NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Collapse of I-5 Bridge in Washington State

The National Transportation Safety Board continues their investigation into the I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon, WA. Although the collapse occurred on May 24, 2013, to date they have only released a preliminary report, covering the circumstances and causes of this collapse. The details from PRELIMINARY REPORT HIGHWAY HWY13MH012 are as follows: On Thursday, May 23, 2013, a span of the Interstate 5 Bridge (Structure 4794A) at milepost 228.25 in Mount Vernon, Skagit County, Washington, collapsed into the Skagit River.The bridge was constructed in 1955 and the collapsed span consisted of two northbound and two southbound traffic lanes divided by a concrete barrier. Leading up to the collapse, a Kenworth truck-tractor hauling an oversize load was following a pilot vehicle southbound on I-5. Witnesses reported that as these two vehicles approached the bridge, a second southbound tractor-trailor overtook and passed the vehicle with the oversize load in the left lane. The driver of the first tractor-trailor reported to NTSB investigators that he had felt “crowded” by the other vehicle trying to pass. In reaction, he moved his vehicle over towards the right hand side of the road. As the oversize load he was hauling moved onto the bridge, it collided with the overhead portal and multiple sway braces on the far right side of the truss structure. This caused major damage to load-bearing members of the bridge’s superstructure. The result was the subsequent collapse of the bridge into the river. The height of the oversize load was a major contributing factor. The driver reported the height of the load to be 15 feet 9 inches, but the lowest portion of the sway braces was later measured at only 14 feet 8 inches. Two passenger vehicles were also on the bridge span at the time of the collapse, and wound up in the river as well. Injuries but no fatalities were reported. The second part of the NTSB’s report has yet to be issued and the investigation is still listed as ongoing and active.

NTSB Investigates Fatal Metro-North Derailment

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the Metro-North derailment in the Bronx is only in its first days, but it has already turned up some startling facts. The train derailed on the morning of Dec. 1, right outside the Spuyten Duyvil station, with four fatalities and 70 injuries as the tragic result. As is customary in NTSB investigations, as well as all kinds of accident reconstructions, two event recorders from the derailed train were examined. The train, plane, or truck’s speed is just one of the many specifics documented by the vehicle’s event recorder. According to NTSB board member Earl Weener, the train headed into the curve just ahead of the station at 82 mph, in a zone where the speed limit drops from 70 mph to 30 mph. In addition, the NTSB also found some kind of problem with the train’s brake pressure. A mere five seconds prior to the engine finally stopping, brake pressure dropped from 120 psi to 0. NTSB investigators still have more work to do to determine whether or not the brakes were functioning correctly and why the pressure went to 0. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) remarked that “given this was the fifth major accident or malfunction on the Metro-North Railroad in just over six months, major questions have arisen about safety on the commuter railroad system.” As of Dec. 3, the NTSB states that it remains unclear whether human error or faulty equipment was responsible for this deadly derailment. Their investigation continues. Needless to say, this fatal accident has brought service on the line to a halt, inconveniencing thousands of commuters. N.Y. Governor Cuomo said in a statement on Monday that he expects to see Metro-North service restored toward the end of the week, though officials for the railroad itself said there was no definitive timetable for full service.

How the NTSB Investigates an Accident

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is the independent Federal Agency tasked with investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S. and significant accidents in other modes of transportation. This can include railroad, highway, marine and pipeline. When an accident occurs, their investigators are immediately sent to the scene. Called the “Go Team,” these experts are on call and must be ready to leave quickly during their duty shift. The team can number anywhere from three to more than a dozen specialists, depending on the nature of the accident itself. Their purpose: to begin the investigation into the causes of the accident right at the scene. Team members are sent from the NTSB’s headquarters in D.C., and they may travel to the accident scene either on a commercial airliner or on a government plane. They work under an Investigator-in-Charge. This is a senior investigator, who has many years of experience. Each investigator on the “Go Team” is an expert in a particular area and is responsible for one, clearly defined area of the investigation. Each of these experts head a “working group,” which is basically a subcommittee consisting of the representatives of many other involved parties. For example, for an aviation accident, a working group might consist of the NTSB specialist and representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the airline, the pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions, airframe and engine manufacturers, and the like. Aviation accidents are particularly complex, requiring bigger teams with more specialists. For surface accidents, such as the recent Dec. 1 Metro North derailment, a locomotive engineers, signal system specialists and track engineers would head the working groups, along with representatives from Metro North and any unions involved. During the on-scene investigation, only confirmed, factual information is ever released to the public. The NTSB does not ever speculate about cause. After the on-scene investigation, the second stage of the investigation continues at NTSB headquarters in Washington. One of the main roles of the Board is to issue recommendations for improving transportation safety. It might take the board a year or more from the date of the accident for the board to conclude their investigation, analyze all the data, and present a report including their recommendations. For more information on how the NTSB responds to accidents, and how their investigators move through an investigation, coming to a final conclusion, click here.

