NTSB warns of hidden hazards at plane crash sites

Story highlights

  • NTSB warns of hazards about small aircraft fires
  • NTSB cited 5 incidents since 2001 in which first responders unaware of hazards
  • The NTSB recommending FAA take additional steps to address the safety issue
Federal officials said Thursday more needs to be done to warn rescuers of special dangers at the scene of small plane crashes.
Although firefighters are well versed about the dangers of burning fuel and sharp debris, they may not be aware that some aviation systems -- systems considered safety devices aloft -- become especially hazardous on the ground. Among the hazards: ejection seat rockets, airbag components, and explosive charges that deploy parachutes that can lower the entire aircraft to the ground.
"These explosive components, if they remain charged and are unknown to first responders and investigators, pose a high level of risk to those working in and around the aircraft wreckage," the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The safety board cited five incidents since 2001 in which first responders and accident investigators who responded to plane wrecks were evidently unaware of the hazard of explosive components.
"In some cases, they began performing rescue, fire suppression and accident investigation activities that might have inadvertently activated the explosive component, posing a great risk of injury," the safety board said. None resulted in fatalities or injuries to the responders.
In one incident -- the January 2012 fatal crash of an experimental jet near Rainbow City, Alabama -- a police officer became aware of the hidden dangers only after an NTSB investigator told him by phone not to allow the recovery of the pilot's remains until the pilot's ejection seat could be deactivated. In another incident, firefighters attempting to put out a blaze at a Cirrus SR22 crash took additional safety precautions after being told the plane had a BRS -- a solid-fuel rocket used to deploy the plane's parachute.
The NTSB is recommending that the Federal Aviation Administration take additional steps to address the safety issue. The FAA should require aircraft owners to disclose the presence of explosive safety devices when they register their aircraft every three years. The online registry is easily available to first responders, the NTSB said.
The FAA also should issue a safety bulletin to first responders, the board recommended.
The FAA said it will review the recommendations. "We have collaborated with ballistic device manufacturers, airplane manufacturers, firefighting organizations and other first responder groups to develop training about the potential hazards at an accident scene and to ensure that warning markings meet the necessary guidelines," the FAA said in a statement.