Understanding Human Error Key to Crash Probes

The Associated Press reports in "Experts study human errors in air crashes" that "experts who study airplane accidents say the errors that lead to crashes are similar to the everyday mistakes people make, akin to locking keys in the car or forgetting an item on a grocery list."

Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, believes the recent Comair crash is an example. "There are just so many basic things that appear, on the surface, not to have been properly followed," Hall said. "Almost every safety net that was in place was blown through."

The article reports that to figure out what went wrong, human-factors investigators will want to know the basics, such as what the pilots were talking about in the cockpit, along with when the pilots went to bed, how they slept, what they ate and drank and if they were having difficulties at home.

The Value of Crash Probes

Whenever there’s a plane crash, investigators are quickly on the scene to determine the cause. And these probes into what caused the accidents save more lives later.

As reported in The Christian Science Monitor‘s How crash probes make aviation safer, the exhaustive analysis done after every accident has helped the nation’s aviation industry to be one of the safest in the world.

"[The Conair] crash," reports Alexandra Marks, "which killed 49 people and left one — the copilot — critically injured, was the first deadly accident in US commercial aviation in more than three years. In the coming months and years, investigators will scour every aspect of the crash — from the performance of the plane to the orders issued from the control tower to how much sleep the pilot had had. The knowledge gleaned will then be used to enhance the safety of everything from pilot training to navigational technologies to the way planes are designed."

Comair Flight 5191

While we may never know for certain what led to the crash that killed 49 people in late August, several contributing factors are coming to light.

The FAA has assigned more staff to the airport in question, but Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said there has been a net loss of 1,081 controllers in the last three years, according to the FAA’s own figures. The numbers dropped from 15,386 in September 2003 to 14,305 in August 2006, due largely to a wave of retirements.