helicopter operations is a shared responsibility that should be managed systematically and objectively. Some of the risks of the Talkeetna mission were inappropriately left solely to the pilot to assess by subjective criteria.
 
Today we will explore the accident pilot's actions and touch on his flight record and workplace issues. We will also explore how risk was managed within the Alaska Department of Public Safety in regards to helicopter operations.
 
In commercial flight, oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration helps ensure that operators appropriately manage risk. But public aircraft operators – such as state agencies – can, and usually do, supervise their own flight operations without FAA oversight.
 
As a result, unfortunately, time and again this Board has investigated public-operator helicopter accidents in which training, pilot oversight, dispatch procedures, flight-following procedures, and safety management systems were lacking.
 
In this accident, the end result was that a pilot who was not instrument-current, found himself in instrument meteorological conditions, in a helicopter that was neither equipped nor certified for instrument flight rules. Minutes after picking up the stranded snowmobiler, he became spatially disoriented, lost control of the helicopter and crashed.
 
Since this accident, to its credit, the Alaska Department of Public Safety has moved to enhance safety. But this Board had seen similar issues in other public helicopter crashes.
 
The agencies that operated helicopters in previous accidents also made improvements after their accidents.
 
But tragically, those public agencies did not learn the lessons from any other agency's accidents.
 
Safety in helicopter operations is a shared responsibility. To improve the safety of Helicopter EMS and SAR flights, risks must be well-managed system-widein public agencies.
 
We hope that the lessons of this accident are heeded not only by Alaska state agencies, but bypublic agencies that operate helicopters across the country.
 
Now Managing Director Mayer will introduce the staff.
 
Managing Director Mayer.