Saturday, July 30, 2016

Texas Hot Air Balloon Accident Kills 16

A hot air balloon carrying 16 people crashed in central Texas early Saturday morning, killing everyone onboard. The Texas hot air balloon accident happened near Lockhart in Caldwell County, which is roughly 30 miles south of Austin. The incident is the worst hot air balloon accident in U.S. history; never before has a hot air balloon crash in the U.S. resulted in so many fatalities.

Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride 


Passengers of the ill-fated balloon ride assembled at a WalMart parking lot at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday morning to catch a van to the launch site for Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. The hot air balloon was scheduled to depart with the sunrise at 6:49 a.m. for an hour-long ride. Authorities say the balloon was delayed for unknown reasons and ended up departing at around 7:10 a.m.

Once airborne, the hot air balloon travelled for about eight miles before something went wrong. Officials believe the balloon clipped power lines adjacent to a field at around 7:42 a.m. A 911 call was placed around a minute later. The balloon’s passenger basket (known as a gondola) came to rest just under a mile away from the balloon (known as an envelope).

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Robert Sumwalt told reporters that a fire had broken out on the hot air balloon before it fell to the ground. At this time, it is unclear whether the fire happened before the hot air balloon hit the power lines or after.
Local resident Margaret Wylie told USA TODAY she was taking her dog out at around 7:40 a.m. when she heard a loud “pop, pop, pop.” When she looked around she saw a “fireball going up,” noting that the top of the flames nearly reached the power lines.

What Caused the Texas Hot Air Balloon Accident? 


Officials with the NTSB are in the early stages of what will likely be a lengthy investigation into the cause of the Texas hot air balloon accident. As of now, the NTSB’s “working hypothesis” is that the hot air balloon made contact with the power lines, which likely severed the envelope from the gondola. This sent the gondola and the 16 people inside plummeting to the ground.

Victims of the Texas Hot Air Balloon Accident Identified


While most of the victims have not been formally identified, families and friends of loved ones who died in the hot air balloon crash have begun to memorialize the victims on the internet. Below are some of victims that have been identified by media reports:

·      Alfred “Skip” Nichols (pilot) – Nichols’ identity was confirmed by Alan Lirette, the ground crew supervisor with Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. Nichols was the owner and operator of Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. Lirette described Nichols as a “great pilot.”

·      Joe Owens and Tresa Shafer Owens – The couple from Katy, Texas, “adored their children and grandchildren,” according to a GoFundMe page that has been set up in their honor to cover funeral expenses. The page says Tresa was a preschool teacher at TigerLane Preschool.

·      Paige Brabson and Lorilee Brabson - Paige and her mother, Lorilee were San Antonio residents. The trip on the hot air balloon was a gift that Paige had given her mother on Mother’s Day. Paige leaves behind a newborn child.

·      Sunday and Matt Rowan – The College Station couple had recently married in February. Matt was a professor and burn treatment researcher. Sunday was mother to a five-year-old boy.

·      Brian and Tressie Neill – The San Antonio couple were married for 23 years. According to a GoFundMe page, Brian surprised his wife with the hot air balloon trip. While the two of them were in the air, Brian sent his brother a photo of the view from the air, asking, “can you see our reflection in the clouds?”


Texas Hot Air Balloon Accident Investigation 


According to the NTSB, the Texas hot air balloon accident investigation will focus on the operation of the balloon, the training and in-flight actions of pilot Alfred “Skip” Nichols, and the operator, Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides.

Another point of emphasis for investigators will be the ground crew for Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, which will be interviewed by the NTSB on Monday. Among the many questions that will need to be answered is why the hot air balloon was delayed for 20 minutes before departure.

According to Sumwalt, the weather at the time of departure in San Marcos (six miles away from crash site) was overcast with visibility of two miles. Sumwalt has said it is too early to speculate if weather played a role in the Texas hot air balloon accident.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found 14 electronic devices that belonged to a number of the victims at the scene of the Texas hot air balloon crash, including cell phones, an iPad and three cameras. According to CNN, Nichols used and iPad and a cell phone to communicate with the ground crew during each trip. Investigators are hoping that images or videos taken from these devices will help to uncover what went wrong in the moments prior to the deadly hot air balloon crash.


