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Aviation Accident Investigator

What They Do

Insider Info

When there is a problem with an aircraft, aviation accident investigators spring into action. In the event of a crash, they go to the scene and start to investigate.

Interviewing survivors, reviewing flight and maintenance records, and examining engines, instruments and parts are all important pieces to the puzzle. They want to find out what went wrong to cause the accident.

They do not try to find fault or blame. For example, if a plane crash was caused by an engine problem, the investigators would take apart the engine to determine the problem and find out what made it stop working. Then they would identify the risk that the problem poses. They also make recommendations to help reduce future risk and report their recommendations to the public.

When something goes wrong in the air, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) must be notified right away. That's according to U.S. federal regulations.

Accidents are when something happens on an aircraft and a person is seriously injured or dies. It is also considered an accident if the aircraft is substantially damaged. Smaller problems are called incidents. These could be things that affect the safety of operations.

Investigators are on call 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Sometimes they work 9-to-5 days in the office. But when there's an active investigation, days can be long and overtime is often required.

Investigating the accident scene is not the only part of the job. Investigators also create records of the facts of the accidents and issue reports. They analyze safety issues and make recommendations.

Aviation accident investigators could be called to go anywhere in the world where an American product is involved.

Aviation accident investigators often work for the NTSB. In addition, the U.S. air force has its own investigators who deal with military incidents.

There are also opportunities with airlines. Airline safety departments have their own investigators who often work with government teams at the scenes of accidents.

Investigators must get inoculations and vaccinations as part of the job to protect them from hepatitis, tetanus and other diseases. Work conditions are sometimes dangerous, stressful or unpleasant.

Physical mobility and visual observation are required. In some regions, investigators may drive for long hours to reach the scene. The job also requires analyzing information and writing reports.

"There are some parts of the job that a disabled person could do in the lab," says Bill Yearwood. He is a regional manager of aviation investigations. He adds that a lot of work is done with high-powered microscopes. "A large part of it is just thinking."

However, some investigations require workers to jump from a helicopter on to the side of a mountain and crawl up to the crash site. Another may require them to snowshoe to an accident site in the mountains. Investigators are sometimes required to dress in material that protects them from biohazards.

"Every accident will have a different concoction," says Yearwood. Investigators must use common sense, and they are encouraged to keep fit.

At a Glance

Study airplane crashes to figure out how they happen

  • The NTSB must be notified immediately of aviation accidents and other incidents
  • Investigators look at maintenance records, cabin safety, aircraft performance and more
  • Investigative experience is important


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