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Tomato, tomahto - FAA says pilot error, NTSB says wind gusts

The cat is out of the bag, it seems, as far as the cause of the US Airways crash landing in Philadelphia last March. The information did not come from the usual source, however.

Experience has taught us that the National Transportation Safety Board may release preliminary findings shortly after an accident, but the agency can take more than a year to complete the accident investigation and issue its final report. 

The delay can be frustrating for people injured in the crash or the families of anyone killed -- they just want an answer. They want to know what happened, what mistake or defect ended up changing their lives forever.

The NTSB just wants to get it right. Investigations take time, because planes are fairly complicated. Analysts examine the technological system, the physical structure, the weather and other external factors -- and, of course, the actions of the people on board. There is rarely a simple answer, and it doesn't help that resources are limited.

In our last post we talked about the NTSB's pique when the Federal Aviation Administration released its findings on the March accident. The FAA laid the blame squarely at the feet of the pilot. The NTSB is now in a tough position. Will the public or regulators accept any answer other than pilot error?

Just about every news outlet in Philadelphia reported on the FAA's findings. First, the captain should not have been flying. He had taken prescription medications -- a sedative and a powerful painkiller -- following a medical exam two days before the flight. Protocol apparently requires pilots to report information like this to the airline before their next scheduled flight, but this pilot did not.

He and his copilot made mistakes preparing for takeoff, the report said, as well as mistakes as the plane was taking off. Both pilots disregarded an alarm -- according to information gathered by NBC10, the pilot commented, "We'll get that straight when we get airborne."

Of course the plane never got airborne. The pilot aborted the takeoff, and the plane skidded across a field, nose down, to a stop.

One of the passengers injured in the accident has filed a lawsuit against the airline. He accuses the pilots of being reckless and careless and asks for $10 million in damages.

Sources:

NBC10 Philadelphia, "FAA Internal Report Finds Pilots in Philly US Airways Crash Didn't Properly Set Flight Computer," Vince Lattanzio and Harry Hairston, Jan. 1, 2015

NBC10 Philadelphia, "Man Files $10 Million Lawsuit in US Airways Crash at Philadelphia International," Vince Lattanzio, Jan. 2, 2015

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