More Regulation Needed for Hot Air Balloons 


According to Dean Carlton, president of the Balloon Federation of America, as many as half a million people in the U.S. ride in hot air balloons every year. An estimated 200 large hot air balloon tour operators provide services throughout the country, along with hundreds of other smaller businesses.

Since 1964, the NTSB has investigated 800 hot air balloon accidents in the U.S., including 71 of which were fatal. These accidents are commonly caused by weather conditions like wind and crashing into power lines.
In 2013, 19 people died in a balloon crash in Egypt; the deadliest recorded hot air balloon crash in history. A year later, the NTSB urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to tighten the regulations on hot air balloon operators, citing “operational deficiencies.”

In her 2014 letter to the FAA, the NTSB’s former chair Deborah Hersman pointed out that balloon gondolas can carry upwards of 20 people, opening the door to a high number of deaths if a safety deficiency leads to an accident. Hersman recommended that balloon operators be required to have letters of authorization in order to provide tour flights, making them no different than tour helicopter pilots, for example.

The FAA responded to the NTSB’s recommendation, saying the proposed letters of authorization “would not result in significantly higher levels of operational safety.”

“The investigation and prosecution of this disaster must include a review of the oversight and licensing of hot air balloon companies,” says personal injury attorney Ilyas Akbari of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman. “How many more deaths will it take before the FAA finally acts on the NTSB’s warnings? These operations routinely charge more per person than many airline tickets, with virtually zero oversight. Our hearts go out to the families of those lost in this horrific tragedy.”


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Greyhound Bus Accident Shows Driver Fatigue is a Serious Safety Issue

A new investigation has revealed that Greyhound, North America’s largest bus carrier, is not enforcing a key safety rule. Bus driver fatigue has become a serious issue for the company, which transports an estimated 18 million passengers some 5.5 billion miles on an annual basis. If safety is supposed to be a priority for Greyhound, why isn’t the company enforcing its own driver fatigue rules?


Driver Fatigue a Factor in Recent Greyhound Bus Accident 

Passengers aboard a Greyhound bus heading to Cleveland from New York bus began to worry early in the morning of October 9, 2013. Back in New York, the bus driver had appeared to have red eyes while passengers were boarding the bus. One passenger recalled seeing her doze off behind the wheel at one point. Others recalled the bus fishtailing for miles.

It was a little after 1:30 a.m. when the Greyhound bus viciously rear-ended a tractor trailer on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. The impact ejected a passenger onto the interstate. One person was killed and dozens sustained injuries in a Greyhound bus accident that could have been avoided, if not for the reoccurring issues with driver fatigue. 

The most recent fatigue-related Greyhound bus accident happened back in January of this year near San Jose, California. The bus driver told the California Highway Patrol officials that he was feeling tired before the bus crash, which killed two people and injured others.


Rule G-40: The Bus Driver Fatigue Rule

Driver fatigue isn’t just a Greyhound issue—it has been a longstanding problem for the bus industry as a whole. According to CNN, a 2012 study showed that bus driver fatigue was a factor in roughly 36 percent of all bus accidents in the country.

Fatigue among truck drivers is also a problem. Like bus drivers, truckers occasionally work very long hours through the night, compromising their circadian rhythms. Truckers are also at high risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea. Despite the concern over truck driver fatigue, the trucking industry has dragged its feet on regulation to combat the problem.

As for Greyhound, the company does have a policy in place to combat fatigue. The Greyhound driver rulebook says bus drivers are supposed to stop every 150 miles (the equivalent of roughly two hours and thirty minutes driving time) to stretch, move around and check the vehicle’s tires.

The problem, according to CNN’s Greyhound driver fatigue investigation, is that this rule is merely a guideline for drivers—it isn’t enforced by the company. A review of Greyhound’s posted routes found that many do not include scheduled stops every 150 miles. The route from New York to Cleveland, for example, does not have a required stop every 150 miles.

In a court deposition, Greyhound CEO David Leach testified that it is up to the drivers themselves whether or not they follow the 150 miles rule—the company doesn’t enforce the rule meant to keep people safe from Greyhound driver fatigue. Worse yet, Leach acknowledged that some routes could allow for drivers to stay behind the wheel for over 300 miles without stopping. When asked if he would be okay with his drivers remaining behind the wheel for 333 miles without a break, Leach said in the deposition that “it would be fine” with him.

In the 2013 Greyhound bus accident in Pennsylvania, bus driver Sabrina Anderson never took a break. She was 178 miles into the journey when the bus crashed.