NTSB Reports on Airplane Accidents Caused by Wildlife

Much is made in the news about terrorist attacks on airplanes, of course with good reason. But there are other, somewhat “hairier” things that can also take a plane down (no pun intended). Take a look at these two reports from the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board):

http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20130911X64815&key=1

In the first incident, the NTSB reports that a plane was attempting to land on a small airport runway, when a deer ran onto the pavement right toward the oncoming plane. The pilot attempted to climb, but couldn’t accomplish it before the deer struck and substantially damaged the left horizontal stabilizer. The pilot was able to stop without further incident, and no mention is made of what happened to the deer.

For an incident like this, the NTSB didn’t send an investigator, but depended upon reports from the FAA and the pilot to make its determination: The probable cause(s) of this accident—An inadvertent collision with a deer during landing. This raises the question of whether or not the airport should have had a fence, however, no fence could have prevented what happened in the next incident.

The second reported incident took place between a student pilot and our national bird, the bald eagle. According to the flight instructor, the plane was 1,000 feet above the ground when the eagle hit the right horizontal stabilizer. The instructor immediately took over and landed at the nearest airport. He reported that the rudder controls were impaired on final approach, but he managed to land without incident. Again, nothing was mentioned as to what happened to the bald eagle.

However, the plane showed a large indentation on the right horizontal stabilizer with bird feathers embedded in it. The tail cone was shoved upward into contact with the rudder, which had impeded the rudder’s movement.

For those of you unfamiliar with NTSB, it’s an independent branch of the government charged with advancing transportation safety. The NTSB’s mandate is to investigate every civil aviation accident, as well as major accidents in other types of transportation, including train accidents, marine accidents, and even pipeline accidents. They attempt to determine the probable causes and issue recommendations for safety improvements that could prevent future accidents.

Click here for more information about the NTSB.

California Police Departments Testing Cost-Effective Electric Motorcycles

USA Today reports that more police departments are trying out electric motorcycles. According to an article posted on Oct. 30, 2013, the San Mateo California police department has purchased one Zero electric motorcycle. San Mateo is joining several other California police departments in the San Francisco Bay Area in trying out the new, recently-developed motorcycle. It’s supposed to have various advantages over its gas fueled competitors, including, of course, a much lower cost to run. The bikes were specifically designed for law enforcement agencies, and are reported to be highly maneuverable in traffic. Their battery holds enough of a charge to last a police officer’s entire shift. According to Zero’s vice president, John Lloyd, “Police Departments are continuing to select Zero Motorcycles to be added to their fleets because the motorcycles have been developed from the ground up to meet the requirements of law enforcement agencies around the world.” For more information about Zero and their innovative line of products, click here. They have a compelling infographic titled, TOP 15 THINGS YOU’LL NEVER DO AGAIN. One of them is pump gas. Take a look here. Perhaps the most impressive advantage of these vehicles is that they cost about a penny per mile to run! In these days of ever-rising gas prices, that can’t be beat.  San Mateo’s Deputy Chief praised the Zero in a public statement, saying, “The Zero Police Motorcycle provides the solution that allows our officers to provide security without the intrusive odors and loud noises of traditional police motorcycles.” No one can argue with the idea of less intrusive odors on our nations roadways, but the loud noises the Deputy Chief referred to are one of the aspects of motorcycles that may keep a cyclist safer on the road. It’s been shown that car drivers frequently fail to see motorcyclists, because they are so much smaller, and this leads to accidents. Because of their quietness, electric motorcycles have created a fair amount of controversy. What impact will their introduction onto our roadways have in terms of automobile versus motorcycle accidents? We’ll talk more about this in our next post, so stay tuned.

Veritech Expands Accident Reconstruction Capabilities

PRESS RELEASE Engineers at Veritech Consulting Engineering expand the firm’s competencies in the newest accident reconstruction technologies including Crash Data Retrieval analysis and Heavy Vehicle EDR use. Castle Rock, CO – Veritech Consulting Engineering continues to stay on the forefront of technological advances in accident reconstruction techniques through ongoing training and certification programs. Two of the principal engineers at Veritech completed advanced data analysis courses in the fourth quarter to keep the firm on the leading edge of motor vehicle accident reconstruction technology.