Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Bookmark and Share this page


Opening Statement/Closing Remarks For Pre-Hearing Conference, US Airways Flight 1549 Airbus A320, N106US, Hudson River, NJ, January 15, 2009, Washington, DC
Robert L. Sumwalt
Washington, DC

Ladies and Gentlemen, please come to order.

I am Robert Sumwalt, member of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Chairman of the Board of Inquiry.  On June 9, 2009, we will open the public hearing of the accident involving US Airways Flight 1549. 

The purpose of the hearing is to supplement the facts, conditions and circumstances related to this accident.  The public hearing will take place in this Board Room.  Before proceeding, I would like to introduce the Members of the Board of Inquiry and the Technical Panelfor the hearing. 

Assisting me on the Board of Inquiry will be:

  • Mr. John DeLisi, the Deputy Director of the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety, and
  • Dr. Joseph Kolly, the Deputy Director of the NTSB’s Office of Research and Engineering.

Members of the technical panel are as follows:

  • Mr. Robert Benzon, Investigator-in-Charge
  • Captain David Helson, Operational Factors Group Chairman
  • Dr. Katherine Wilson, Human Performance Group Chairman
  • Mr. Brian Murphy, Structures Group Chairman
  • Mr. John O’Callaghan, Aircraft Performance Specialist
  • Mr. Mark George, Wildlife Factors Group Chairman
  • Mr. Jason Fedok, Survival Factors Group Chairman
  • Mr. Harry Reichel, Powerplants Group Chairman, and
  • Mr. Nicolas Marcou, the French Accredited Representative of the Bureau d’Enquets et d’Analyses, the NTSB’s counterpart organization in France

Mr. Benzon is the Investigator in Charge for this investigation, as you know, and is also acting as the Hearing Officer for this event.

Mr. Peter Knudson from the Safety Board's Public Affairs Office is here to assist in matters dealing with the news media. 

Mr. Erik Grosof from the Office of Transportation Disaster Assistance will be assisting Flight 1549 passengers and family members during the course of the hearing.

Before proceeding with the conference, I wish to acknowledge and thank the parties for the cooperative spirit they have displayed as we have worked together to determine the facts, conditions, and circumstances regarding this accident and to formulate an agenda.

The purpose of this prehearing conference is to:

  • acquaint the parties with the Safety Board's rules and procedures for the conduct of the upcoming public hearing,
  • identify the witnesses to be called at the hearing,
  • discuss the areas in which the witnesses will be examined,
  • and review the exhibits which will be offered in evidence for use during witness testimony. 

The Board has designated as parties to the hearing those agencies, companies, and associations whose participation in the hearing is deemed necessary and in the public interest and whose special knowledge or participation will contribute to the development of pertinent evidence applicable to this investigation. 

Designation of Parties

The following organizations have been designated parties to the hearing.  When I call the name of the party, I would like for the designated spokesperson to please respond with your title and affiliation for the record. This designation as spokesperson will continue in force until the completion of the hearing.

  • Airbus: Rudy Canto
  • Association of Flight Attendants: Candace Kolander
  • CFM Internationa: Bruce Mills
  • Federal Aviation Administration: Hooper Harris
  • US Airline Pilots Association: Dan Sicchio
  • US Airways: Paul Morell

Are there any questions or comments regarding parties?

I assume that all parties have copies of applicable Board regulations, a set of exhibits and a proposed witness list. 

If you have any questions with regard to the issues or the procedures for this hearing, they should be raised during today’s prehearing conference.

Any party desiring to submit additional exhibits or to call additional witnesses should raise the matter at the appropriate time later in this conference.  Any party failing to do so will be precluded from introducing additional exhibits or calling additional witnesses during the hearing, unless good cause is shown why such evidence should be admitted.

Conduct of the Hearing

We are anticipating a three-day hearing, beginning at 0900 on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009.  In order to conclude the hearings within the allotted time, it will be particularly important to confine the hearing to the issues defined at this prehearing conference.  I will make all the rulings on the pertinence of proffered testimony, and my rulings will be final.

In order to develop a complete factual record to assist the Board in meeting its public safety obligations efficiently and equitably, I request the continued full cooperation of all the parties. 

I am confident and I expect that each of you have the same overall interest as that of the Board, namely to determine the facts, conditions, and circumstances of this accident, and to develop a record of testimony that will enable us collectively to prevent similar accidents in the future. 

