NTSB says the FAA ignored safety suggestions for skydiving charters

More thn a dozen have died since 2008

By Chris Boyette and Hollie Silverman, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

A small plane crashed while on a skydiving excursion in Hawaii and erupted into flames, killing all 11 people aboard, authorities said.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board called out the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to adhere to warnings it gave more than a decade ago regarding the safety of skydiving charter planes like the one that crashed Friday killing 11 people in Hawaii.

A team from the NTSB is in Oahu gathering wreckage, interviewing witnesses and employees, and investigating the fatal skydiving plane crash.

During a press conference Monday, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy told reporters that the FAA has ignored many NTSB suggestions for changing safety regulations of parachute plane operators.

"There is an inherent risk to parachuting and there are measures you take to mitigate that risk, but paying passengers should be able to count on an airworthy plane, an adequately trained pilot, a safe operator and adequate federal oversight of those operations," Homendy said.

In 2008, the NTSB published a special investigative report on the safety of parachute jump operations and identified differences in how these operations are regulated by the FAA, Homendy said.

Since then, there have been 80 accidents involving skydiving operations and 19 people have died nationwide, according to Homendy.

The report included 32 accidents that were investigated between 1981 and 2008 and identified recurring safety issues, she explained.

The NTSB has had some communication with FAA about the recommendations but designated the action by the FAA in response as "unacceptable," according to Homendy.

Homendy says that most passengers are protected by stricter regulations laid out in FAA regulations for tour operators and commercial operators.

However, parachute operations fall under a less stringent set of regulations which Homendy says are "weaker."

"There are differences in requirements for initial and recurrent training for example. There are differences in inspection and maintenance of aircraft and there are differences in how the FAA oversees operations," Homendy explained.

"The NTSB has called on the FAA to improve the safety of parachute jump operations. Some of those recommendations, specifically with respect to training, maintenance of aircraft and FAA oversight have not been acted on by the FAA," she said.

Homendy added that the training and maintenance may not be factors in this investigation but that they will be part of the NTSB's overall analysis of this crash. She also said that the plane involved in the fatal crash had received required inspections in June 2017 and March 2018.

The FAA responded to Homendy's claims that the agency has not acted on the NTSB's safety recommendations.

"The safety of all aircraft operations is the FAA's top priority," the FAA said in a statement. "The FAA takes NTSB recommendations very seriously, and implemented a number of changes to address recommendations the NTSB made about parachuting operations. The FAA required its safety inspectors to conduct increased surveillance of parachute operations, revised the safety guidance we issued to parachute operators, and increased our safety outreach to the parachuting community. Parachute operators must follow existing regulations concerning pilot training and 100-flight-hour aircraft inspections."

As part of the investigation, the NTSB is asking any witnesses with video or photos of the plane, particularly the front and rear of the aircraft, to come forward.

Investigators are already looking into whether repairs were made to the plane after it was involved in an incident in 2016 where the plane spun nine times before the pilot was able to land it, forcing 15 parachuters to exit earlier than planned. No one died in that accident.

A preliminary report from the NTSB is expected within the next two weeks while a final report won't be available for nearly 2 years, Homendy said.

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