Partners in Accident Response: The American Red Cross and the NTSB

By Deborah Hersman

The NTSB and ARC work together closely in the aftermath of transportation disasters

As too many Americans have learned in recent years, disasters, natural or man-made, are devastating. But in the aftermath of a disaster, chaos and destruction are replaced with order through the coordinated efforts of many organizations. When the NTSB begins its work at an accident site, the American Red Cross is on-scene with us to support not only the survivors of a transportation disaster, but also the families and friends of the victims by assisting with housing, food, and counseling services.

A recent example of Red Cross assistance occurred earlier this summer following a truck/Amtrak train collision near Miriam, Nevada. Shortly after the accident, they established a temporary gathering center in a nearby elementary school where the surviving passengers could find shelter from the desert heat and injured passengers were triaged.

The relationship between the American Red Cross and the NTSB was formalized by Congress in two important pieces of legislation, the 1996 Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act and the 2008 Rail Passenger Disaster Family Assistance Act. The American Red Cross has the primary responsibility for coordinating the emergency care and support of the families of passengers involved in certain aviation and passenger rail accidents. In recent years, our relationship with the American Red Cross has been expanded to other modes of transportation, so the NTSB can count on this essential support when we investigate highway, marine, and pipeline accidents as well.

The NTSB is grateful to the American Red Cross for the humanitarian services they provide during very difficult times following transportation accidents. We appreciate our partnership with the American Red Cross and look forward to its continuation for many years to come.

Leading the way for truck safety

By Deborah Hersman

This week in Orlando, FL, more than 400 of our nation’s top professional truck drivers are gathering together to test their skills at the American Trucking Association’s (ATA) 47th National Truck Driving Championships. Commonly referred to as the “Super Bowl of Safety,” this year’s annual event is bringing together 400 truck drivers, who have already won competitions at their state championships, to compete at the national level.

For the next four days, the drivers’ skills and knowledge will be tested during written exams, pre-trip inspections and on-course driving. Each driver will maneuver through one difficult obstacle after another, all the while demonstrating precision and pinpoint control. On Saturday, when the competition is over and the scores are tallied, one driver will emerge as the National Grand Champion. And while that driver will have rightly earned the title of Champion, each of the competitors deserve recognition.

America’s professional truck drivers keep our economy moving. They travel every day –often very far from home— along our nation’s busy interstates, highways and city streets to safely deliver their cargo. Events like this help reinforce drivers’ attentiveness to the safe operation of their truck. While I wish the drivers success in their competition, I hope that all truckers will strive for safety with every trip… that way, we all win.

Phenomenal Women

By Deborah Hersman

Last week, I had the privilege of attending EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI.  As aviation buffs know, AirVenture has evolved into one of the world’s largest “fly-in” jamborees and each year brings together more than 500,000 pilots and aviation enthusiasts from around the globe.

While there, I had the honor of attending the Women in Aviation International’s (WAI) annual “WAI Connect” breakfast, which celebrates women aviators. The day started with a re-enactment of the life of Harriet Quimby by Connie Tobias, a 30-year aviation veteran and US Airways captain with more than 20,000 flight hours.

Tobias brought Quimby to life and conveyed the daring and courageous spirit of the first female to earn a U.S. pilot’s certificate.  A journalist by profession, in October 1910, Quimby went to the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament to cover the races. It was there that she was bitten by the flying bug. Seeing the men racing above her, she declared “I can do that.  And I will.”

From left to right: Connie Tobias as Harriet Quimby, Marty Wyall and Deborah Hersman

And she did.

Quimby’s story is one of determination and drive and perhaps above all, a “can do” spirit. She simply would not take “no” for an answer.  She broke new ground then and, thankfully, women in aviation are still breaking new ground today.

During breakfast, I had the pleasure of meeting two remarkable women — Marty Wyall and Anna Dietrich. Wyall, a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs, flew trainers during World War II and with her sister WASPs, broke barriers, challenged norms, and helped pave the way for women to fly in the military. Dietrich is Chief Operating Officer and one of the founders of Terrafugia, Inc., the company that is breaking new ground with its flying car.

As I told the WAI membership, these two women’s pioneering accomplishments echo Harriet Quimby. Just like Quimby, they knew what they could do, went after it, and did it.

My challenge to the more than 200 women gathered at “WAI Connect” was this:  Live up to the legacy of Harriet Quimby, Marty Wyall, and Anna Dietrich. Dare to be different, redefine normal, and strive for the extraordinary.  At the same time, bring forward the next generation of aviators. Show them how to be daring, but teach them to fly safely.

General Aviation: Up Close, Exciting, and Committed to Safety

By Deborah Hersman

Member Hersman with Paul Poberezny (Founder, EAA) and Rod Hightower (President, EAA)

What a week this has been! I have literally been across the country and across our nation’s transportation landscape. On Monday, I rode the train from DC to New Jersey to meet with members of the boards of transit authorities to talk about their role in safety oversight. On Tuesday, we conducted a board meeting to determine the probable cause of an October 2009 cargo tank truck rollover accident near Indianapolis. Then, on Wednesday, NTSB Board Member Earl Weener and I departed for Wisconsin on his Bonanza (a single-engine general aviation airplane manufactured by Beech).

In the aviation world, flying to Oshkosh, WI, can mean only one thing — EAA AirVenture. For nearly 60 years, the Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA, has hosted what has turned into the world’s biggest aviation celebration at its annual “fly-in” jamboree.

At the NTSB, my usual interaction with the general aviation (GA) community is through tragedy — at the scene of an accident, reading a report, or participating in a board meeting following an often-fatal accident. In this line of work, I usually see what goes wrong rather than what goes right. I am pleased to report at AirVenture this week, I got to see the right stuff!

