Monday, July 22, 2013

National Transportation Safety Board Features Alaska Investigator in YouTube Safety Video

An Alaska-based National Transportation Safety Board investigator is among the first members of a high-level effort to improve pilot safety nationwide, featuring videos airing on the board’s YouTube channel.

NTSB spokesperson Clint Johnson says that Chris Shaver, along with Catherine Gagne -- a member of the board’s Atlanta, Ga. office, temporarily in Alaska this month due to a high volume of crashes in-state -- recently made a presentation to the board on improving general aviation safety. Both Shaver and Gagne were selected to be among the first five investigators to make YouTube videos as part of the new initiative.

In Shaver’s NTSB video released on YouTube Monday, “Prevent Aerodynamic Stalls at Low Altitude,” Shaver discusses how to avoid low-speed stalls which can lead to crashes. While he lists tips for pilots ranging from being familiar with their planes’ stall characteristics to not showing off for people on the ground, he emphasizes the importance of not engaging in behavior which can lead to stalling in the first place.

Shaver discusses several Alaska crashes from recent years as examples of dangerous low-speed behavior by pilots, including determinations later made by NTSB investigators in probable cause reports. One crash he mentions is the 2011 Piper PA-12 crash near Delta Junction in which a Fort Richardson soldier, Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class Eric C. Corl, was fatally injured.

“In July 2011, a commercial pilot was killed when his engine lost power shortly after takeoff,” Shaver said in the video. “Ahead of the airplane were a long dirt road and a hay field -- yet the pilot sought safety on the runway behind him, and in the attempted turn lost control.”

A Piper PA-11 crash near the Susitna River three years ago, which took the lives of Anchorage men Brandon C. Reiley, 28, and Seth D. Holden, 29, is mentioned by Shaver as another situation in which an aircraft can readily stall.

“In August 2010, two hunters were killed while scouting for moose when the pilot stalled the plane at low altitude and crashed,” Shaver said. “Witnesses reported seeing the plane flying at 100 feet just before the accident, and numerous moose hoofprints were found surrounding the accident site. We see a handful of these aptly named ‘moose turn stall’ accidents every year.”

According to Johnson, while investigators aren’t specifically selected for experience in the subjects they discuss during their videos, Shaver has become an expert on low-speed stall crashes during his time in Alaska.

“Obviously, Chris is,” Johnson said. “If you notice, we’ve got a lot of these types of accidents up here.”

Johnson says some of the crashes Shaver cites demonstrate that pilots in stall situations on takeoff, such as engine failures, shouldn’t attempt to make a “go-around” approach. Instead, they should set the aircraft down in a flat area ahead of them -- if possible -- rather than risk their lives in low-speed turns.

“Unfortunately, that’s General Airmanship 101,” Johnson said.

Gagne’s YouTube video, the first in the NTSB series immediately before Shaver’s, addresses paying attention to warning signs from pilots’ planes.