Elora Lencoski was 18 years old at the time of the fatal Greyhound bus accident in Pennsylvania. The last thing she remembers prior to the bus crash is telling her friend ‘good night.’ Her next memory is waking up in a hospital screaming.

Lencoski had a hard time remembering where she was during her stay in the hospital, after suffering a traumatic brain injury and injuries to her neck and leg. She is one of many passengers harmed during the Greyhound bus accident, who are suing the company, claiming the driver was too fatigued to drive.

Another passenger, a man that lost a leg in the 2013 Greyhound bus accident, filed a lawsuit against Greyhound, claiming the bus company “demonstrated reckless indifference to the safety” of its passengers and drivers. The jury sided with the plaintiff, blaming Greyhound for providing “contradictory language in their rules and training” in regards to Greyhound driver fatigue levels, and for not enforcing the company’s own rules. He was awarded $23 million, and an additional $4 million in punitive damages. The jury also tacked on an additional $150 to remind Greyhound to enforce its own 150 mile-rule.


How Will the Bus Industry React to the CNN Greyhound Investigation? 

This, of course, is the big question. Greyhound refused to comment on the CNN story, and instead issued a statement saying the company has “an excellent safety record” and continues “to improve our safety program.” According to the Department of Transportation, Greyhound has a “satisfactory” safety record.

Deborah Hersman, who formerly chaired the National Transportation Safety Board, says crashes involving overnight bus operators concerned her and the agency greatly. Hersman believes the risk involved with these overnight trips is tremendous because the driver is forced to remain awake and vigilant at a time when there is biological pressure to sleep.

"I would never pull an all-nighter with my family in the car, knowing what I know about fatigue and night risks, never," says Hersman. We’ll just have to wait and see if the bus industry—and specifically Greyhound—feels the same as Hersman and chooses to address driver fatigue.


Related Articles:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

GAO Study: DOD Not Properly Evaluating Truck Companies Hauling ‘Security-Sensitive Materials’

Do you drive any differently when sharing the highway with a truck hauling gasoline? What if you knew the truck in the lane next to you was hauling explosives…how would your driving change then?

Driving a commercial truck is a high-stress, difficult job as it is, but when truckers haul security-sensitive materials like explosives, missiles or ammunition, the job becomes far more stressful and downright dangerous, not just for the truck drivers themselves, but for the rest of us sharing the road with them.

In the fiscal year 2014, the Department of Defense (DOD) facilitated the transport of nearly 50,000 separate shipments of security-sensitive materials within the continental United States. DOD contracts with private-sector trucking companies to haul this sensitive material.

Not just any trucking company can haul security-sensitive materials—the Department of Defense uses safety performance data from the Department of Transportation (DOT) as well as its own internal inspections to evaluate whether or not carriers can properly transport high-risk material in accordance with the Transportation Protective Service (TPS) program. In other words, there are requirements that carriers have to meet and maintain in order to continue earning contracts to haul security sensitive materials for the government.

The question is, how stringent are these requirements?

According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the DOT safety performance information that DOD relies on to evaluate the safety performance of commercial motor carriers that transport security sensitive materials under the TPS program simply isn’t sufficient or reliable.

DOT uses data from crash investigations, roadside inspections and other sources in order to create safety ratings for commercial truck carriers. These scores are known as Safety Measurement System (SMS) scores.

SMS scores track a carrier’s safety performance in several key areas, including hazardous materials compliance and vehicle maintenance. The scores can range anywhere from zero to 100 (a score of 100 would be the worst relative safety performance score, a zero would be the best relative safety performance score).

The GAO report stated that between November 2012 and October 2014, DOD contracted with 55 TPS carriers. Of those, seven did not even have a DOT safety rating. Twelve others had DOT safety ratings that were 20 years or older.

DOD conducts its own internal inspections of TPS carriers (using contractors), partially compensating for this issue, and officials with DOD told GAO that all inspected carriers passed. However, the GAO report maintains that DOD is not using readily available violation data to evaluate TPS carriers. For example, DOD doesn’t review data on violations related to the use of controlled substances among drivers who transport hazardous materials. Without reviewing the available violation data, DOD is not in a position to effectively evaluate the carriers it contracts to transport security-sensitive material, the report says.

