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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Lt. Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart,USAF

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, USAF
April 10, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, April 9, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

[This is a special DOD News Briefing on Aircraft Accident InvestigationProcedures. Lt. Gen Eberhart is Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans andOperations, Headquarters, US Air Force; also participating: Brig. Gen. Orin LGodsey, Chief of Safety, US Air Force; and Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)]

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. We have a two-part briefing this afternoon.First, two Air Force officials are going to walk you through a sort of "CrashInvestigation 101," to give you a lay-down of how this investigation is goingto proceed; what the timing will be. And this will serve as a good baselinefor future briefings that we're going to have -- I'm sure, over the next weeksor months -- on the tragedy in Croatia. To do that, we have Lieutenant GeneralRalph Eberhart, who's the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations herein the Pentagon, and also Brigadier General Orin Godsey, who's Chief of Safety-- and he's come up from New Mexico.

I want to warn you ahead of time that these gentlemen are talking about"process;" they are not talking about "findings," they're not talking aboutsubstance at this time. So, they'll only be able to talk about what the planis, not what the findings are; and they will be very abrupt at turning offquestions that try to get them to go beyond "process." General.

Gen. Godsey: Good afternoon. What I'd like to do is spend a little time kindof as a kick-off and cover three or four charts that will give you somebackground on how the investigation process works. We'll look at the boardmembers and then we'll look at the process that they are going to follow andthen we'll take any questions that you might have.

The purpose of an investigation whenever we have a mishap is to immediatelyfind out what has caused the mishap so we can move forth to take actions topreclude this from happening again. That's the number one goal that we tend togo after to try to achieve whenever we have a mishap. We need to know whathappened, what has caused this.

So a board is formed that is headed by either a colonel or it could be ageneral officer and he is kind of an autonomous entity. He is appointed by thefour-star, or the major command that owned the aircraft, and he is given acharter to go out and find out what happened and come back and report thatinformation to me. And, of course, there are some secondary to preserveevidence. You never know when you may need the evidence at a later time to goback and look at something else that might come up.

Throughout the entire investigation, whether they are in Croatia or after theyrelocated back to Ramstein, they'll continually go back to the evidence becausethings will continue to come up; questions will be asked as they murder boardthis amongst themselves. So this evidence is very important that we maintainthis. And we maintain this evidence for over a year, after the investigationis complete. And this report will produce a document that would be fullyreleasable to the public.

On this slide I have listed all the board members. These are the primaryboard members. It's a cross-section of people with all types of expertise: wehave three people on there who have expertise in the

T-43, the same type of aircraft -- two of them are pilots, one is a maintenanceindividual; I have an individual on there from my organization, who is aprocess expert on how the investigation should be conducted, how the reportshould be written -- he's also got a lot of contacts where we can get any typeof technical expertise that we need. We don't limit it only to the Air Force,only to DOD. We'll go out to industry also -- FAA, NTSB -- to get what we needto be able to get to the bottom of why this mishap happened.

You'll also notice we invited a NTSB rep and we invited an FAA rep. Now, theNTSB has four individuals. This is the team chief that's listed here. Two ofthe four individuals were instrumental and were on the Pittsburgh 737investigation.

Also, the FAA rep that's listed here was on the 737 mishap at Pittsburgh,also. We think it's important to have these type of folks so we can have thein-depth knowledge that we need. Now, NTSB has given us flight controlspecialists, structural specialists. They've also given a specialist in radarplotting and things like that so we can do a complete analysis of whattranspired.

On this next chart, I'll show you the process that the board will follow.Right now, they're on site. I think everybody is aware of that: you have thehandout that kind of gives you a little update. They will stay on site as longas they need to be able to collect the materials that they need from theevidence. Right now, the board is kind of split: there is a portion of themin Croatia; there's a portion back in Ramstein. Once the main body, which isin Croatia, has completed and gathered all the information, they're conductinginterviews while they're there also and it's not only aircraft materials thatthey're collecting. They're also collecting radar-type materials, voice tapes,anything else that they can get that will help them in the analysis of themishap.

