Last month we discussed the incidents and accidents and what is reportable under NTSB 830. Many times pilots don’t realize that what they have just gone through is not a reportable event, and the government doesn’t need to be involved.
But what about those days when your luck is much worse?
The worst has happened. You are standing next to a crumpled airplane. You know that as PIC you have immediate responsibilities and duties to perform. Where do you start?
Your first duty is to the safety of yourself and your passengers. This means moving people away from hazards and into shelter. First responders should be called to ensure everyone’s physical safety.
Your next responsibility is set out in NTSB 830.10. The aircraft operator is responsible for “preserving to the extent possible any aircraft wreckage, cargo and mail aboard the aircraft, and all records…pertaining to the operation and maintenance of the aircraft….” First responders might be in a hurry to move wreckage or otherwise tamper with accident evidence. You may want to point out that the NTSB is in charge of the scene.
If you have a cell phone or tablet you may want to take pictures of the site, the wreckage and current weather conditions. I handled an accident once where we needed to take soil samples to determine the presence of fuel in a crashed aircraft. Photos of the site before the wreckage was moved helped me to locate the relevant area.
You must also preserve relevant flight records. This includes documents such as your flight log, fuel receipts, weather printouts and/or passenger manifests. When you get home, you will need to collect maintenance and pilot records to send to the NTSB investigator.
What about official notification? Once again we refer to the little section in the back of your FARs. NTSB 830 breaks down pilot duties into “initial notification” and “later reporting.” Initial notification is the responsibility of the aircraft operator, though prudence would dictate that the PIC become involved as well, as all reports made will be examined by the FAA. NTSB 830.5 states that “The operator of any civil aircraft…shall immediately, and by the most expeditious means available, notify the nearest National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) office….” This is followed by both a website and two phone numbers to use.
The numbers connect you with the NTSB in Washington, D.C., and you will be asked a set of questions about the accident/incident. A list of these questions is provided in NTSB 830.6. They cover the basic details of the plane, the pilot, the flight and the accident/incident.
It is vitally important that you realize at this point that everything you say or write is on the record. I would recommend that you call an attorney before you contact the NTSB to make sure you are not digging yourself a hole through speculation or inaccurate statements. It is important to stick accurately to the facts that you know, and that you not assume anything. “Maybe I didn’t quite top-off the fuel,” or “Perhaps the winds were a little greater than reported,” are examples. Just the facts, please.
The “later reporting” you will perform will be on NTSB form 6120, available through the NTSB’s website. It is an interactive PDF file and is eleven pages long. It includes space for a narrative of the accident/incident. Once again, it is important to remember that everything you write is on the record, and you should only write the facts that you absolutely know. Form 6120 may be emailed in PDF form to the investigator assigned to your case. You may be asked to submit to an interview if the investigator needs more information. Once again, I highly recommend that you consult with an attorney before this interview takes place.
One other thing: expect to undergo a “709 Ride” at the direction of the nearest FSDO. A 709 ride (so- called because it is authorized by U.S. Code Section 44709) is a reexamination of your competency. These 709 rides are to be expected when an accident or incident occurs and the pilot’s competency may have been a contributing cause. The examination will be straight out of the relevant Practical Test Standards, and should only include the areas concerning the incident or accident.
Hopefully you will never be involved in an incident or accident, but if you are, remember that you have duties under NTSB that must be performed promptly. The best strategy is to contact an aviation attorney as soon as possible.