Furthermore, while DOD does collect data stemming from incidents involving the carriers it contracts with, it doesn’t evaluate the data to determine if systemic trends and/or patterns are linked to safety risks. It also doesn’t fully investigate incidents to determine root causes, which doesn’t allow for appropriate safety recommendations to be made in the wake of an incident (or series of related incidents).

Crawfordville, Georgia - Truck Transporting Explosives Catches Fire 

In September of 2014, a truck caught fire while transporting explosives just outside of Crawfordville, Georgia. The truck’s trailer was scorched and the tires were completely burned off in the incident. Luckily (more precisely, miraculously), no injuries were reported in this incident. 

A DOD investigation into the Crawfordville incident didn’t begin until February of this year—more than four months after the fire occurred. Think of the implications…how can a thorough investigation of an incident like this provide definitive results when so many variables were allowed to change in the span of all that time?

The investigation report did not identify whether there was any damage to the explosive materials in the trailer, which is unsettling in and of itself. While the report on the Crawfordville incident contained findings, conclusions, and recommendations, the DOD contractor that investigated the incident failed to determine the cause of the incident because “no one was required to search for the root cause,” according to the GAO report. Officials with the U.S. Army agreed that the investigation was not completed because the cause was never identified.

Huson, Montana - Trailer Fire 

In December of 2014, a trailer hauling security-sensitive materials caught fire in Huson, Montana. Again, it took months for a DOD investigation to begin.

A DOD report on the investigation did not contain the cause of the incident, findings or conclusions on what caused the fire, nor did the report include recommendations on corrective steps to be taken for preventing similar incidents from occurring.

17,280 Hand Grenades in a Broken Down Tractor Trailer 

In May 2012, a truck driver that was hauling 17,280 hand grenades had to make an unscheduled stop to repair satellite equipment. It was later revealed and reported that the DOD transportation officer who inspected the truck knew that the satellite equipment was not working before the truck driver left the loading dock. For arms, ammunition, and explosives and other security-sensitive shipments that require satellite equipment, DOD requires an inspector to ensure that the satellite equipment is operable as part of the inspection prior to materials being loaded onto the truck.

The GAO report found that TPS carriers hauling high-risk materials experienced mechanical breakdowns on 749 occasions between 2011 and 2014. In nearly all of these breakdowns, the truck was stopped and out of service for more than 2 hours.

It’s Not What We Know…It’s What We Don’t Know That Frightens Us 

This is the heart of the problem—there are so many unknowns surrounding how and why these incidents involving security-sensitive shipments are happening. DOD doesn’t know if contracted carriers are truly safe because it isn’t asking the right questions, nor is it utilizing all of the resources it has to properly monitor and evaluate them. It also isn’t in a position to see if there are any trends pinpointing why carrier incidents are happening because subsequent investigations are inadequate.

The GAO’s recommendations to DOD make sense:

-     Address what actions need to be undertaken when carriers have absent or dated safety ratings, or if poor safety scores exist.
-     Document the consequences to be enforced in the event that carriers fail to meet program requirements.
-     Require reviews of available violation data.
-     Fully investigate incidents.


The consequences of doing nothing to address these concerns will not just affect highway safety, it’ll also affect our national security. With the ever-present threat of terrorism in the public consciousness, no one is comfortable knowing there are serious safety issues that aren’t being addressed in the transportation of security-sensitive materials across the country. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

AirAsia Plane Crash Investigation Casts Blame on Pilots Despite Series of Other Failures

Aviation accident investigations have a tendency to cite pilot error as the runaway cause of many crashes, even when a variety of other (potentially more damaging) factors were at play. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons, none the least of which is placing the lion’s share of the blame on pilots allows for other serious, complicated issues to be left out of the conversation.

Aside from helping us better understand what or whom was at fault for a disaster, aircraft accident investigations produce information that should be used to try and prevent a similar accident from happening again. Manufacturers can make changes to their aircraft. Airlines can change their staff training or maintenance practices. This is arguably the most important function of an aviation accident investigation: to learn from past mistakes so actionable steps can be taken to avoid a similar tragedy. We can’t go back and save the lives that were lost in the accident that sparked the investigation itself, but we can implement necessary changes to mitigate the risks of a similar incident.