They're going to relocate to Ramstein, and while they're at Ramstein, theywill go into in-depth analysis of all the materials that they have. They'll doall types of computer simulations, anything that's possible to them to includeeven getting into a 737 simulator -- flying different profiles, flying thatapproach -- to be able to try to replicate what may have happened.

Then they will go into the report preparation phase. Once they've completedthis, they will kind of murder board it amongst themselves, making sure thatthey've covered all avenues, and then they will go to the convening authority,who is the commander of USAFE -- a four-star -- and, since he was the conveningauthority -- he is the individual who has appointed this group to do theinvestigation -- he will get the first briefing on the report. He then willapprove the report. Once that is completed, a very important thing -- beforeit will be released to the public -- is to personally brief all the familymembers who lost one of their loved ones in this mishap.

Now, that kind of gives you a baseline of what will happen, how we go aboutdoing it, and we're open to questions.

Q: Sir, first of all, a couple of questions. When might we reasonably expectto see the results of this investigation? And then I have a follow-up.

A: Well, we are anxious to find out just as quickly as possible, but it's verydifficult to put a timeframe on it because we want to have a very thorough andcomplete investigation.

Q: How will the absence of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorderhamper the investigation?

A: Well, it will complicate it because it's always easier if you have thevoice data and the flight data recorder. However, because of the technologymeans we have today, we'll be able to replicate almost the entire realm. Andit will not preclude us from finding out what happened in the mishap.

Q: Also, you're the Safety Chief.

Gen. Godsey: That is correct.

Q: So can you give us a rough idea of how many other planes don't have "blackboxes," or what the percentage of planes are equipped with them? For instance,does Air Force One have a cockpit voice recorder?

A: We'll start with Air Force One. Yes, it does. It has a flight datarecorder and a cockpit recorder. If you look at the aircraft that we use forpredominantly passenger hauling, the T-43 was the only model of aircraft thatdid not have a flight data recorder and a voice recorder. If you look at theoverall Air Force inventory, approximately 60 percent of our aircraft haveflight data recorders.

Q: Why?

A: Well, the policy that came into being back in 1973 was signed by chief ofstaff -- then, John Ryan -- stated that all aircraft that we buy after July of1974 would be equipped with a flight data recorder. This aircraft was acquiredin 1973. Delivery was somewhat thereafter that, you know, in late `73, `74 --these aircraft were not equipped. Even though we have some aircraft in ourinventory that were not equipped when we bought them, we have retrofitted someother aircraft.

Q: Sir, do your fighter jets have such recorders on them?

A: Some of them do. Some of them do not. Now, almost all of our fighteraircraft have voice capability through the heads-up display. But now, ofcourse, this is not crash survivable. So, when I talk CVRs and FDRs -- FlightData Recorders and Cockpit Voice Recorders -- I'm talking about crashsurvivable, when I gave you those figures.

Q: There was some talk last week that AWACS data would provide a very detailedpicture of the flight path. Has that material, in fact.... Is that available?

A: Yes, it is.

Q: Will there be an attempt to actually reconstruct the plane from thepieces?

A: That will be entirely up to the board. Me standing here, I can't tell whatthe board needs. I can't tell you what the site actually looks like, since Ihave not seen it personally, but the board president, and the expert that hehas with him, will do what is necessary to get to the bottom of what caused themishap.

Q: Is there any AWACS trace from... the initial report said after 4,000 feetthey don't trace them, so, that would have been the first beacon. If that'sthe case, you'd have nothing after the first beacon.

A: At this time, I really can't comment on that. That is up to the board tolook into that. And, as everybody knows, whenever we have a mishap, the firsttwo or three sets of data that you hear probably aren't true. You know, we inthe military, we act a lot from what we hear to begin with and we want to dothat, but I have to defer that question to the board's expertise and I don'twant to get in and presuppose what the board is doing. So, they have collectedall the data. They have all radar data and voice data and they will thoroughlyanalyze that to be able to reach their conclusions.