I will not permit the hearing to become an adversarial forum in which parties or organizations, which may have narrow or special interests not related to aviation safety, attempt to advance those interests.

The Board has designated the organizations you represent as parties to the public hearing in the interest of advancing the conduct and the comprehensiveness of the Board's investigation.  No person or organization, except the FAA, has the statutory right to be designated a party to the Board's investigation of this accident.  I appreciate your participation as parties and urge you to take an active role in the hearing.

This public hearing is the administrative fact-finding portion of the investigation.  There are no adverse parties or interests.  There are no formal pleadings.  The Board does not determine liability, nor does it attempt to do so, and for this reason, questions directed to issues of liability will not be permitted. 

I must emphasize the fact-finding nature of the hearing.  Our sole purpose is to determine how and why this accident occurred and what can be done to prevent similar occurrences in the future. 

I will now pause and ask if there are any final questions or comments regarding the conduct of the hearing.

Witness Testimony and Questioning of Witnesses

During the hearing, witnesses will testify under oath.  The Board has selected witnesses due to their specialized knowledge in a specific area.

Witnesses at the hearing will first be questioned by the technical panel. Following this, each party in turn will have the opportunity to question the witness. 

Due to the time constraints, and as a courtesy to other parties, I would ask that you keep your questioning between five and ten minutes.  A second round of questions may be allowed, if needed.  However, please do not feel obligated to come up with questions for a second round. 

If a party is granted the right to additional questioning, I would expect it to be brief. There should be no repetition of previous questions. 

The Board of Inquiry will be the last to question the witnesses.

Let me emphasize that the Board does not permit cross examination in the legal sense.  Therefore, I request that the Technical Panel, parties, and Board of Inquiry refrain from asking questions that:

  • have no factual relationship to the proposed issues, but are merely posed for their dramatic value,
  • are narrative type questions, more in the nature of testimony than a question,
  • are beyond the scope of the issues agreed upon,
  • are repetitive, or
  • are irrelevant, immaterial, or argumentative.

Witnesses will only be responsible for being familiar with the question areas and exhibits that are listed for them on the witness list.  

The witnesses who are called will not be at the hearing to speculate as to cause.  Rather, they will be there to testify as to the facts or to give expert testimony on various subject areas germane to the issues of this hearing.

At this time I would like for the Hearing Officer and technical panel members to discuss the witness list for the purpose of explaining in detail the type of testimony that will be elicited from each witness.

(After completion of review of witnesses by Hearing Officer).

Are there any additional questions or comments regarding witnesses?

Hearing Issues

I would now like to address the issues that will be developed at the hearing.  As the Board has proposed them, the relevant issues are the following:

  1. Pilot training regarding ditchings and forced landings on water
  2. Certification standards regarding ditching and forced landings on water for transport category airplanes
  3. Cabin Safety:  Training, Procedures, and Equipment
  4. Bird detection and mitigation efforts
  5. Certification standards for bird ingestion into transport category airplane engines.

If any party believes that this list of issues should be modified, clarified, or limited, the time to make that request is during this conference. 

The hearing will strictly adhere to the issues identified and agreed upon here.  They are purposely broad in nature.

The specific details to be covered during the various witnesses’ testimony are contained in the witness list, which we will describe and agree upon shortly.

Are there questions or proposed modifications regarding these hearing issues? 


Now we will discuss exhibits. The Technical Panel was the primary source for deciding which documents would be used as hearing exhibits.

I will ask Mr. Benzon to propose additions to the list of exhibits.

Are there any additional comments on the exhibits, or any recommendations for additional exhibits?

The record of the investigation including the transcript of the hearing and all exhibits entered into the record will become part of the Safety Board's public docket which will be available on the Board’s website. 

The hearing will be webcast live on our website, and it can be viewed after the hearing for three months, as well.   
One final word: we expect a large turnout. Everyone entering the board room will need to pass through security and as you know, this can be time-consuming.  A word to the wise: be early.  The board room will open at 0800.

Should you have any questions concerning proceedings or other administrative matters between now and the hearing, Safety Board staff are available to assist you.  Please direct your questions to Mr. Benzon and he will make certain that your questions are answered.

I believe this brings us to the completion of this prehearing conference.  I thank each of you for your comments and your participation and I look forward to working with you during the hearing. 

This prehearing conference in now completed and we will see you Tuesday morning when the public hearing commences.