There are a number of reasons as to why so many aviation accident investigations arrive at pilot error as a definite factor or the cause of crashes. Rather than discussing the why, this blog is going to explore the costs of chalking up aviation accidents to pilot error (or any single factor when a number of other factors are involved). If you are curious to learn more about why aviation accident investigations are quick to blame pilots, check out this blog by Baum Hedlund aviation attorney, Ron Goldman.

AirAsia Flight 8501 Investigation 


Last week, Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee issued its final report on the December 28, 2014 crash of AirAsia Flight 8501 that killed all 162 people onboard. The Airbus A320-200 plane crashed into the Java Sea less than an hour after departing from Surabaya, Indonesia on the way to Singapore.

Crash investigators said AirAsia Flight 8501 encountered a problem when pilots heard an alarm in the cockpit four different times. The alarm sounded when an important computer system, that helps control the rudder, failed.

The first three times the alarm sounded, the flight crew responded in accordance with standard procedure. The fourth time the alarm sounded, however, “someone” removed and reinstalled a circuit breaker. Why would this action be taken? It’s kind of like someone trying to turn a computer on and off to try and correct a software issue, only this happened on a flight system at thousands of feet above the Java Sea. Investigators were unable to find audio or video evidence to confirm who reset the circuit breaker, so the investigative report says “someone” removed it.

The circuit breaker reset function turned the autopilot and auto-thrust systems off and the pilots did not turn either of them back on. This left them to fly the plane manually with a degraded and unfamiliar fly-by-wire system. Without the use of automation, the rudder control issue put the Airbus A320-200 into a steep bank while pilots flew higher, eventually putting the plane in a stall condition. According to the crash report, the flight crew was unable to react appropriately to these issues, which ended with the plane crashing into the Java Sea.


Pilot Error? Or Something More… 


The report on the crash listed several contributing factors, including the failure of the rudder system and the pilots’ response to the failure. Most of the media outlets that picked up the story focused on the pilot response, which led to a number of questions that played up the idea of pilot error as the runaway cause of the AirAsia crash…

·         Are pilots overly reliant on automation?

·         Should pilots receive more manual flight training?

While it is true that the AirAsia pilots could have reacted to this catastrophe differently, they may never have had to deal with such adversity had the rudder issue been addressed prior to the ill-fated flight. According to CNN, the mechanical error on the crashed Airbus A320-200 plane had occurred on the ground and in-flight at least 23 times in 2014…that’s 23 times in less than 12 months. It appears that the maintenance in response to the issue adhered to protocol, but the faulty component—a crack in the electrical soldering—was never repaired.

So what we have here is a repeated history of the same problem on the same plane, but that problem for some reason, was never classified as a repetitive item. “At the time, it was considered minor damage,” said Nurcahyo Utomo, a member of the AirAsia crash investigation team and a retired pilot. “It was not a concern at the time.”

But if the rudder issue had been classified as a repetitive item, the source of the problem might have been repaired, and this disaster might have been averted.

All of this isn’t to say that the AirAsia pilots are without fault in this catastrophe. Many airline pilots in the U.S. would argue that the mechanical issue that the AirAsia pilots faced shouldn’t have been serious enough to cause a crash. However, the response of the AirAsia pilots made the crash all but inevitable.

Both men were likely surprised by what happened after the circuit breaker was reset. Whoever it was that pulled the circuit breaker likely wouldn’t have done so if they knew what effect the action would have on the aircraft. Even though flight transcripts indicate that the pilot took control of the situation when autopilot and auto-thrust systems were off, he failed to take full control of the plane from the co-pilot. With neither the pilot nor the co-pilot in full control of the plane, the Airbus A320-200 plane went into an aerodynamic stall.

U.S. airlines require pilots to practice recovery techniques from “unusual attitudes,” also referred to as upset recoveries. AirAsia apparently didn’t feel that this type of attitude training was a needed requirement for pilots because Airbus planes are designed with electronic protections to prevent unusual attitude upsets. The problem is that these protections can be rendered meaningless if mechanical failures force the plane into what Airbus calls "Alternate Law," which is precisely what the pilots of AirAsia Flight 8501 faced.


What Now? 


Yes, the AirAsia pilots faced adversity that could have been avoided…if the mechanical failure didn’t happen. And they could have handled the mechanical failure more appropriately…if they had received proper training. Crash investigators, the media and the public shouldn’t be reductionists in the wake of a tragedy like the AirAsia crash. By narrowing the focus on pilots (or any other single factor when a series of factors are at play in a crash), we won’t be able to learn from the failures that played into the disaster, and lives will be needlessly put at risk.


