Accident Investigation Course: One Team, One Mission

By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
F/O Jeff Mee (United), left, and Capt. Mike Wickboldt (Spirit) instruct attendees on NTSB investigative processes.

Seventeen pilot safety representatives from 10 pilot groups assembled at ALPA’s Conference Center in Herndon, Va., on April 8–11 to take part in the Air Safety Organization’s (ASO) Accident Investigation Course.

Capt. Mike Wickboldt (Spirit), the course director, stated, “ALPA has great relationships with the NTSB and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada because, when we arrive on scene, they know they’re working with trained safety professionals and valuable resources to aid the investigation. But above all, we’re there to provide the line-pilot perspective to the investigation, not to protect the pilots involved.”

“This course was designed as a prerequisite for the ASO’s capstone safety course, the Advanced Accident Investigation,” said F/O Steve Demko (United), a former NTSB investigator and course instructor. “Here, attendees get firsthand experience in how to document evidence safely and work within the framework of the investigative agencies while using their own expertise as a line pilot in the area of the investigation to which they’re assigned.”

“Investigative agencies often seek out pilots with experience in the aircraft type to serve as representatives for the operations, systems, and cockpit voice recorder investigative groups,” said F/O Jeff Mee (United), the ASO’s training programs coordinator. “Although ALPA pilots have also been included in other areas like air traffic control, survival factors, structures, or other specialty groups, it all depends on what expertise the NTSB or Transportation Safety Board of Canada needs.”

Course attendees get hands-on experience with properly documenting aircraft parts.

Participants learned about the various types of investigations in which they may be called to participate, the process for dispatching to an accident scene, the overall investigative processes utilized by the U.S. and Canadian governments, and the resources available to members from ALPA. Throughout the course, attendees were reminded that their ultimate responsibility as a party member to an investigation is to identify all the factual information and provide recommendations to prevent the accident from reoccurring.

Attendees were also educated about the many hazards found at an accident investigation site, both physical and psychological. In addition to classroom time during the four-day course, participants were given the opportunity to don protective personal equipment to protect against bloodborne pathogens, diagram a simulated accident scene, document flight deck instruments panels, and review flight data recorder information.

The course also included a panel discussion with government investigators from both Canada and the United States.

“The NTSB simply cannot operate without the expertise of others, be it airframe or powerplant manufacturers, the FAA, or pilots like all of you,” said Joe Sedor, the NTSB’s chief of major investigations.

“In our experience, ALPA pilots always exhibit the utmost professionalism and expertise when granted observer status to our investigations,” remarked Daphne Boothe, a Transportation Safety Board of Canada regional senior investigator.

Course graduates were issued ALPA accident investigation representative credentials while also being invited to attend the Advanced Accident Investigation Course, where they’ll assume the role of field investigators in a full-scale simulation of an aircraft accident (see “Training for Someone Else’s Worst Day,” in the November 2018 issue of Air Line Pilot).

The Advanced Accident Investigation course will be held in Grand Forks, N.D., May 20–23. The next Accident Investigation Course will be held August 19–22 in Herndon, Va.

 —Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer

When in Doubt, Make the Call

If you’re involved in an aircraft accident, serious incident, or time-critical safety/security event, immediately call the ALPA Worldwide Accident/Serious Incident Hotline (202-797-4180) listed on ALPA’s “Orange Card” for assistance from your union.

The hotline will connect you with a representative from ALPA’s Engineering & Air Safety Department, 24 hours a day, seven days a week (collect calls accepted). Unsure if your event requires a call to the hotline? When in doubt, make the call.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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