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Talk With Peter Goelz

Aired January 8, 2003 - 11:42   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think the last time we were able to visit with you was before the news conference, so I was wondering if you had a chance to listen to that conference and any information you took from that.
PETER GOELZ, FMR. NTSB BOARD MEMBER: The NTSB will have their operation set up by this evening. They will break into working groups in terms of power plants, flight operations, whether I think within a very short period of time, they will be able to recover the flight data recorder and the voice recorder.

As Patty indicated, this plane had both. It's required under the type of service that it's in. They will have, I think, a pretty good preliminary picture of what was going on within 48 hours.

So I think this one will not be one of the challenging investigations that seem to go on for so long.

KAGAN: Certain things, the weather being good, and then also, as you mentioned, having both of those black boxes on board?

GOELZ: And the wreckage is, say, contained in a single place. You know, it seems as though the past few years, we've had open water accidents which have made recovery of both the victims and the wreckage far more challenging. I think the NTSB will get its arms around this tragedy fairly quickly.

KAGAN: I want to go back to this idea of the flight data recorder. At first, we were thinking there wouldn't be one. Now it appears that there is. How important, and how useful is that in trying to figure out what happened here?

GOELZ: Depending on how many parameters the recorder is monitoring, and I would guess this one would be somewhere upwards of 24 to 30. It gives you in sometimes one-third of a second, one-second increments. The engine performance, the position of the flaps, what the pilot was doing in terms of his control wheel. It gives you just the solid kind of information that you need to track this tragedy to its -- to figuring out what happened, and as was indicated earlier by Miles, you know these accidents tend -- there tends to be chains of events that take place, and clearly, the flight data recorder and the voice recorder give you an insight on a second by second basis on exactly what was going on.

KAGAN: And how does it actually work, Peter? Is this bits of information that are fed into a computer? GOELZ: Yes, the black box in this case would be a digital recorder that would take bits of information from the various flight control panels from the engines, and stores it in the -- on a digital component that can then be downloaded. Even if the black box is severely damaged, both the voice recordings and the flight data recordings can almost always be recovered.

KAGAN: And just one more quick question I have for you, we were remarking earlier how it was interesting that the FBI thought it was important not only to be there which I guess is standard procedure but to make a presence at a news conference like we just saw in the last hour.

GOELZ: During my time at the NTSB when I was managing director, we always expected the FBI to be at the accident scene. Generally, they were there first because they have, you know, local offices, and we would work together during the opening hours of the investigation, trying to determine whether there was any indication of criminal activity whatsoever.

And once the determination was made, you know, in this case with perhaps where there wasn't any criminal involvement, then the FBI stepped back, although they always make the resources of their laboratories available.

KAGAN: And you make a good point, it appears there was no terrorism or any criminal activity involved in today's crash. Leon has a quick question for you.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Peter, I've got a couple questions I want to bounce off of you based upon that press conference we saw, as well.

Number one, we saw that there was a very, very tight debris field in this particular crash here. We heard Jerry Orr there, who is the supervisor of the airport, describing a field of maybe only about 100 feet or so. What does that tell you? Anything?

GOELZ: That would indicate that the plane impacted at a fairly severe angle. Now, I agree with one of your previous experts, It's unlikely that it was at vertical and agree that eyewitnesses have to be handled carefully and their statements reviewed carefully, but a tight debris field would ordinarily indicate a fairly high angle of impact.

HARRIS: And you hit on the second point I wanted to bounce off of you as well, that eyewitness report about the plane going nose up. Do you -- I mean I know that eyewitnesses really believe what they say they see in moments like this, but is there any way at all possible there could be some truth to that?

GOELZ: You just can't tell, Leon. The NTSB has had serious challenges from eyewitness statements over the years, and what we've found after examining it very carefully, calling in experts from academia and law enforcement, that it just -- it is very difficult to base an accident investigation on eyewitness accounts, because they become so emotional so quickly at such an unusual event that people tend to see things or hear things and put them into a context that simply isn't reflected by the physical facts of the accident.

KAGAN: Yes, well, they're humans, you know.

GOELZ: The mind is not a videotape.


GOELZ: And we found that out in a number of accident investigations, where, you know, witnesses say, well, the plane was on fire, and you sit there, and you have simply overwhelming proof that there absolutely was no fire, but people see things, and it's nothing more than the emotion of the moment.

KAGAN: Exactly. Thanks, Peter.


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