Just the Facts

By Sharon Bryson

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with improving transportation safety, and a significant part of that mission is accomplished by investigating every civil aviation accident and significant accidents in other modes of transportation. Fast approaching its 50 anniversary, this small agency takes pride in its independence, transparency, and collaborative approach to accident investigations. As a key measure of our effectiveness, we maintain strong working relationship with all transportation stakeholders. We work hard to build and maintain the trust and confidence of those stakeholders while we carefully, thoroughly and independently gather all the facts surrounding an accident to maintain credibility with the public.

You may have had the opportunity to view the recently released movie about the Jan. 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549, ditching on the Hudson River.  (NTSB report title: “Loss of Thrust in Both Engines After Encountering a Flock of Birds and Subsequent Ditching on the Hudson River”). As an employee of the National Transportation Safety Board I can appreciate the movie’s treatment of the ditching of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 – it’s certainly a movie-worthy moment in aviation history. However, the movie is a fictionalized version of the NTSB’s investigation of the accident, and as such, it portrays the NTSB as the antagonist. That’s unfortunate because it misrepresents the purpose of our investigation and in doing so, undermines the important safety lessons learned and recommendations that we issued.

The purpose of the investigation was to gather the facts surrounding the accident, understand what happened, and make recommendations to prevent recurrence and improve aviation safety. Thankfully, this accident had a successful outcome because of the performance of a very skilled crew and the exceptional rescue efforts by many that day. As good as the outcome was, the NTSB knew there was much to learn from the accident, as there is in every accident we investigate.

The ditching of US Airways flight 1549 presented the NTSB with one of the best moments to learn ‘the facts’ and recommend improvements to reduce future accidents because everyone survived – and isn’t that the best time and the best way to improve safety?

The NTSB issued its report May 4, 2010, along with 35 safety recommendations designed to keep you and your loved ones safer.

The facts of this investigation, including the final accident report, related safety recommendations, a webcast (and associated transcript) of the June 2009 three–day investigative hearing, nearly 4000 pages of investigative materials from the accident docket, and an accident animation, are publicly available on the NTSB’s web page for the accident so you can too, get the facts.

Sharon Bryson is the Director of the NTSB’s Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

One thought on “Just the Facts”

  1. As a pilot, I appreciate the work you do at the NTSB, the recommendations that you give us freely from what lessons you gather from your very thorough investigations, and of course your professionalism. Thank you for your work in all modes of transportation.

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