Safety Group Attacks Prosecutorial Overreach

 - March 30, 2009, 12:24 PM
The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) has sharply criticized the interference of prosecutors in ongoing accident investigations in Italy and France, warning that such interference hampers efforts to improve aviation safety and prevent similar accidents in the future.

Reports of prosecutorial interference in the investigations in Italy and France are troubling, said William Voss, president and CEO of the FSF. “We simply cannot allow these obstacles to keep us from learning and acting quickly after a crash,” he added.
The safety investigations of a Cessna Citation accident in Rome on February 7 and the crash of an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 off the coast of France on Nov. 27, 2008, were delayed because law enforcement authorities seized vital evidence before safety investigators could examine it.

Laws in both countries allow the judicial investigation to take the lead, and vital safety evidence, such as the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, historically has been withheld from safety investigators.

Voss said he understands how the public’s shock and grief leads to calls for justice and accountability in the wake of an aircraft accident, but he added, “We cannot allow the safety of the aviation system to be jeopardized by prosecutorial overreach.”
He reiterated the foundation’s support for legislation in Europe and elsewhere that would ensure the primacy of the safety investigation. “Unless there is evidence of sabotage, law enforcement and judicial authorities need to step aside, allow accident investigators immediate access to the wreckage and to surviving crew and passengers, and let safety professionals do their job,” he said. “To prevent another tragedy, it’s far more important that we learn what happened, and why, than to build a criminal case,” he explained.

The Flight Safety Foundation is one of the leading voices in opposing criminalization of aviation accident investigations.