Former NTSB investigator spells out key elements in Transair crash investigation

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Engine maintenance, fuel contamination, and air traffic control communications. Those are key elements investigators will be focusing on to determine how the Transair cargo plane crashed into the ocean on July 2. We hear from a former NTSB senior air safety investigator who was with the agency for 21 years.

Recovering the two black boxes will also be critical, but former NTSB investigator Greg Feith points out that the plane is over 40 years old, so those black boxes could be damaged.

Feith says there is likely a common denominator that caused the first engine to fail and the second to overheat, as reported in the air traffic communications. Investigators will look more deeply into possible fuel contamination, as well as problems with the fuel flow and the fuel tanks. They’ll also examine the plane’s maintenance history.

“Is this a recurring problem?” asked Feith. “Did they have engine problems in the past? Did they have a fuel problem in the past? So you’re gonna have to look and see if there’s a systemic problem.”

Investigators will raise questions not just with Transair but also with the FAA.

“Was this airline operating as they should? Are they maintaining the airplane? Did they train the flight crew? Was this airplane in any condition for safe operation?” said Feith.

In addition to talking to the pilots, investigators will want answers from Air Traffic Control.

Feith points out that the flight crew reported initial engine trouble when they were at 400 feet altitude and less than a mile from the runway.

“Why didn’t they immediately turn around as soon as they lost that first engine after takeoff? They were only at 400 feet, which means they weren’t that far from the airport,” said Feith.

He adds that there was some confusion with Air Traffic Control which was also communicating with other flights in the same frequency. That’s because there were no mayday calls usually done by the flight crew.

“Which then would’ve given them priority handling, which would’ve given them one on one communications in between the air traffic controller and that crew,” said Feith.

A lot of questions will be answered if the two black boxes are recovered, which are now about 400 feet deep on the ocean floor. They should be intact because they’re encased in titanium. But older black boxes also need to be maintained.

“If there is some sort of electronic failure, we may not get the data,” said Feith. “If it’s an old box that hasn’t been maintained, we may not get the data.”

Bringing the wreckage up can also provide answers right away. Investigators will examine the cockpit and see if the controls and switches are in the appropriate positions. They will also examine the engines and see if any blades are missing.

“If you lose a blade all of a sudden, the engines will not function as it is designed,” said Feith. “So they’re gonna be looking to see if all the components, parts or one, within tolerance, and two, are all still there?”

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