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Accident investigations, in our days seems to be the main action in civil and military organizations, through we can understand what areas failed in an accident sequence of events and is a useful tool using appropriate recommendations to prevent same or similar situations in the future that can lead to incidents or accidents.
It is already known that investigation of any aircraft accident is always a difficult case, for both civil and military investigators, in where a great number of factors or events might be involved and where almost always part of the relative clues or evidence are hidden or missing.
It is quite challenging when somebody has to engage all the pieces according to the information provided by experts as operators, technicians, air controllers, meteorologists, engineers, avionics and human factors specialists.
Even if some of the pieces of the puzzle are destroyed, burned, missing deteriorated, or even accidentally misplaced, the investigator has to figure out, what are they and where to fit them.
After evidence collection, every investigator has to find out why the accident happened by separating causal and contributory factors.
Trying to find the accident's rope end he should use, apart from expert's information, Human factor classification system, that has been developed as a quite practical and comprehensive model of human factors that is being currently used for both civil and military investigators, which can be applied in both accidents and incidents.
Nowadays that model constitutes a handy taxonomical tool in order to identify and determine causal facts related to active or latent conditions leading to the accident. But even if this model is being used from both civil and military organizations it doesn't mean that it works as a tool for the same purpose for each one. In the military organizations the human factors model is still a secret and dangerous path that no military investigator wants to follow in every step.
This could be a good reason (especially if he is trained through civil accident organization) that civil accident investigations are getting closer to scientific objectivity compared to military practices. In the armed forces, accident investigations are conducted by the parent command; in other words, the outfit that set policies and procedures - or failed to do so - orders an investigation on itself. So only limited use of the appropriate tools (HFACTS) can be accepted or ordered.
This is analogous to an airline conducting an investigation of a crash of one of its airplanes. Such scenario is rife with the possibility for cover-up, blaming of subordinates, overlooking failures at a higher level, suppressing technical or human factors issues.
If someone takes a look back in history, US Congress in 1974 made the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) independent of the Department of Transportation (DOT) because of the obvious difficulties allowing any organization to investigate itself. In 1994, Congress also closed a legal escape window that allowed most government departments to investigate their own crashes. Unfortunately, the Defense Department was excluded from this law.
The result is a cumulative toll of loss that exceeds that of destroyed aircraft and dead pilots in combat. Diehl, in his 2007 book (Silent Knights), revealing the history of botched military accident investigations, the author counted consequences as follows:
-Over $50 billion in reported economic losses. The real number is anybody's guess.
-More than 2,000 military aircraft destroyed, compared with less than 100 airliners. This comparison is apt because the military's fleet of aircraft is about the same size as the nation's current fleet of on-demand, air-taxi, commuter and scheduled airliners.
-More than 15,000 military deaths in all accidents, compared with fewer than 600 from hostile action.
In 1991, Brigadier General Joseph Hall, head of the Air Force Safety Agency, wrote the chief of staff of the Air Force a blunt letter. Among other things, he confessed:
"I have witnessed command manipulation of mishap cost/classification to improve the command statistics/image, shallow and incomplete investigation into mishap causes, interference by MAJCOM [major command] staffs with the investigative board process, and punishment of board members for unpopular findings â€¦ Even more troubling is the acceptance by senior leaders of a mishap investigation process which frequently obscures supervisory culpability â€¦ The investigative process has been politicized to the point of dysfunction."
About a month later, BGen Hall received a terse letter wishing an enjoyable retirement.
Beyond that it is obvious that the military organizations have composed their own kind of international military educational mechanisms, for accident investigations, where common practices and climate have been developed. The practices appear to be quite close with the civil ones, but investigation handling is not.
Military aircraft manufacturers are often in the focus point of investigation by the military investigators and also of the survivors of military personnel fatally injured in most military air crashes. To successfully sue the manufacturer, someone must prove that the product which caused injury was defective in design, manufacture, on demanding uses, or that there was a failure to warn of an unsafe condition.
