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Public Hearing regarding American Airlines Flight 1420 accident, Little Rock, Arkansas, June 1, 1999
Jim Hall
Public Hearing regarding American Airlines Flight 1420 accident, Little Rock, Arkansas, June 1, 1999

Good morning and welcome.

I am Jim Hall, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Chairman of this Board of Inquiry.

Today we are opening a public hearing concerning the accident that occurred on June 1, 1999, in Little Rock, Arkansas, involving American Airlines flight 1420.

The hearing is being held for the purpose of supplementing the facts, conditions, and circumstances discovered during the on-scene investigation.  This process will assist the Safety Board in determining the probable cause of the accident and in making any recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.

Public hearings such as this are exercises in accountability: accountability on the part of the Safety Board that it is conducting a thorough and fair investigation, accountability on the part of the FAA that it is adequately regulating the industry, accountability on the part of the airline that it is operating safely, accountability on the part of manufacturers as to the design and performance of their products, and accountability on the part of the working force -- pilots and machinists -- that they are performing up to the standards of professionalism expected of them.  These proceedings tend to become highly technical affairs, but they are essential in seeking to reassure the public that everything is being done to ensure the safety of the airline industry.

This inquiry is not being held to determine the rights or liability of private parties, and matters dealing with such rights or liability will be excluded from these proceedings.

The Safety Board has collect a substantial amount of information over the past 7 months and during the course of this hearing, we will collect additional information that will assist the Safety Board in its examination of safety issues arising from this accident.  Specifically, we will concentrate on the following issues:

1. Flight crew decision-making;
2. Availability and dissemination of weather data;
3. Aircraft performance;
4. Passenger safety and emergency response;
5. Runway overrun protection;
6. American Airlines' operational practices and procedures; and
7. American Airlines' internal and FAA oversight.

Let me emphasize that these issues are important, and have serious implications for the safety of air travel.  Eleven  lives were lost in this accident and 134 passengers and crewmembers survived. They have been forever impacted by this tragedy.

The Safety Board has had the unfortunate task of investigating several of the world's fatal commercial aviation accidents where fatigue was an issue.  In two such accidents, an American International Airways DC-8 on August 18, 1993, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and most recently the Korean Air Boeing 747-300 at Agana, Guam, fatigue was determined to have been a significant factor in the cause of the accident.  Fatigue and its effects on flight crew performance has been and continues to be a growing concern for the aviation community worldwide.

Although the Safety Board has addressed the issue of flight crew duty time regulations in previous accident investigations, we also must look beyond the scheduling issues of our pilots and more seriously consider the issue of fatigue as it relates to duty times of flight attendants as well.  And so while we continue to investigate the specific causes of the American Airlines flight 1420 tragedy, it is also my intention in this hearing to look at the larger picture and explore more precisely the dimensions of the fatigue problem, possible anomalies with the Low Level Windshear Alert System, various efforts currently underway to correct these issues, and what will be done to prevent future occurrences.

The Safety Board has investigated several accidents involving American Airlines in recent years.  During this hearing I intend to thoroughly explore the possibility of systemic problems within the airline, the efforts American has made to examine its own systems and procedures, and perhaps most important, what the airline is doing about its problems.

Further, the other issues that will be discussed in this hearing have all been identified at one time or another as significant factors in aviation incidents and accidents.  Thus, because these issues continue to be identified, it is apparent that the actions that have been taken to reduce or eliminate the reoccurrence have not been as successful as we had hoped.  Every accident also can teach us something new about these preexisting safety concerns. If we can learn more about these safety issues, if we can draw attention to the serious problems that for whatever reason are lingering in the aviation industry, and if we can get someone to take action, then this hearing will have been well worthwhile.

At this point, I would like to introduce the other members of the Board of Inquiry:

Mr. Thomas Haueter, Deputy Director, Office of Aviation Safety;

Mr. John C. Clark, Deputy Director, Office of Research and Engineering;

Mr. Barry Sweedler, Director, Office of Safety Recommendations and Accomplishments;

Mr. Benjamin Berman, Chief, Major Investigations Division, Office of Aviation Safety and the Hearing Officer for these proceedings.