What can prevent a crash like this from happening again? Ensure that all of the variables that played into this disaster are accounted for, then acted upon. This includes a number of recommendations to the airline and Airbus as well. AirAsia could have and should have been able to address the safety issues cited in the crash investigation before tragedy struck last December. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tire Recall System Defective, Says NTSB

The nationwide network we rely on to recall potentially defective and dangerous car and truck tires isn’t working, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Robert Malloy, senior staff officer with the NTSB put it simply: the system is “completely broken.”

Why this is important? Well, when was the last time you had to get defective tires swapped out? In all likelihood, you haven’t, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe. It might just mean that you don’t have any way of knowing whether or not your tires are in safe condition.

For tire expert Sean Kane, this not knowing is at the heart of the problem. According to Kane, there isn’t enough information out there for consumers to know even the simplest details about the tires they purchase. Without knowing even the simplest of details—like a tire’s age—it’s impossible to know whether or not a tire is defective.  

Tire Dealers Don’t Have to Register Tires With Manufacturers 

Independent dealers are responsible for selling roughly 92 percent of all tires in this country. These dealers aren’t owned or controlled by tire manufacturers.

One of the reasons the tire recall system is defective is because these independent retailers are not obligated to register the tires they sell with the manufacturers. So when a manufacturer is compelled to issue important safety information about one of its tires, the company has no idea who to contact.
Between 2009 and 2013, there were 55 tire recall campaigns involving roughly 3.2 million tires.

According to data from the NTSB tire recall report, only 20 percent of tires affected by a recall are returned to the manufacturer. Another 24 percent of tires that were the subject of a recall are taken off the road for other reasons, like normal wear or damage. But this means that just over half (56 percent) of all the tires that were recalled could still be in use. We are talking millions of defective tires on our highways…still wondering why this is such an important safety issue?

The recall numbers are in stark contrast to the 78 percent of vehicles that actually get serviced after a recall is issued. In other words, when a defective car gets recalled, people are able to get the information quickly and get the affected vehicle fixed.

The reason for the higher rate may have something to do with the recall system for cars and trucks. If you go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, you can enter your vehicle identification number and within seconds, you can see if your vehicle is the subject of a recall. At present, there is no system like this for tires, even though conservative estimates show that hundreds of people die every year in accidents that are at least in part related to tire issues.

The Effects of Having Defective Tires on America’s Highways 

In February 2014, NTSB officials investigated two fatal tire-related crashes in which tread separation occurred (when a tire tread separates from its body, the risk of blowout or crash greatly increases). The first crash, in Centerville, Louisiana, involved a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and a school bus. The SUV was heading west on U.S. Highway 90 when its left rear tire blew after tread separation. Four people were killed. A number of students on the bus sustained injuries.

The second crash happened in Lake City, Florida, and involved a 15-passenger van filled with three adults and seven children. The van was heading northbound on Interstate 75 when its left rear tire experienced a complete tread separation. The driver lost control of the vehicle, which overturned along I-75. Two people were killed and eight were injured. The victims were all from First Baptist Church in New Port Richey traveling to a religious retreat.

NTSB officials said the driver of the van, 52-year-old Jeff Nowak, thought there was an issue with the tire prior to the accident. He inspected it but was unable to find a problem, so he kept driving. Unfortunately, the defect was inside the tire and not visible.

Worse yet, the defective tire had been recalled over a year prior to the accident, but hadn't been registered with the manufacturer. According to CBS News, the tire manufacturer took extra steps to determine who purchased the tire, but the recall notice ended up being sent to an outdated address.

The NTSB conducted limited investigations into two other 2014 fatal crashes caused at least in part by tire failure—one involved a pickup truck that sustained tread separation on the left front tire in Eloy, Arizona. The other accident involved an SUV that blew its right rear tire in Patterson, California. All told 12 people were killed as a result of these accidents, and 42 people sustained injuries.

Tire Problems and Highway Deaths

On an annual basis, the NTSB estimates that tire-initiated accidents are at least in part responsible for between 400 and 500 deaths every year. This includes accidents stemming from tires that are defective, under-inflated or punctured. It isn’t possible to know exactly how many deaths are directly attributable to defective tires that have been subjected to recalls. This is in large part because law enforcement officials are not looking for this information when they conduct an investigation.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association, the national trade association for tire manufacturers, disputes the NTSB’s annual death estimate. The trade association says that approximately 200 fatalities occur per year in tire-related accidents.

