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Opening Statement for Public Hearing on Empire Airlines flight 8284, operating a FedEx-owned ATR-42 (N902FX), Lubbock, TX
Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Public Hearing on Empire Airlines flight 8284, operating a FedEx-owned ATR-42 (N902FX), Lubbock, TX, Washington, DC

Good morning and welcome.

I am Debbie Hersman, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and of this Board of Inquiry.

At this hearing we are considering the crash of a FedEx-owned ATR-42 which crashed 300 feet short of the threshold while on approach to Lubbock International Airport.  The purpose of this hearing is to ascertain additional facts, conditions and circumstances regarding this accident, in order to supplement the information the Safety Board discovered during its on-scene investigation.  This process will assist the Board in determining the probable cause of the accident and in issuing safety recommendations that may prevent similar accidents. 

We believe that a public discussion of certain safety issues identified by the accident investigation to date would benefit the investigation.  Related to the identified safety issues are aircraft operations in certain icing conditions.  Currently, 15 safety recommendations related to aircraft icing are open, and the issue is on the NTSB’s List of Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements.  This hearing will provide an appropriate, and important, venue to reexamine these identified safety issues and to assist the Board in determining whether additional recommendations are needed.

Specifically, for this hearing, we will concentrate on the following issues:

  1. Crew resource management, decision-making and actions leading up to and during the accident sequence
  2. Empire Airlines’ training program, policies, and procedures for flight in icing conditions and training to handle flap anomalies
  3. FAA guidance for flight in icing conditions, and identification and recognition of icing conditions
  4. Design and performance characteristics of the ATR-42 in icing conditions, and with a flap anomaly
  5. Avionics systems and aircraft design modifications to monitor and mitigate effects of icing on aircraft performance

I would like to introduce members of the Safety Board staff.  First, observing today’s proceedings is my colleague, Vice Chairman Chris Hart. 

Assisting me on the Board of Inquiry will be:

  • Mr. Tom Haueter, Director of the Office of Aviation Safety;
  • Dr. Joseph Kolly, Acting Director of the Office of Research and Engineering; and
  • Mr. Darrin Broadwater, the Hearing Officer.

The Board of Inquiry will be assisted by a Technical Panel.  Members of the panel are:

  • Ms. Leah Yeager, the Investigator-in-Charge;
  • Mr. John DeLisi, the Deputy Director of the Office of Aviation Safety;
  • Dr. Dan Bower, the Chief of the Vehicle Performance Division;
  • Captain Todd Gunther, the Operations Group Chairman;
  • Mr. Tim Burtch, the Aircraft Performance Group Chairman;
  • Mr. Jeffrey Marcus from the Office of Safety Recommendations and Advocacy;
  • Mr. Don Eick, the Meteorology Group Chairman;
  • Ms. Kristi Dunks, the Airworthiness Group Chairman;
  • Dr. Katherine Wilson, the Human Performance Group Chairman;
  • Ms. Jennifer Rodi, the Survival Factors Group Chairman; and
  • Mr. Guilhem Nicolas, the Accredited Representative from the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), the NTSB’s counterpart organization in France.

Other Safety Board staff members assisting with this hearing are:

Mr. Peter Knudson and Mr. Keith Holloway from the Office of Public Affairs; Ms. Eunice Bellinger, who will be handling the administrative matters for this hearing; Ms. Allison Violette, who will be running  the presentations; Mr. Gary Halbert, the Safety Board's General Counsel, and Mr. Bob Combs, my Special Assistant.

In accordance with the Safety Board's procedural rules governing public hearings, the designated parties to a public hearing include those persons, governmental agencies, companies, and associations whose participation in the hearing is deemed necessary in the public interest and whose special knowledge will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence.  There are three such designated parties in attendance today.  As I call the name of each party, I ask that the designated spokesperson state for the record his or her name, title, and affiliation:

  • Federal Aviation Administration (Mr. Hooper Harris)
  • Empire Airlines (Mr. Richard Mills)
  • ATR (Mr. Don Flanigin)

While not an official party to this investigation, I would also like to note that the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, is present and has offered substantial technical assistance during this investigation.

I would like to thank all of the parties for their cooperation and their willingness to work with us in this accident investigation.

The witnesses testifying at this hearing will be introduced when they begin their testimony.  They have been designated as witnesses because of their ability to provide the best available information on the issues.  Hard copies of the witness and exhibit list, and electronic copies of items already in the docket, are available from Keith Holloway in the press room. 

The witnesses will testify under oath.  Each will be introduced by name, with any special qualifications he or she may possess for purposes of this hearing.  The first witness will be the Investigator-in-Charge of the accident investigation, Ms. Leah Yeager, who will summarize certain facts about the accident and the investigative activities that have taken place.  The subsequent witnesses will be questioned first by the Technical Panel, then by the designated spokesperson for each party to the hearing, and finally, by the Board of Inquiry. 

I will permit a second round of questions if the record needs to be clarified or if new matters have been raised that require further exploration.  If one of the parties would like a second round of questions, the designated spokesperson should make the request and state the reason for the request.  I would expect the second round of questions to be very brief with no repetition of previous questions. 

A witness who has finished testifying may be subject to recall should the need arise.  Therefore, witnesses should not leave the hearing without first checking with the Investigator-in-Charge or the Hearing Officer about the likelihood of being recalled for additional questioning.

During this hearing, we will not attempt to determine the probable cause of the accident.  Such analyses and cause determinations will be adopted later by the full Safety Board after all of the evidence gathered from our investigation is discussed during a public, or “sunshine” meeting.  At that time, the Safety Board will consider the evidence, review the analyses and determine the probable cause in a final report.

This hearing is not adversarial; there will be no adverse parties or interests, no formal pleadings and no cross-examination.  The Safety Board will not determine liability and questions directed to issues of liability will not be permitted.  As Chairman of the Board of Inquiry, I will make all rulings on the admissibility of evidence and my rulings will be final.  I request that all parties and the Technical Panel refrain from asking questions that:

  1. Are narrative-type questions, that is, more in the nature of testimony than a question;
  2. Are beyond the scope of the issues agreed upon;
  3. Are repetitive; or
  4. Are irrelevant, immaterial, or argumentative.

The record of the investigation, including the transcript of the hearing and all exhibits entered into the record, will become part of the public docket on this accident and will be available for inspection at the Safety Board's headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Anyone wanting to purchase the transcript, including the parties to this hearing, should contact the court reporter directly.  

Following the hearing, the parties are invited to submit comments to the Safety Board regarding the conclusions they believe should be drawn from the evidence and what preventive measures should be taken.  Please submit 15 copies of your comments to the Safety Board within 30 days after you receive a transcript of the hearing, and submit one copy of your comments to each of the other parties to the investigation.  All comments received by the Safety Board will be made a part of the public docket.

Ms. Yeager, are you prepared to present your opening statement?

[Opening Statement & questions]

Thank you very much.  I will now ask the Hearing Officer to call the first witness.