Investigator Tony James
Tony is both a GA and Air Carrier rated pilot with over 40 years of experience. He is a quiet man, who takes comfort in his own thoughts. He seemed generally surprised that I wanted to interview him. My first question to Tony was, "Why did he become an Accident Investigator?
He smiled and simply said, "I like to figure out problems — you know, like the TV detective, Columbo."
Okay, Columbo, what was the worst accident you ever worked? Tony thought for a moment and said from the terms of pressure, the worst accident was the one that killed John F. Kennedy, Jr. near Martha’s Vineyard. Everything was made more difficult by the intense media attention. Tony smiled again and said, "But you know, we got every piece of that airplane, every piece. We know exactly what caused the accident."
I then asked him what was his most unusual accident. He answered, "Getting myself rescued by helicopter off a glacier near Juneau, Alaska when the weather closed in."
"Any lessons learned?" I asked.
"Yes," the quiet man replied. "Most of the accidents that I investigated were caused by errors in judgment." Looking at no one in particular, Tony said, "They should know better."
Investigator T.R. Proven
T.R. is an ex-Navy A-4 driver, with 12 type ratings including DC-8 and B 737. T.R. joined the FAA in 1975 and has been a full-time Accident Investigator for the past three years.
I asked what was his worst accident that he worked. He said, "All accidents are the same, but despite being in aviation 40 years, they always teach me something new."
In reply to my question about what was the most notable, he said from the notoriety and attention from the press, it was the last one he worked — the Cessna 402B in which the pop singer Aaliyah died.
Any words on lessons learned?
He looked at me straight on and said, "Every time you are faced with a safety issue and there is no one there but you, take extra time to make the right decision."
Investigator Eric West
Six-foot-four, A&P mechanic with IA, private pilot with instrument rating, crew member on SH2D helicopters in the Navy, and former aviation insurance investigator, Eric has been an Accident Investigator for 2 years.
He told me his worst accident was the A-STAR helicopter accident in the Grand Canyon in August of this year. Beside the location of the accident, he said the aircraft burned and it was bad.
In response to my question about what was the most unusual accident, he said it was the Egypt Air 767. Eric was on the cockpit voice recorder committee. He said it was unusual due to the deep political implications — FBI and State department participation complete with Arabic translators. The CVR committee work lasted 10 days when the norm is two.
"Unbelievable experience," he said shaking his head.
"Words of wisdom?" I asked.
Eric smiled and said, "CYA-R!"
Before I could translate he said, "Cover Your Areas of Responsibility with research and training."
Investigator Duncan Monaco
Duncan is the new guy on the block. He has been an Investigator for a year and has been out on five accidents — the last three on his own. He has a ATP, Flight Instructor, single and multi-engine with 5,000 hours in his logbook. Duncan joined the FAA in 1990 with our Office of Information Analysis, and then transferred to Accident Investigation in 2000.
In response to my questions of what was the worst accident, he said the crash in Denver last year of the King Air with members of the University of Oklahoma basketball team on board. The accident was made more personal because he has a son the same age as several of those on board.
His best accident he was involved with in terms of working with different cultures and nationalities was the Thai Air B 737 accident in March of this year. Duncan said the CAA of Thailand could not have been more helpful.
"It was a great experience working across national boundaries trying to make aviation safer," he explained.
"Words of wisdom?" I asked.
"Do not be influenced by the opinions of others until you make up your own mind," he warns. "Learn to listen."
Well, I hope you got a little insight into the people who do the accident investigation for the FAA. Take my word for it, the investigators are not gifted or special. They are just good people doing a tough job.
All of us at AMT wish to express our condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their loved ones in the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
This article was written and submitted before those events occurred and is intended to offer insight into this important, and unfortunately necessary, facet of aviation.
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