Either way, that is a lot of deaths on our highways every year, and it doesn’t take an expert to see that many of the deaths involving defective tires could be prevented if our national tire recall system performed better.

So, What Happens Now? 

The NTSB report didn’t pull any punches; there is plenty of blame to go around, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s poor tire recall website, to the manufacturers themselves making it difficult for consumers to appropriately respond to any recall.

Here are the NTSB’s recommendations concerning the tire recall system:

To the NHTSA: 

-     Require dealers to register tires at points of sale.
-     Consult with tire industry leaders and develop voluntary standards for computerized method of capturing, storing and uploading tire registration information at points of sale.
-     Tire registration forms should allow purchasers to provide e-mail address, telephone number and vehicle identification number so manufacturers can notify owners of relevant recall.
-     Tire manufacturers should be required to include complete identification number on both the inside and outside walls of tires.
-     Tire manufacturers should be required to post recall information on their websites, searchable by tire identification number.
-     Allow users on tire manufacturer websites to search for recalls by tire identification number, brand and model.
-     Determine crash risk levels associated with tire aging per federal standards.

To AAA and the Rubber Manufacturers Association: 

-     Evaluate the efficacy of current tire safety efforts aimed at influencing consumer tire purchase and maintenance behaviors. Publish the evaluation results.

To Tire Manufacturers: 

-     Tire recall information should be on tire manufacturer websites, searchable by tire identification number, brand and model.

Related Articles 

28-Year-Old Fontana Man Killed In Southern California Truck Accident

Family Of Woman Struck And Killed By Tractor Trailer Reaches Settlement

Monday, August 10, 2015

Secret FAA Study: Air Traffic Controller Schedules Causing Fatigue

The more you talk to people, the more you realize that everyone is tired all the time. So many of us are working harder and for longer hours than ever before. When fatigue sets in while you are seated at your desk job and you make a mistake, odds are the mistake can be corrected and you can go on with your day. The likely worst case scenario is your mistake gets pointed out to you by a coworker or your boss. You probably get mad at yourself (and, let’s face it, the person who pointed out the error to you), but you still get to go on with your day, albeit in a not-so-great mood.

This is not the case if you are an air traffic controller. A controller with fatigue can make one tiny error that causes a plane crash. The same is true for a tired pilot. Put simply: there is a very small margin for error as an air traffic controller, so it is in our best interest to make sure that everyone working in the industry is not worked to the point of exhaustion.

Did you know that an air traffic controller can be asked to work six consecutive shifts for several weeks in a row? That’s right, these men and women work six days a week for weeks on end. Others work five straight midnight shifts. Do you think you could stay alert five straight nights from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.? More pointedly, do you think you could be at your best on the third, fourth or fifth night?

It seems unreasonable to expect that out of an air traffic controller, and yet according to a recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) study, this type of schedule isn’t uncommon.

Air Traffic Controller Fatigue

Exhausting work schedules for air traffic controllers has led to chronic fatigue, which makes them more likely to make mistakes and endanger air travelers. This information comes from an FAA study that had reportedly been kept from the public for years despite repeated requests to access a copy under the Freedom of Information Act. However, the Associated Press was able to gain access to a draft of the secret FAA study and reported on its findings. On Monday, the FAA posted a link to the study.

The study, which was conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the behest of the FAA, surveyed over 3,200 air traffic controllers from across the U.S. and monitored the sleep patterns and mental alertness of over 200 controllers at 30 different ATC facilities. According to NBC News, the study came about based on a recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to both the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). The NTSB’s consensus was that rest periods for ATC needed to be changed in order to provide them with enough time to get "sufficient restorative sleep."

Aside from the NTSB recommendation, the study was necessary after several notable incidents involving air traffic controller snafus, like when a controller fell asleep on the job at Washington D.C.’s Reagan International Airport, forcing two airliners to land without help. Or when a regional airline crashed after an air traffic controller cleared the plane to take off on a runway far too short.

FAA Study: Air Traffic Controller Fatigue Statistics

Nearly 20 percent of the ATC surveyed in the FAA study said they had committed significant errors (like allowing planes to be too close to one another) in the previous year. Over half of these controllers said fatigue contributed to these errors.

