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NTSB investigators among critics of Clint Eastwood film, Sully

New York readers remember that, in 2009, a US Airways airplane made an emergency landing in the Hudson River with 155 passengers aboard. Remarkably, the accident resulted in no deaths, and only minor injuries for a small group of passengers. One of the reasons the landing was so successful is that the pilot was so skillful in executing the emergency landing.

Following the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board conducted a routine investigation in which it was determined that a flock of birds had gotten caught in both engines minutes after takeoff, causing them to lose power. 

Both the pilot and copilot were ultimately determined to have not been at fault, but investigators had their questions before coming to that conclusion. For instance, one question NTSB investigators had in reviewing the accident is whether the pilot should have attempted to land the plan at a nearby airport. Flight simulations conducted by the agency resulted in eight successful landings out of a total of 15 attempts, and this was one factor the agency took into consideration.

Last year, a movie about the Hudson River landing starring Tom Hanks was released, portraying the incident rather dramatically. As part of the dramatic narrative, NTSB investigators were painted as highly skeptical of the pilot’s explanations and justifications for his decision to land in the Hudson. Some critics, including some from the NTSB, have said that the film sets up the agency as an “artificial villain,” while the pilot himself has said the film is accurate in showing how he felt during the investigation.

As we’ve noted in recent posts, NTSB investigations don’t determine the legal liability of parties involved in an aircraft accident, but they can be valuable for determining some of the circumstances surrounding accidents. By the same token, NTSB investigations are not always accurate, and cannot be used as evidence in court, at least not directly. Aviation accident victims can and should work with an experienced attorney to make the best use of the information contained in these reports in seeking compensation for themselves or for a deceased loved one. 

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