Investigation for defects in military aircraft often focuses on the airframe and the major subcomponents such as the engines, flight controls, avionics, navigation equipment, safety and escape devices.
Other possible defendants include governments, companies that sell navigation and instrument approach charts, owners and operators of private vehicles involved in accidents with military vehicles, private suppliers who provide negligent services or supplies, civilian groups who have trained service personnel by contract, and non-governmental rescue services who negligently fulfill their responsibilities.
In military air crash cases, pilot error is often the cause of the crash. When a pilot flies into a mountain, has a mid-air collision or loses control during training exercises, there are often pilot actions to blame. Sometimes, even if a defect is present in the equipment, the air crew may have failed to compensate in order to overcome the defect in time and prevent the crash.
Another difficulty exists for the families of services personnel who are injured or killed in military air crashes, even if they can provethat there is a design defect in the airplane or one of its components parts. Military aircraft manufacturers can avoid liability for a defectiveproduct if they can show that the government allowed them to design it that way. That's something that the military investigator must have in mind before he releases any report.
Some of the differences between the military and civilian accidents may be due to policy, in terms of the number and type of accidents that are investigated.
If someone takes a look on statistics looking for any differences, the most obvious cases between the civilian and military samples, observed to occur in the categories of training for emergencies and power loss.
The greatest proportion of accidents in the military sample occurred during training for emergencies (28.1%). All of these accidents occurred during auto-rotation training, all but one during basic flight training.
The exact contributing reasons to this difference are not known. However, it could be due to differences in accident classification policies in that the military sample includes some accidents which would likely not be investigated by the National Safety Board of a country.
Alternatively, this could indicate a major difference in the type of training conducted in the civil and military operations as 3 of the military occurrences happened while practicing auto-rotations at night.
Power loss accidents represent a relatively small proportion of the total military accidents (12.5%) compared to the civil sample (35%). This may be attributable to the fact that the military (especially helicopter) fleet, with the exception of the aircraft used for basic initial training, is composed of multi-engine aircraft while the civil fleet is largely composed of single engine aircraft.
However, these differences strongly support that diverse operating communities are exposed to very different risk profiles. The importance of the pro-active identification and mitigation of risks cannot be underestimated.
Moreover, there are significant differences between civilian and military cases that make also the litigation handling difficult:
-Almost all civil transportation safety boards have jurisdiction over serious civil air crashes. These boards which are made up of highly trained investigators, prepare a releasable and comprehensive accident report that contains all of their analysis. Furthermore in the US, the NTSB report also discloses the written input of the various party representatives from the airlines and manufacturers.
-A Military Safety Mishap Board has jurisdiction over military air crashes. The Safety Mishap Board prepares a classified safety mishap report which may contain substantial manufacturer input. This part is often not releasable to the public. That procedure is common to most countries.
A separate "Accident" Report, sometimes called a "Collateral" report depending on the military branch involved, is prepared by an officer who is not a specialist in aircraft accident investigations.
This report is turned over to the public, but does not contain any of the manufacturer's confidential technical analysis nor does it contain confidential witness statements from the classified Safety Mishap Investigation.
-Commercial airline crashes are investigated with the aid of a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR), mostly known as the "black boxes."
A number of military aircraft are armed of greater technical sophistication but until very recently did not have a Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) or Flight Data Recorder (FDR). The lack of such recorded data can increase the difficulty of finding the cause of a military crash. Happily the last days even more military organizations are trying to install some CVR or FDR into aircrafts.
-Military crash cases require the use of multiple technical experts who must reconstruct the cause of the accident. The fact that the technical analysis of classified safety mishap investigators is not released to the public, coupled with the fact that until recently there has been no CVR or FDR in many military aircraft, requires these private consultants to all but "start from scratch" in conducting an accident investigation.
-Documentary and tangible evidence may be more difficult to obtain in military air crash cases from non military investigators. Access to military documents is tightly controlled by the "state secrets" doctrine, or because of any top secret classification of the report.
