Here are the protocols airlines follow after a crash

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I thought it was going to be about a technical investigation, instead its about blame and liability…


Moments before …

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Of course. In the US at least the NTSB handles the investigation. The Airline’s motivation is image preservation and financial surety.

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So there’s someone at the airline who has Tyler Durden’s job for the car company. Wonder how it affects their sanity?

That’s the job of the NTSB: to wield the blame-throwers, and scorch whoever is responsible for even a fraction of the incident.

That means everyone from the pilots to the departure gate agents to the fuel truck drivers, and all of the manufacturers of the aviation equipment can end up with some part of the blame. So when a crash happens, especially one involving a fatality, everyone lawyers up and they start denying everything, deflecting and dodging the blame until it sticks somewhere else. The NTSB knows this, of course, so they persevere until they get a reasonable answer.

As messed up as that sounds, it works well enough in practice. Every crash contributes some knowledge that they try to apply to help prevent similar crashes in the future.

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Wendover Productions is an awesome channel for transportation nerds like me.


Do they actually apportion blame?

The British equivalents (AAIB for plane crashes, there are similar bodies for marine and rail accidents) make it very clear that their job is only to find out how to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future- they don’t try to assign blame or liability, and their reports aren’t admissible as evidence in any legal proceedings that aim to assign liabiity.


Indeed. highly recommended, even if you’re only slightly curious about this stuff. He manages to make his videos interesting while being super-informative.


The NTSB mandate is to find THE root cause, the one thing that if it had not happened in the way it did then the crash would not have occurred. They will cite contributing factors, but ultimately they assign ONE root cause.

Of course, every crash ends up being a system/sequence of errors. Reason swiss-cheese model and all that. But NTSB assigns one root cause only. They dont say that one contributor was 70%, and another was 30%. The lawyers deal with that aspect


At first glance a lot of aeroplane stuff can seem random and odd. But when you examine it, there’s a deep and wonderful logic behind everything.

With every accident or near miss, some new information is learned and goes back into the system, wearing it smooth like a rock in a stream. And the result of over a century of this process of this logical Darwinism is a beautiful thing.

Is it bureaucratic? Absolutely. But it’s not some spurious bullshit management system. The logic is unassailable and the product is an unrivaled safety record for Commercial Aviation.

Not to be confused with General Aviation though. Privately operated aircraft are nowhere near as safe.

Spoiler alert for all Wendover videos: the solution is more trains

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Interesting- the AAIB don’t seem to always find a single root cause. Take, for instance, their findings of causal and contributory factors in a recent high-profile fatal crash of a GA aircraft:

3.2 Causal factors

  1. The pilot lost control of the aircraft during a manually-flown turn, which
    was probably initiated to remain in or regain VMC.
  2. The aircraft subsequently suffered an in-flight break-up while
    manoeuvring at an airspeed significantly in excess of its design
    manoeuvring speed.
  3. The pilot was probably affected by CO poisoning.

3.3 Contributory factors

  1. A loss of control was made more likely because the flight was not
    conducted in accordance with safety standards applicable to commercial
    operations. This manifested itself in the flight being operated under
    VFR at night in poor weather conditions despite the pilot having no
    training in night flying and a lack of recent practice in instrument flying.
  2. In-service inspections of exhaust systems do not eliminate the risk of
    CO poisoning.
  3. There was no CO detector with an active warning in the aircraft which
    might have alerted the pilot to the presence of CO in time for him to take
    mitigating action.

(Section 3.1, the remaining part of the report’s Findings, is a long list of every fact that was determined by the investigators)

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