 The Board of Inquiry will be assisted by a Technical Panel consisting of:

Mr. Gregory Feith, Investigator-in-Charge;

Mr. David Tew, Operational Factors Investigator;

Mr. Donald Eick, Meteorology Investigator

Dr. Evan Byrne, Human Performance Investigator;

Mr. Charlie Pereira, Aircraft Performance Investigator;

Mr. Larry Roman, Airport Crash/Fire/Rescue Investigator;

Mr. Mark George, Survival Factors Investigator

[Chairman Hall also recognized several guests and observers including NTSB Board Members John Hammerschmidt, John Goglia and George Black and former NTSB Chairman Jim Burnett.  Mr. Hall also recognized the Mayor of Little Rock, staff members from Senator Lincoln's and Congressman Snyder's offices, and representatives from independent safety boards from Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland.]

Mr. Pat Cariseo and Mr. Paul Schlamn from the Safety Board's Public Affairs Office are here to assist members of the news media.

Ms. Deb Smith, my Special Counsel; Mr. Jamie Finch and Ms. Lee Jones from the Office of Government Affairs, Erik Grosof, and Brian  Fiffick, from the Office of Family Affairs are here to assist me.

Mrs. Carolyn Dargan and Mrs. Candi Bing also are present to provide administrative support as needed.  You may contact either of them for assistance regarding copies of exhibits and or other matters.

Neither I nor any other Safety Board personnel will attempt, during this hearing, to analyze the testimony received nor will any attempt be made at this time to determine the probable cause of the accident.  Such analyses and cause determinations will be made by the full Safety Board after consideration of all of the evidence gathered during our investigation.  The final report on the accident involving flight 1420, reflecting the Safety Board's analyses and probable cause determinations, will be considered for adoption by the full Board at a public meeting at the Safety Board's headquarters in Washington, DC at a later date.

The Safety Board's rules provide for the designation of parties to a public hearing.  In accordance with these rules, those persons, governmental agencies, companies, and associations whose participation in the hearing is deemed necessary in the public interest and whose special knowledge will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence are designated as parties.  The parties assisting the Safety Board in this hearing have been designated in accordance with these rules.

As I call the name of the party, I ask its designated spokesperson to please give his or her name, title, and affiliation for the record:

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Boeing Commercial Airplane Group (acquired McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation)

American Airlines

Allied Pilots Association (APA)

Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA)

Little Rock Airport Authority

Little Rock Fire Department

I want to thank publicly all of the parties both that participated in the on-scene portion of the investigation and who are participating in this hearing, for their assistance and cooperation.

On January 11, 2000, the Board of Inquiry held a pre-hearing conference in Washington, D.C.  It was attended by the Safety Board's Technical Panel and representatives of the parties to this hearing.  During that conference, the areas of inquiry and the scope of the issues to be explored at this hearing were delineated and the selection of the witnesses to testify on these issues was finalized.

We plan to call 21 witnesses during the course of the hearing.  Let me note that some of the parties to the investigation recently asked the Board to call the air traffic controller who was on duty in the Little Rock control tower, as a witness.  I gave serious consideration to this request; however, I learned that the controller is under medical care and his doctor's judgment was that he should not testify.  Therefore, through the end of this hearing I will entertain written suggestions from the parties for questions to be asked of the controller.  Based on these suggestions, the Safety Board's air traffic control group chairman or this Board of Inquiry may conduct an additional interview of the controller, if necessary.

Copies of the witness list developed at the pre-hearing conference are available at the media table.  There are numerous exhibits that will be used in this proceeding.  Copies of the exhibits are available at the media table for review.  The Safety Board has provided a complete set of exhibits to Kinko's at 1121 South Spring Street, Little Rock, Arkansas ( 501) 372-0775.  Copies of the exhibits can be obtained on request and at the individual's own expense.  See Mrs. Dargan or Mrs. Bing for the address.  Also, the hearing exhibits may be found on the Board's web page (

The first witness will be the Investigator-in-Charge of the accident investigation who will summarize certain facts about the accident and the investigative activities that have taken place to date.

The remaining witnesses will be questioned first by the Board's Technical Panel, then by the designated spokesperson for each party to the hearing, followed by the Board of Inquiry.

As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will be responsible for the conduct of the hearing.  I will make all rulings on the admissibility of evidence, and all such rulings will be final.

The record of the investigation including the transcript of the hearing and all exhibits entered into the record will become part of the Safety Board's public docket on this accident and will be available for inspection at the Board's Washington office.  Anyone wanting to purchase the transcript, including parties to the investigation, should contact the court reporter directly.

Mr. Berman, have all the exhibits been entered in the public docket?

Thank you.  Then please, Mr. Berman proceed to call the first witness. 

Public Hearing on AA1420