298 people lost their lives in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine
Jim Hall, Peter Goelz: There must be an immediate and competent investigation
They say Russia and Ukraine should not conduct investigation; leave it to the Dutch
Hall, Goelz: International community must stand up for safe and secure global travel
Editor’s Note: Jim Hall is the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Peter Goelz is a former managing director at the board. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
Today, we are all mourning the loss of 298 people who died in the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Ukraine and Russia have been trading blame on who is responsible for shooting down the aircraft. As more details come in, U.S. officials believe that pro-Russian rebels fired the missiles.
Whatever the political repercussions are, the international community owes it to the deceased and their families to conduct an immediate, thorough, competent and, most important, independent investigation of what exactly happened and who is responsible.
We cannot afford to have another aviation accident investigation that appears to stumble at its outset. The families of the 298 innocents on board deserve competence and justice. Most of those on board were Dutch, but there were also Australians, Indonesians, Germans, at least one American and a Malaysian crew. Some of the world’s top AIDS researchers were among those killed.
Clearly, given the political tensions between Ukraine and Russia and the disputed area in which the crash occurred, these two countries should not conduct the investigation. According to Annex 13 of the International Civil Aviation Organization, multiple parties are entitled to be involved in the investigation. While our own National Transportation Safety Board will have a say, since Boeing in the United States made the aircraft, we believe that the Dutch Safety Board should be the lead investigatory body, and it should be appointed immediately.
The Dutch Safety Board was founded in 2005, is noted for its thoroughness and technical skill, and has conducted many aviation investigations. Its leader, Chairman Tjibbe Joustra, is a career politician and the national coordinator for security and counterterrorism. Given his experience in both aviation and national security, he would be an outstanding fit for the work.
It is vital that investigators get to the scene of the accident immediately. With unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian rebels are combing through the wreckage and may even have possession of the black box, security at the crash site must be established to preserve evidence and allow investigators to determine how and why this aircraft was shot down.
It is critical that investigators obtain possession of the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, the “black box.” As the NTSB did in the investigation of TWA 800 using black box data, a sound spectrum study can provide telling information on where on the aircraft and when the explosion occurred.
The Russians, the Ukrainians and the rebels should commit immediately to full transparency and to guaranteeing the complete safety of the investigative team. Anything short of that should bring immediate world condemnation and a denial of landing rights for flights originating in their respective countries.
This is more than just an investigation of an aviation accident. Our global economy is greatly dependent on aviation. People are able to access the farthest corners of the globe for business and family purposes with remarkable speed and unprecedented safety. If there is an ongoing threat that commercial airliners will be shot down, our global commerce will slow to a halt. In the United States alone, 97.5 million passengers flew internationally on U.S. airlines in 2013.
The United Nations is meeting today on the MH17 tragedy, and it needs to show strong leadership to ensure that a true independent investigation is immediately launched.
The world’s countries must stand up for safe and secure global travel, and by demanding a transparent and unfettered international investigation, they will take the first step in bringing those responsible to justice.