Q: General, you said a lot of planes prior to `74 have been retrofitted withthe voice data recorder and the voice....

A: I said "some" of the planes have.

Q: Is there a reason why the T-43's were not retrofitted? Is there anyconsideration or decision to do that now?

A: Well, it has not -- I'll do the last question first. It has not beenaddressed since the mishap. Now, the Air Force's goal -- if we had anunlimited budget -- would be to have Flight Data Recorders and voice recordersin every aircraft that we have in the inventory. However, because of fiscalconstraints, because of budgetary constraints, we have to wisely spend ourdollars. And if you look at the T-43 accident statistics, since 1974, when theaircraft came into the inventory, it has not had any class A mishaps.

Q: Can you tell us whether aircraft parts that are used for transportingpassengers, like this one was, are equipped with Global Positioning Satellitenavigation system or is that just not something that's been...

A: I don't know that answer off the top of my head. Some are and some arenot, but I can't tell you which are or which are not. Let's go in the back.

Q: I have a question about the experience levels of the pilots that you chooseto fly VIPs. The number of flying hours that Ashley and Schaffer had is about2,400. Very often, you find in the commercial world -- both in regularairlines and in charter airlines -- pilots with many more thousands of hours.Is there any thought being given, in the future, assigning more senior pilotsto fly VIPs?

A: I'll let General Eberhart answer that, since he is head of the trainingbusiness.

General Eberhart: Sir, we believe at this time we have the right training andthe right experience level in those pilots. I think if you compare theaccident rates of our operational support aircraft -- our aircraft that carry alarge number of passengers -- it compares very favorably to what you see on theoutside. So, we don't think it's a crew proficiency issue.

Q: Just a follow-up. Would you say there's much difference between a pilotthat has say 2,400 hours or twice as many flying hours?

A: I would say that there is a difference. However, that difference is verydifficult to measure. I would offer to you -- and again, this is... and wesaid we're not going to get into speculation -- but, I will give you aspeculation not pertaining to this crew, but I'd say that I have about 4,500hours of flying time -- mostly in fighters and trainer aircraft. I could goout there tomorrow and in a fighter airplane have an individual with 1,000hours fighter time beat me badly, just because [he's] younger; maybe I'm alittle too lackadaisical, in some cases; or maybe I've taken my ability forgranted. It has nothing to do with this incident, but it's not necessarilythat a pilot that has twice as many hours as another person is twice as good orone and a half as good or even better.

Now, there's a point there -- at the very low-end of the scale -- where I'dcertainly agree with you. That's why we don't put people in the left seat ofairplanes like this as they come out of pilot training. We train them verycarefully and they go through very exacting standards to earn that left seat,that aircraft commander position.

Q: Last year the Air Force did a review of how they do accidentinvestigations. Is there anything different you're doing in this investigationthat you normally don't do in the past? And also, is there... you said thatUSAFE is the convening authority. Is he also the release authority? And whatabout.... Who is going to release this report?

Gen. Godsey: He is also the releasing authority. The way the system willwork.... As soon as he gets a briefing -- and he approves it -- it goesthrough all the other coordination channels. All the families will be briefedand then it will be released through the PA system.

Q: In Europe?

A: In Europe; it will be released here also.

Q: You said it's very difficult to put a timeframe on it. Can you put anykind of outside boundary, six months, a year?

A: No, it will be much less than a year. The reason I don't want to put atimeframe on it is I don't want to tie the board's hand where they read inpapers that me, the chief of safety is out saying that they need to completethe report in "x" amount of days. That's unfair to the board, because like Isaid, what we're looking for is quality. We're not looking for speed.

Let me address your second question, sir, before we go on. Your otherquestion?