-Military witnesses and government personnel in most countries cannot be interviewed and may only be deposed in accordance with "individual regulations"promulgated by the various national branches. These regulations purport to give government attorneys the right to control the scheduling and conduct of the personnel statements and other discovery, contrary to civilian state subpoena power.
-Military air crash cases are in most cases time consuming and costly to handle. Attorneys' fees are capped at 25% in civilian lawsuits against the government. It is difficult and also rare to settle these cases without filing a lawsuit or conducting extensive discovery.
-Military Accident Discovery is national and sometimes international in scope, due to the international involvement of military forces. While the crash may occur in one locale, witnesses, documents and tangible evidence may be scattered throughout various commands in the Air Force, Navy or Army.
-Invariably, military air crash cases in almost all countries will be handled in court often without a jury. When any government agency is a defendant, it will be defended by the Country's lawyers, Defense Department's attorneys and Aviation Unit which zealously protects each country's interests while using these extensive resources for its defense.
To this day, accident investigation in most military organizations goes like this:
The command that experiences an accident appoints members to its so-called Safety Investigation Board (SIB). Commanders never like surprises, so they ensure that the voting members of the inquiry are people they know and trust. These subordinates are line officers, (including aviation safety officers), such as pilots, who have poor training or experience in the protocols used by professional accident investigators.
Safety Investigation Board reports are supposed to be kept privileged and never released outside the Defense Department. The official purpose of the SIB report is to establish why the mishap occurred. But, the system is often abused to protect commanders from embarrassment and accountability.
To get around such criticism, the military services have commanders conduct another, separate investigation. This second type of inquiry is called an Accident Investigation Board (AIB).
Its main purpose is to establish legal responsibility, but its real objective is public relations. It is common secret that, the military has learned the value of keeping two sets of books on each accident.
Most of Accident Investigation Boards suffer many of the same problems as SIBs, namely, handpicked subordinates who are not properly and professionally trained investigators.
Unlike SIBs, witnesses who are interviewed by AIBs do not have such immunity; first of all, witnesses avoid to reveal information that later could be used to prosecute them. Secondly, these AIB reports will be released to the public, including the victims' families and the press.
Consequently, these Accident Investigation Boards (AIB) reports are less comprehensive than the Safety Investigation Board (SIB) inquiries.
At the end, differences between civilian and military practice including advantages may be summed up thusly:
-There is a legally mandated system of checks and balances, which feature well-established "fire walls" between different, critical domains. For example, the operators (airlines), the investigators, and the regulators are separate and independent from one another.
-They can work independently from any other organization.
-They work in a group with other professionals, each one on its own sector, and they are quite experienced on their job.
-They don't care how far the rope's end goes, because integrity is something they are used from their early stages of professionalism.
-They are improved over time as their experience enhances on collecting, protecting, and analyzing all relevant with the investigation evidence.
-Commercial airline crashes are investigated with the aid of a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) known as the "black boxes."
-They can use international community of other professionals to help them on their job. They can participate on seminars from all over the world, exchanging experiences, views, and get aware of the latest developments on accident investigation.
- They can stay on their job environment, for a long period of time, not concerning about parallel or double duties, and 'just do that job' orders.
-The civilian legally mandated system of checks and balances, which feature well-established "fire walls" between different, critical domains are merged into one all-powerful (and sometimes tricky) organization.
-The national military combat readiness is in high priority, especially when a country has conflicting interests with a neighbor or other country that may lead to a military engagement. That means that this country promotes and develops its accident investigation time schedule, in order to maintain high combat readiness.
-To achieve that timing, use of investigator's rank and position helps to share more accurate and responsible statements from the witnesses. Also, the investigator has unlimited access to information, documents and evidence.
-As it concerns the use of involved staff, multiple technical experts who must reconstruct the cause of the accident in various weather conditions, the number is unlimited because of the national scope.
-The litigation handling is easier because of the report protection climate.
- Use of latest technology, military satellites, night vision tools, sonar devices, even submarines and aircrafts is an accelerating factor in the accident investigation procedure.