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Aviation Accidents

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The NTSB, which operates independently of other government agencies, is primarily responsible for investigating aviation accidents and issuing safety recommendations based on its findings. While the NTSB has no direct regulatory or enforcement power with regard to aviation law, it does have significant power of influence on those who can effect change. In fact, approximately 80 percent of all NTSB safety recommendations are adopted by the FAA or other regulatory agencies.

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"Jurors visit site of Arkansas airplane crash"

May 20, 2005

In 1999, American Airlines Flight 1420 crashed at the Little Rock National Airport, leaving the pilot and ten others dead. The widow of the flight's pilot filed suit against the airport and its governing board, claiming the airplane had to contend with unsafe airport conditions when it landed.

The widow's lawyer wanted the jury of eight women and four men to see the site of the airplane crash. When Capt. Richard Buschmann piloted the flight through a thunderstorm he landed the plane but couldn't stop it from skidding off the end of Runway 4R. The jury members went to see the runway because the widow's lawyers wanted to strengthen their complaint that a shorter-than-standard safety zone beyond Runway 4R contributed to the pilot's death.

Directly beyond the runway is a rocky slope followed by the Arkansas River. The pilot's widow says that her husband might have survived the plane's landing if the safety zone had been deeper. Jurors were shown Runway 4R, as well as Runway 4L, which has a deeper safety zone because it is farther from the river.

Arguing Buschmann made poor decisions while approaching the airport, the airport had objected to jurors viewing the crash site. Back in the courtroom, the defense attorney cross-examined a witness- Carl Steinhauer, a former FAA official who said the airport never made an effort to comply with the 1,000-foot safety area standard adopted in 1975.

The attorney said the airport tried, but failed to receive approval from the Corps of Engineers to extend the safety area closer to the river, which the Corps controls, but Steinhauer said he never saw a formal request to the Corps until after the 1999 accident. According to Steinhauer, the airport was aware of the safety requirements but chose to look the other way. Runway 4R was built between 1988 and 1991.

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