Gen. Eberhart: I think it is important to note, though, based on yourconcern, sir. If we find out something tomorrow that we know caused theaccident, [inaudible] six months to act on that. We're going to act on thatright away. Again, back to our first bullet the primary reason we're doingthis is to find out what happened and to prevent a recurrence to the best ofour ability.

Q: So, if you find out it's a rudder problem, for example, you wouldimmediately make that announcement?

A: Yes, sir. We do that in accident investigations all the time. We find outthat it's a rudder problem or it's a crew training problem or it's a "nav-aide"problem, we'd immediately make that announcement so we could go out and workthat problem through whatever corrective action was appropriate. We would notwait six months or eight months or nine months to make that announcement. Ithink that's very important.

Q: General, on that point, has anything that you know now caused any orders tobe issued regarding this plane or the flight of this plane into certain typesof airports?

A: No, sir. It has not been.

Gen. Godsey: Okay. We still need to answer the second half of your question.You talked about the blue ribbon panel and the review that we did of the AirForce safety investigation. The blue ribbon panel reached a conclusion thatthe system that we had in being was not broke: that it was doing an outstandingjob; that it was meeting the needs of the Air Force. However, they did come upwith 12 recommendations how to make the system better. And part of that was toremove some perceptions of reports being changed. I'm sure everybody's readabout that. It also put integrity in the system and we have put steps into theprocess.


Now, remember that the process that we follow is a two-step process: we do asafety investigation; and then we also do what is called a "legalinvestigation."

Q: Will there be anything unique about this investigation?

A: From what standpoint?

Q: From any standpoint?

A: No, not at all. Not at all.

Q: Just to follow-up. This is a very high profile crash, involving a highranking government official; VIPs were on the plane. You're not doinganything.... Is this investigation in any way designed to be more thorough,more complete than any other routine investigation?

A: Every investigation that we do on an aircraft mishap is the most thoroughinvestigation that the United States Air Force can do. And that's why we spareno expense in using whatever expertise is available to find out what causedthis mishap, because we want to be able to keep it from happening in anotheraircraft. As General Eberhart said, if we know that there is a problem fromeither a crew training standpoint -- and I'm talking in general -- or from anaircraft standpoint, we want to go ahead and rectify that immediately. We donot want to wait down the road.

Q: So, this is not a special investigation?

A: No, it's not.

Q: General, you said you were confident you could replicate the entire realm,even though you didn't have an FDR.... If the crucial question is the courseof the plane from the outer beacon on, in a layman's view, I can only think oftwo ways that you could possibly tell anything about that: that would be,number one, whatever radar tracings there are, if there were any, on the AWACS-- so, the AWACS radar tracings; or the attitude of the wreckage. Is thereanything that you could use to tell...

A: Well, the statement you made is true. I just can't comment on it, becauseI have not seen the data: I do not know what radar data they have from theAWACS; I do not know what radar data they have from any air traffic controlentities that they have; I do not know what voice controls they have. So, Ireally can't give you a more definite answer than what I'm giving you rightnow.

Q: General, one thing unique about these type of flights is the pressure onthe pilots from carrying VIPs who are eager to get to their destination. Isthere training that the Air Force does on this specific topic?

A: I'll let General Eberhart answer that.

Gen. Eberhart: First of all, I think that in terms of the training to avoidpressure from a DV, we don't have a syllabus block that says that -- and I knowthat's not what you mean -- but, we train them to be aircraft commanders.That's why they spend time in the right seat or they spend time in otherairplanes, before they go the left seat. We emphasize -- to the extent thatour Naval colleagues emphasize at sea -- that, you're the aircraft commander --the captain of that ship. What you say goes.

So, when I ride with them, when other DVs ride with them -- and as you know,with this squadron, the First lady has ridden with them recently; the Secretaryof Defense has ridden with them.... So, they're used to that type of pressure-- if it is, in fact, "pressure." And they know that they serve thoseindividuals best by flying that airplane safely and according to rules andregulations. They do not serve them well by, if there was pressure and I don'tthink there was, but if someone would put pressure on them to take risks totake them someplace. And when we look at somebody to be an aircraft commander,it's partially the flying skills, the flying hours, check rides, but also theleadership capability -- their ability to make decisions under stress, copewith emergencies.

