Friday, June 20, 2014

Coshocton County, Ohio: Area pilots unconcerned with industry crash investigations

COSHOCTON — Not many small planes crash in Coshocton County, or even the counties around it, but if they did, local pilots think the investigation afterward would be accurate and fair.

A USA Today investigation into the practices of the National Transportation Safety Board, a national organization dedicated to investigating the causes of plane (and other) crashes. Most crashes are attributed to pilot error, even against evidence of faulty parts from the manufacturer or a design flaw that major companies knew about in advance, the USA Today report states.

Several cases the report cites include instances of pilots and families of pilots fighting back against a system that, more often than not, places blame on the operator of the airplane without investigating the crash fully, according to the families.

Local pilots, however, think pilots have a responsibility to keep themselves and their passengers safe in the air, and those NTSB investigations are often done by intelligent and experienced people whose job it is to be as accurate as possible.

Bethel Toler, pilot and airport administrator at Richard Downing Airport in Coshocton, said at a certain point, safety becomes the pilot’s responsibility.

“The pilot in command is the one that has to determine whether the plane is safe at all,” Toler said.

Every piece of every plane has to undergo an annual inspection, he said, right down to the screws and bolts. The fuel, radio, pressure, control surfaces; everything gets checked. And most of that also gets checked before every flight.

Toler said the crash investigations done by the NTSB are handled by the right people for the job, adding that the agents put in a lot of hours and have a lot of education to accurately investigate crash causes.

“I really don’t like to speculate who’s right,” he said. “There are probably times when they get it wrong, and probably times when they get it right. ... When a plane crashes, everybody wants more rules and regulations, and that’s not the answer.”

Federal Aviation Administration seminars should be attended by more pilots, Toler said, adding that pilots need to take the time to keep up their education and flight experience.

Robert Norman, an aircraft mechanic and pilot who lives and works in Zanesville, also emphasized the responsibility pilots have to ensure their crafts are in working order before takeoff.

General aviation airplanes, Norman said, if maintained properly, can last for a long time.

“I’ve flown airplanes that are 80 years old and still actively flying,” he said. “They’re almost timeless.”

Faulty parts usually are rejected before they even get added to an airplane, Norman said about his shop. Mechanics work to the best of their ability to keep the plane safe, but he admitted everyone can make mistakes.

“Nobody’s perfect,” he said.

More attention is paid to airplane crashes and train crashes, he said, even though automobile crashes happen far more frequently.

“It’s always spectacular when it’s an airplane crash,” Norman said. “It’s always spectacular when a ship sinks.”

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