A plane that caught fire after landing in Miami remained on the airport runway Thursday as a team of federal investigators worked to gather clues on what went wrong.
The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency that investigates transportation accidents including plane crashes, has a team of 10 at the site. The team is led by Sathya Silva, a senior aviation accident investigator.
Investigators say they will be looking at flight data, interviewing crew members and examining a variety of factors to determine what caused RED Air Flight 203’s left main landing gear to collapse while the plane touched down at Miami’s airport Tuesday evening.
The malfunction sent the plane skidding off the runway into the grass, and set off a fire. All 140 people on board — 130 passengers and 10 crew members — survived. Several people had minor injuries.
What will investigators look at?
So far, the NTSB has recovered the cockpit’s voice recorder — which records any conversation or sound that occurs in the cockpit — and the flight data recorder from the damaged plane. They will be taken Thursday to the agency’s laboratory in Washington for examination.
Investigators expect their initial review, which will involve using still cameras and drones to document the plane and its runway markings, could take up to seven days. Once the airplane is emptied of fuel, the NTSB team will comb through the inside of the plane, the agency said.
This is like the “tip of the iceberg,” into the NTSB’s investigation, said Peter Knudson, an agency spokesman.
Once the initial examination of the plane is done, the plane will be moved to another location for further assessment. An appointed representative for the Dominican Republic, where the discount airline is based, is also involved in the investigation.
Here are some of the areas the team will review:
▪ The history of the aircraft as well as the flight experience and training of its crew.
▪ The performance of the plane’s flight crew. The NTSB says it will look at “before-the-accident factors that might be involved in human error, including fatigue, medication, alcohol, drugs, medical histories, training, workload, equipment design and work environment.” Knudson said investigators will usually look at the past 72 hours.
▪ The wreckage, including the failed landing gear. The team will examine the plane’s instruments and flight control system as well as its hydraulic, electrical, navigational, pneumatic and associated systems.
▪ The plane’s “crashworthiness,” which Knudson describes as how well the aircraft handled the accident. Examples: Did all of the seats stay in their position? Did the seat belts work? Was everyone wearing a seat belt?
▪ Any injuries that occurred during the plane’s evacuation and how first responders responded. Part of this involves figuring out if the injuries occurred during the emergency landing or while people were trying to escape and how quickly fire crews put out the fire, Knudson said.
How long will it take investigators to figure out what went wrong?
Once investigators have gathered all the information, including videos of the emergency landing, they’ll get together to “analyze” the documents, data and material, Knudson said. They will then determine what caused or contributed to the landing or the severity of the accident and what could have been done to lessen injuries, said Knudson, speaking in general about how the investigations work.
He said the agency will sometimes also issue recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the manufacturing, operation and maintenance of aircraft, on what could be done to prevent a similar accident from happening in the future.
As to how long it will take for the investigation to be completed, that varies by incident. For the emergency landing at MIA, it will likely take from 12 to 24 months to be completed, Knudson said.