NTSB Boots American Airlines Off Jackson Hole Investigation

I often write about the NTSB's "party system." That's the NTSB's practice of asking airlines and manufacturers for help in determining an accident's cause.  If you ask me, it's a bit like asking the fox for help in figuring out what happened to the chickens. The party system allows industry participants to bias NTSB probable cause findings in their favor.

The NTSB allows party participants to handle evidence and perform certain engineering tests.  But one thing the NTSB insists on doing all by itself is downloading the data from an aircraft's black boxes.  The NTSB's labs in Washington DC are well equipped for that job, and it doesn't require any "help" from the airlines. 

But when it received the black boxes from the American Airlines 757 that ran off the runway at Jackson Hole, the NTSB quickly figured out that one of the black boxes had already been tampered with. The culprit turned out to be the trusted "party participant," American Airlines:
The Safety Board learned that the recorders were flown to Tulsa, Okla., where American Airlines technicians downloaded information from the DFDR. . .
That was too much industry "help" for even the NTSB to tolerate.  So the NTSB kicked American off the investigation.
Because maintaining and enforcing strict investigative protocols and procedures is vital to the integrity of our investigative processes, we have revoked the party status of American Airlines and excused them from further participation in this incident investigation.
Revoking a participant's "party status" is the NTSB's equivalent of the death penalty.  It is the harshest punishment the NTSB has the power to dole out. Still, it doesn't seem like much of a deterrent for next time.
 
Narrated video of landing shows spoilers, thrust reversers failing to deploy: 
 
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Diana Morgan - January 3, 2011 8:47 AM

It is about time that the NTSB asserted some authority. They should take American Airlines to court for tampering with a federal investigation. Perhaps this will be a wake-up call to them about conflicts of interest when having the airline assist in the investigation of a crash and insist on being certified as expert witnesses in a court of law. Good for you NTSB!

Cloudesley Shovell - January 3, 2011 11:32 AM

That is a fascinating video. It's apparent that the crew landed well inside the touchdown zone, and firmly, too.

The TR's not opening right away, coupled with no spoilers popping up, suggests maybe something went wrong with a weight-on-wheels sensor or wheel spin-up sensor (I'm not familiar with the 757 "on-the-ground" sensors, but those are two common components). Either that or some appalling switch errors in the cockpit, since that stuff is normally just left in "auto" and never turned on or off.

Thank goodness for the deep snow. No damage and no injuries is the best of outcomes when things go to pieces.

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