Government Shutdown Delaying Plane Crash Investigations

As the shutdown of the United States Federal Government enters its third week, the effects are beginning to be felt far and wide in a variety of scenarios, including the investigation of plane crashes. Normally conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), both Federal agencies have been forced to furlough a majority of their staff during the shutdown and as a result cannot dispatch investigators to all crash sites.

For example, a recent crash of a single-engine plane in San Diego County, California that killed Roberta Ann Rose, 52, and Andrew William Thulin, 55, has yet to be visited by either the FAA or the NTSB. No information is available concerning the cause of the crash, because the wreckage remains unexamined days after the crash.

Nationwide, almost 2,000 inspectors were furloughed due to the shutdown, including 20 in the San Diego area. According to FAA representatives, plane crashes involving larger commercial flights would still trigger an automatic investigation, but lack of staff precludes visiting the sites of smaller crashes. All local authorities can do is try to preserve physical evidence from the crash site as best they can and ensure that the planes’ “black box” data recorder is secured until the government shutdown ends.

One unintended consequence of this situation is a breakdown in communication: The victims’ families have complained that no one contacted them to alert them of the crash or the death of their relatives – a function normally performed by the Federal agencies on the scene of the crash.

Although some movement has occurred in the United States Senate towards a deal that would re-fund the government and avert an overall default on the U.S. debt, the House of Representatives remains heavily divided, and so an end to the shutdown crisis remains impossible to predict.

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