So, I do not think, and we said we wouldn't get into this, I would notspeculate or say that they succumbed to pressure and did something because theyhad Secretary Brown on board.

Q: Question. The T-43 is essentially the military version of the commercialBoeing 737. Is that correct?

Gen. Godsey: The 737-200.

Q: Okay. Is there much difference in terms of the flight instructions forthat plane -- for the military plane -- that differ much from the commercialvariant, as as they're laid down by the FAA?

A: All of our pilots are trained to fly the airplane according to FAAstandards or more restrictive standards. We, in the military, are aware of,and have to abide by, FAA standards as well as military standards. But, inmost part, our standards are more restrictive than what the FAA is lays uponus.

Q: At this point, can you see any FAA flight guidelines for that plane thatwould have restricted flying into that particular scenario?

A: Again, I don't want to prejudge what the board is going to come up with.So, I really don't have any comment on that question. Let's go all the way tothe back, here.

Q: Is there something about this accident and the Pittsburgh accident --besides the fact that we're talking about 737s, here -- that has led you tobring in these people who have been on the prior investigation?

A: No, in the accident investigation business, it only makes logical sense ifyou have an aircraft that has had two mishaps, NTSB has not been able to reacha conclusion as to what caused them, to bring in their expertise. Now, weinterface with FAA and NTSB on a regular basis. So, even though in the recentmonths or years we have not invited them to participate, it is not unusual atall to invite them.

Q: General, the Press Release says that the NDB has been tested and has beenshown to be working properly. Does that eliminate the NDB has being theculprit of this accident?

A: Well, I think it said that the NDB was working properly at the time theytested it. And again, I won't go any farther than that because I don't want toprejudge what the board is doing. This is the board's charter. It's anautonomous unit out there looking into every avenue associated with that and Idon't want to second-guess, prejudge, or try to make statements associated withthat line that might take away from their investigation.

Q: The investigators are supposed to be taking a look at the NDB as a possiblecause for the accident.

A: And again, I'm sure that the board is. I just can't give you a answer oneway or another on that. That will be part of the Bbard's investigativeprocess. The last question.

Q: What input will the commander of the T-43 that was relieved of duty acouple -- a few days before the accident, what input will he have into theaccident report?

Gen. Eberhart: He'll undoubtedly be interviewed by the board president -- theinvestigation board -- to see how he viewed the conduct of the squadron and thetasking of the squadron. I talked to General Stevens again this afternoon andhe recounted again, what you've read in the Washington Post: that theirdifferences did not center on anything that would have contributed to thisaccident. He lost confidence in his ability to lead and command that squadron.It did not talk about transporting distinguished visitors and "nav-aides." Oneof the disagreements that they did have earlier did not contribute to theactual relief was going into Sarajevo earlier, months ago, withoutself-protection equipment on airplanes with DVs on board. And they decided towait until they were sure that ground-fire was not an issue. So, it was aground-fire issue, not a "nav-aide" issue.

Q: General, are you comfortable that I understand -- at least with this T-43squadron -- only two NDB check rides are required annually? Is that too low afigure in your opinion?

A: I don't know about two NDB check rides. The number is that we have toshoot something like how many approaches a year does -- you have to shoot 52precision approaches a year. Twenty-six of those have to - 52 approaches.Twenty-six of those have to be non-precision approaches. OK. So, thosenon-precision approaches can be things like NDB and TAC end. I think if youlook at the currency of this crew in terms of NDBs, you will not see thatthat's an issue that the board will show you that they have shot enough NDBs.They are current and it should not be an issue.

Q: Thank you. A: I do not believe it to be an issue. The board will have to talk it over.