Roughly a third of all ATC surveyed said they viewed fatigue as a “high” or “extremely high” threat to safety.

Over 60 percent of the ATC surveyed reported either falling asleep or having an attention lapse while driving to or from midnight shifts (starts at 10:00 p.m. and ends at 6:00 a.m.)

ATC whose sleep patterns were monitored were found to average 5.8 hours of sleep per day during a typical work week.

Before midnight shifts, ATC averaged only 3.1 hours of sleep per day.

Before morning shifts, they averaged 5.4 hours per day.

The National Sleep Foundation says that healthy adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours per day. 

According to the FAA study, some ATC were scheduled to work five straight midnight shifts. 

Others had to work six days a week several weeks in a row. Many had at least one midnight shift per week.

Our circadian rhythms make sleeping during the day before reporting for a midnight shift really hard.

FAA Named in Aviation Accident Lawsuit

Recently, the FAA was named in a lawsuit alleging air traffic controller negligence after ATC failed to direct the pilot of a small plane to the closest airport using the closest route in an emergency situation. The lawsuit claims that ATC directed the distressed plane through a series of unexplainable turns before the small plane crashed into a home in Palm Coast, Florida, killing all on board.

Tim Loranger, an aviation attorney with Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, is representing the family of Charisse Peoples in their lawsuit against the FAA. Peoples was one of three victims killed in the January 4, 2013 plane crash. “When Air traffic controllers have reason to believe they are dealing with an emergency situation, they are duty-bound to act,” says Loranger. “This requires ‘maximum assistance’ to pilots commensurate with risk in the event of an emergency. In this circumstance, the FAA and its air traffic controllers failed to use reasonable care and diligence as would be expected of any controllers under the same or similar circumstances.”

The aviation accident lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division on July 29.

What Happens Now?
The FAA says that in the time since this study was conducted, it has addressed the fatigue-causing issues cited by NASA. According to FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown, the agency now requires at least two controllers to be on duty for midnight shifts, and controllers are now provided at least nine hours to rest between certain shifts. Brown says controllers now also receive more time for "recuperative breaks" during work shifts in accordance with their workload.

The FAA’s sentiment was echoed by the NATCA’s Sarah McCann, who said the NATCA has been working closely with the FAA to create policies and procedures to combat fatigue. McCann indicated that “real progress” has been made in the years since the study.

Sound like things are improving? Maybe. But nine hours between shifts still doesn’t seem like enough time. Think about it: let’s just say the drive home from work is 30 minutes. That’s an hour shuffling to and from work. Now you have eight hours to feed yourself, run any errands, see your kids, enjoy some free time, and, oh yeah, SLEEP! Sure, it’s possible that air traffic controllers are now getting seven hours of sleep, but don’t you think more can be done to make sure air traffic controllers are more well-rested?


Friday, June 19, 2015

Mass Disaster Attorney Ilyas Akbari Named to Super Lawyers® Southern California Rising Stars - Up-and-Coming 100 - Top List

Mass disaster attorney, A. Ilyas Akbari recently ranked among Super Lawyers® Up-and-Coming100: 2015 Southern California Rising Stars – Top List. The list features only the best of the best attorneys in the area. Southern California Super Lawyers® has previously selected Mr. Akbari to their Rising Stars list each year since 2007.

The Super Lawyers® Rising Stars section of Los Angeles magazine will feature the list for the first time. His name will also appear in the 2015 Super Lawyers® magazine under the Annual List of The Top Young Attorneys in Southern California. The Rising Stars selection process features only 2.5 percent of choice attorneys with the highest total points.




Ilyas has dedicated himself to serving his community by seeking justice for those hurt by major commercial transportation accidents and pharmaceutical drug product liability and medical device issues. Much of his passion in fighting for what is right comes from his harrowing journey as a refugee from war torn Afghanistan at the age of three.

His extensive legal knowledge and bioengineering credentials assisted in garnering a $7.5M settlement in a helicopter product liability case. As part of the trial team for another case, he helped obtain one of the highest verdicts for the death of an unmarried person in Ohio’s history regarding truck accidents. The verdict in that case amounted to $7M.

Other honors Ilyas has received includes an Avvo.com Superb Score of 10 out of 10 and an AV® Preeminent Peer Review Rating from LexisNexus Martindale Hubbell®. The Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers® also listed him among their ranks.