Continue reading General Aviation: Up Close, Exciting, and Committed to Safety

Teaming Up To Improve Safety

By Earl Weener

RV-10 (Photo credit: Greg Hale)

Homebuilt aircraft, known in the United States as Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft, or E-AB, have existed as long as powered flight. As the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) explains, “you could say that the Wright brothers were the first homebuilders, since they never relied on a factory to construct their airplanes.” Like today’s homebuilders, they used their own craftsmanship to build a flying machine.

About 33,000 of the 224,000 U.S. general aviation aircraft are E-AB and include a wide variety of aircraft built from prefabricated kits, existing plans, or a builder’s unique design. While the enthusiastic community that builds these aircraft has long been a force for innovation, unfortunately, we are seeing higher accident rates among this group of aircraft than in other general aviation segments.

The NTSB and EAA are collaborating to identify how to improve that record. The NTSB launched a study of accidents involving E-AB aircraft. The study is looking at a range of areas, including builder assistance programs, transition training for E-AB pilot-builders, flight test and certification requirements, and maintenance.

EAA is supporting the study by hosting a web-based survey this summer. Operators, builders, and owners of E-AB aircraft who are interested in participating in the survey should go to www.EAA.org/AB-Survey.

This week, Chairman Deborah Hersman and I are traveling to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the nation’s largest aviation event, which attracts homebuilders from across the country and around the world. This will be a great opportunity to see firsthand the range of homebuilt aircraft and talk directly with builders and pilots. I’m looking forward to it.

We expect to publish the completed safety study by fall 2012.


Honorable Earl F. WeenerEarl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. Dr. Weener is a licensed pilot and flight instructor who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.

He Was Working on the Railroad…

By James Southworth

Today, the railroad industry marks a 197th anniversary. On July 25, 1814, English engineer George Stephenson demonstrated the first steam locomotive. Stephenson did not invent the steam engine, but he developed the technology to move steam engines from hauling coalmining carts to powering the first form of commercial rapid transportation. Previously, the horse-drawn carriage was the fastest means of land travel. Now, two centuries later, railroads are essential to our lives.

Stephenson may have revolutionized land travel, but he also unwittingly introduced a new kind of transportation danger. On the maiden voyage of Stephenson’s rail line from Liverpool to Manchester, a Member of Parliament and one of several dignitaries on the train, William Huskisson, climbed onto the tracks to talk with the Prime Minister during a refueling stop. Another train pulling into the station on the same rail struck Huskisson. It may seem incredible today, but those early locomotives had no brakes. Stephenson unhooked the passenger cars from one of his trains and personally rushed Huskisson to medical attention. Without the extra weight of the passenger cars, the unburdened train was able to reach an astonishing 40 mph, then a world speed record. Unfortunately, that speed was not enough to save Huskisson, who later died of his injuries.

The Huskisson accident was the first of many. As Chairman Hersman pointed out in a speech at the U.S. railroad industry’s annual Harriman Awards, by the early 20th century, 48 percent of all deaths in the United States happened on railroads. At the turn of that century, lack of safety was an accepted cost of innovation. Today, safety is a goal of innovation. Railroads are investing in new safety technologies, such as positive train control, which gathers data about the positions of trains relative to each other, and automatically stops a train if another train is approaching on the same rail. What is good is that there are many 21st century innovators like George Stephenson, who are working to make trains better and safer.


James Southworth is the Railroad Division Chief in NTSB’s Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations.

Training to Make General Aviation Safer

By Earl Weener

Next week, I’m flying my Bonanza to Oshkosh Wisconsin to attend EAA AirVenture, possibly the world’s largest aviation celebration and a big event for people in the general aviation (GA) community. Before heading out, being a flight instructor, I will be doing everything I taught my students — checking out the weather conditions, planning my route, checking NOTAMs (for non-pilot readers, those are the FAA’s Notices to Airmen, important reading before every flight), making sure my Bonanza is ready for the trip, among many other detailed preparations.

While at AirVenture, I hope to take advantage of the seminars and workshops. Although I’ve been flying for many years, there is always more to know and ways to improve. There is clearly room for improvement across GA. Last year in the United States, there were 1,435 GA accidents and 450 fatal injuries. Last month alone, there were 25 fatal GA crashes; this month there have already been more than 20 fatal GA crashes.

With my background in instruction, it is especially discouraging to learn that some of the causes or contributing factors to GA crashes are the same errors that have been made numerous times before by other pilots in similar circumstances. We should all be able to learn, and benefit, from the mistakes of others. Here’s an idea: if you are going to AirVenture, come by the Federal Pavilion and attend one of the NTSB workshops on accident investigation case studies. These investigations show us that all too often pilot decision making and proficiency are at the center of GA accidents.

This frequency raises the question: are GA pilots obtaining adequate training? Flying, regardless of aircraft type, requires proficiency in the same fundamental knowledge and skills. But flying, by its very nature, is varied and often unpredictable. My point is that just because a pilot holds a current certificate does not necessarily mean he or she is proficient and adept at dealing with adverse situations.

In the commercial world, pilots are paid to train and to fly in a variety of environments, thereby building invaluable flying experience. Alternatively, in the GA world, the burden is on the pilot to find both the time and financial resources for additional training and flying experience. In addition, the quality of flight instruction available to the GA community varies widely.

My message to GA pilots: Seek to improve your proficiency through training and experience. A good place to start is at EAA AirVenture [[add link: http://www.airventure.org/attractions/activities.html%5D%5D and its many workshops and forums. The bottom line is GA pilots do not need to be professional pilots to fly like pros!


Honorable Earl F. WeenerEarl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. Dr. Weener is a licensed pilot and flight instructor who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.

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