Aviation Accidents - What should you do?

What if you're involved in an accident?

Aside from ensuring that everyone involved is ok which of course must come first, the single most important thing you can do in the event of an accident, is to protect yourself, your rights, and your reputation!! Do not let yourself be the victim of errors in reports due to the hurriedness of the FAA and the NTSB to place blame and get the paperwork off their desks. No one is going to look out for you, but you, no matter how nice they seem to be.

You should get to a doctor as soon as possible, by ambulance if necessary, even if you think you are not hurt. You should do this as immediately as you can even before any questions are answered other than those questions which could aid other individuals whom could be injured from the accident. Personal Injuries may not be apparent, and you could be bleeding internally and not know it. You could have spine fractures which could be minor enough that you don't really feel it especially in a partial state of shock. Another important factor to consider is that getting medical attention will get you away from the scene quickly which is just what you need so you can collect your thoughts and analyze what actually took place. Money should not be a factor in your decision because insurance will be paying anyway.

Be aware that if you are a Flight Instructor, the FAA will attempt to blame you for the errors of your students even if they were doing something forbidden by you. The FAA is very quick to try to blame someone, anyone! Whatever it takes to get the report done, and get someone blamed.

You should make written notes to yourself as you recollect events or any other information which may be important. If you don't make notes, you may forget something of importance until it is to late, this is a normal process. The notes you make are yours, and private; you should not give them up to anyone else except your attorney; the reason being that the notes you make may be taken out of context, or in some way which you did not intend. The NTSB, the FAA, local law enforcement and News agencies will pressure you a great deal to make an immediate statement, which you should not do. Their theory is that if you don't make an immediate statement, you may forget important events. See paragraph three above; make notes to yourself. If you make an immediate statement, errors due to clouded thought could haunt you later as no statement can be retracted try as you might. If it is an instructional flight, or any flight which could be construed as such, you could be the brunt of blame by others; be it your student, your instructor, or another pilot occupying the other seat. You should not try to place blame on someone else, but you should not accept blame for something that you did not cause. You must own up to your best recollection of what actually took place, and you must be honest. Other persons involved have been known to be looking out for themselves and their reputations as they of course should be, but not to the point of falsification.

A former student of mine was flying with an instructor who had very low total time; less than 400 hours. This instructor was going to demonstrate agriculture application (ag-spray) techniques. He made the mistake of making a low altitude downwind turn and burned it into the ground. This instructor did not have any actual agriculture flight training nor experience. My former student stated to me that he did not have any limbs on the controls, that the entire flight was a demonstration flight, and that he was sitting with his hands folded in his lap. By direction from this flight instructor, he did not make any statement, nor did he personally file a report with the NTSB as he should have. Since no one died in the crash, the NTSB did not send an inspector to the scene. It was later discovered that this was not this 300-hour instructors first accident. This is the information from the NTSB accident report:

The certified flight instructor stated that he had his student complete several steep turn maneuvers earlier in the practice session and decided to let him perform one more before returning back to the hangar. On the last steep turn the student lost more altitude then on previous maneuvers. According to the instructor he took over the controls; however, the helicopter touched down right skid lower than the left with forward left lateral movement resulting in the helicopter rolling over on to the ground. The flight instructor stated there were no mechanical failures or malfunctions to the helicopter or any of its systems prior to the accident.

If you choose to stay in the vicinity, after ensuring that anyone requiring attention has been cared for, get to a location where you will be left alone to gather your thoughts, you will need it. The local police agencies will be wanting to ask you questions, the media will be quickly on scene wanting to ask you questions, and you should say nothing. If anyone persists, tell them your attorney will be answering questions for you. You should not even make a statement to your instructor or the flight school personnel if it was a training accident until you have had a chance to clear your head and gather your thoughts and recollections.

When you can think clearly, ensure that the NTSB and FAA has been notified providing the pertinent information, but don't talk to anyone or answer any in-depth questioning including the sequence of events leading to the accident. That is not a part of the required information. It is best to make written notes about your recollection, but do not give these notes to anyone, and don't let anyone read them except your attorney. If desired, you can read from the notes to give information you choose to give.

Rule Number One: SAY NOTHING TO NO ONE; remember that anything you say can and will be used against you! No matter how nice someone seems to be to you, what you say will be repeated, and often times will be repeated or quoted incorrectly or out of context.

You must comply with proper and immediate reporting procedures as stated in NTSB 830, but other than reporting that an accident has occurred, and giving the information as required per NTSB 830.6, you do not have to do anything else immediately, nor should you.

If there were no fatalities, the NTSB will not send an inspector to the scene. All information will be taken via a phone call, from the written report which you must submit in a timely manner, and from the FAA. The NTSB does not give a crap about the accident if no one died. They don't care about anything except how fast they can get that paperwork off of their desks. Even though there is much to be learned from an accident with survivors, they NTSB don't care, it is all about paperwork.

The FAA will send an investigator to the scene, the inspector will drill you with questions and will be looking to place blame; they really don't care about anything else. You have just created a bunch of paperwork for them; another statistic which they must deal with, and it is a pain in their ass. It would be strongly advisable to have an attorney present for your questioning, and it is your right. END. Jump to Top