Investigating What Went Wrong in the Hanscom Field Gulfstream Plane Crash

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June 2, 2014

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is in the early stages of their investigation into last week's crash of a private jet at Hanscom Field that killed all seven people aboard the aircraft. In order to better understand the role of the NTSB in these types of crashes, we've asked Baum Hedlund aviation attorney Ron Goldman to walk us through the aviation accident investigation process and the aftermath.

What will the NTSB be looking for in the early stages of the Hanscom Field crash investigation?

Ron Goldman: In order to figure out what went wrong to cause the Gulfstream IV crash, it will be necessary for the NTSB to retrieve as much of the wreckage as possible, including the so-called "black boxes", which are actually the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). Recovering the FDR and the CVR is the most vital first step in piecing together the causes of the crash.

What can the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder tell us?

RG: The FDR will help establish exactly why the airplane did not lift off during its takeoff run. Were the flaps at the correct setting? The FDR can tell. Were the engines developing full power? The FDR can tell. Were the pilots struggling with the takeoff for some reason? It is likely the VCR can tell. Those, and a myriad of other information can be gleaned from the information contained in both black boxes.

Former Pilot, Ron GoldmanHow will the NTSB approach investigating the flight crew?

RG: In addition to extensive research into the pilots and their backgrounds, education and training, NTSB investigators will also be interviewing people who can account for the actions of the flight crew in the few days before, and all the time leading up to the crash.

How long will it take for the NTSB to conclude this investigation?

RG: These investigations vary, but usually after months of extensive work, the NTSB will issue a Factual Report with a final description of the accident. A Probable Cause report is also included.

Will the NTSB determine fault in their investigation?

RG: No. The work of the NTSB is geared to probable cause, not fault. The work of the lawyers who will represent the interests of the families of the victims actually picks up where the NTSB leaves off. Lawyers who specialize in aviation disaster cases and wrongful death claims are usually retained to represent families in cases such as this. It is the job of those attorneys to protect the individual interests of the families of the victims; thus, they will seek information as to who or what is to blame for the disaster.

Though it is too early to speculate, what can you say about liability in these types of crashes?

RG: Investigators usually identify more than one contributing cause in these types of crashes. Likewise, attorneys involved in aviation accident litigation often find that more than one person or entity is found to share the blame. What is always clear, however, is that the passengers who suffered the consequences are without any fault. Ultimately, justice for the families of those aboard will depend on the work of the attorneys who will pursue their cases regardless of any difficulties that might be involved in unlocking the true causes of the crash.