The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the cause of this month's plane crash in Unalaska, which killed one passenger and injured more than a dozen others.
While the full inquiry is expected to take a year or more, the federal agency is planning to release a preliminary report within a few weeks.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel spoke with Clint Johnson, the chief of the NTSB's Alaska Regional Office.
CLINT JOHNSON: So typically, a couple of weeks from the time that the team gets back to Washington D.C., they'll produce a preliminary report. Just as the name applies, it's very preliminary. So it's going to give just the basic information, as far as the conditions. Might give a little bit of insight as far as the sequence of events. But there's not going to be a tremendous amount of information there, to be honest with you.
KUCB: The team of 21 NTSB investigators who were the island — they've all left, is that correct?
JOHNSON: That is correct. They went back to D.C. and their various other locations over the weekend. Late in the weekend. Sunday, I think, was when the last folks left. But that doesn't mean that they won't be back. If the need arises, they can definitely come back. And we obviously still have our one investigator that was there from the Alaska Regional Office, Noreen Price. She'll kind of be the quarterback, if you will, as far as any other activities from the team up here.
KUCB: Knowing that the full investigation process will take about a year, can you tell me anything about how NTSB manages its caseload? At a recent city meeting, we learned that one investigator, John Lovell, is also working on the high-profile crash with Ethiopian Airlines that killed more than 150 people. And there were a number of deadly accidents in southeast Alaska this summer. How does all of that get juggled?
JOHNSON: I can share from the Alaska Regional standpoint. I can't really comment on John's, per se. But for the most part, each one of the investigators here in the Alaska Regional Office are handling between four and five and six fatal accidents a year. That's not including what we refer to as "limited accidents," which are non-injury. But they're still required to be investigated. So our caseload is pretty high. Unfortunately, we've had a busy season this year. So it does take us a little bit of time to work through those accidents and make sure that we deliver a very comprehensive, detailed investigation. So yeah, juggling that caseload can be a bit of a challenge sometimes.
KUCB: While you and the rest of the investigators do that work, Unalaska is in this strange, in-between period. The community is really eager to start regular flights again, because they need to travel. But we also don't really know what happened and where everything stands safety-wise. Ravn Air Group says they've suspended flights in the interest of safety, but the NTSB says it hasn't immediately identified any issues that would prohibit safe flying. So can you share any insight on that? On this period where we don't really know where things stand, but we're still trying to fly?
JOHNSON: Yeah, that's a tough question. It really is. Because, obviously, what we need to do is be able to understand the sequence of events that led to this tragic accident. Until that's done, we'd just be speculating. And we don't speculate, to be honest with you. We always say that. We rely on factual information, and we don't have all of the facts at this point, unfortunately. We're working on it, and there were some components that were harvested from the airplane. We're going to be testing those components. But at this point, right now, we just can't draw any conclusions. And that's not a line. That truly is the case at this point right now. We need to understand — and have a full understanding — of the sequence of events that took place before this accident and during the accident.
KUCB: Thank you for the information that you can share, Clint. Is there anything else you can tell me right now?
JOHNSON: No. Like I say, we're very much in the preliminary stages of the investigation here. I know the team is working very diligently on it. It's one that is important to Alaska. And obviously, being the chief of Alaska here, it's near and dear to my heart. So we'll continue our investigation and hopefully have some additional information fairly soon.