epa08112167 Members of the International Red Crescent collect bodies of victims around the wreckage after an Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 carrying 176 people crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, killing everyone on board, in Shahriar, Iran, 08 January 2020. EPA-EFE/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

Iran Plane Crash: What Happened During An Air Disaster Investigation

Iran Plane Crash: What Happened During An Air Disaster Investigation

Due to the continuing political instability in the area, the inquiry into the January 8 plane crash in Iran that killed all 176 people on board is expected to receive more attention than usual. Both anonymous American officials speaking to journalists and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asserted that intelligence data revealed that Ukrainian flight PS752 was hit by a missile. Iran first denied that its air defenses had hit the airliner, but it has recently stated that they mistakenly shot it down.

The nation also made it clear that it would not provide the US government or the aircraft manufacturer Boeing with access to the black box flight recorder of the aircraft, as is customary in aviation disaster investigations. But the US has since accepted an invitation from Iran to take part in the investigation, and Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority head has reportedly said it may need help decoding the black box data.

Aircraft investigations are covered by a set of international standards and recommended practices produced by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation. The aim to understand what has happened and why, but more importantly, to also produce recommendations to prevent future accidents. Here’s how we should expect the investigation to proceed.

Who takes part?

According to the regulations, also referred to as “Annex 13” in the aviation sector, Iran will be in charge of the investigation because that is where the event took place. It will designate a lead investigator who typically works for a private aviation or transportation accident investigation organization and who, as a result, should be qualified to lead an unbiased investigation.

Additional nations that are eligible to participate are those where the aircraft was built and manufactured (the US), as well as those where it was registered and operated from (Ukraine). It is also possible for nations having a large proportion of their citizens involved in the incident—in this example, Canada, Sweden, and Afghanistan—to participate. The “accredited representatives” from each of these nations’ corresponding aviation or transport safety investigation authorities will be sending.

The lead investigator may consult with technical experts as well. To promote openness and fair play, it would be typical, for instance, for investigators from Boeing to be a part of the team while constantly cooperating with their national agency.

What constitutes evidence is controlled and determined by the lead investigator. The safety investigation may turn over the investigation to law enforcement if there is any proof of a criminal act. When Pan Am 103 was bombed over Lockerbie in 1988, it quickly became apparent that there had been no accident with the aircraft, but rather, sabotage. In that instance, a safety investigation ran concurrently with the criminal probe but concentrated on the survivability of the aircraft and the passengers.

Black boxes

In the majority of aviation accidents, black boxes serve as a vital piece of evidence. A cockpit voice recorder, like the one found in the Iranian crash, can capture up to two hours of audio from the flight deck. Moreover, a digital flight data recorder would be included, which would operate for 25 hours while logging hundreds of characteristics. This could involve things like the position of the aircraft controls, warnings, and engine settings.

The recorders are not indestructible, but they are made to endure impact, high temperatures, and submersion in water. They also rely on the aircraft for power and data from many sources dispersed throughout the aircraft. The original recorders employed wire and magnetic tape, which had a limited data storage capacity and were very prone to damage. Modern recorders, however, contain solid-state memory chips in a memory unit that can withstand a collision.

Investigators must take great care to avoid corrupting the data when reading out a broken recording because an undamaged recorder may be read out reasonably easily utilizing equipment from the recorder maker. Additionally, they must take precautions to shield their chain of evidence from any accusations of tampering.

A different country, either one involved in the inquiry or one outside of it, is likely to be asked if the investigation’s leading nation lacks the technical expertise internally. Perhaps they could consult a “technical adviser,” a business or individual with specialized knowledge who might be an expert in, say, recovering data from broken memory chips.

If a recorder needs to be inspected somewhere else, a member of the investigative team will transport it there. They will decide on a technique of operation, document the recording device’s protective casing being opened, and remain present during the investigation. It might be able to study the recorded data quite quickly if data can be restored quickly.

There are rigorous guidelines about who may listen in the event of the cockpit voice recording. The recording is strictly for safety purposes and should not be used as evidence against the pilots, therefore this is done in part to protect them. This rule was adopted as a result of widespread pilot anxiety that the recorder would act as a “spy in the cockpit”. The fact that recordings might include extremely distressing noises connected to passengers’ dying moments is another justification for restricting who hears them.

It was appropriate for the Iranian government to declare that they would not give Boeing the flight recorder in the wake of the loss of flight PS752. If Iran’s safety investigation agency has the necessary technical capacity, they would be analyzing them according to protocol. If not, then they are entitled to contact, or accept the assistance of another skilled safety investigation agency or technical adviser.
In this scenario, both the US and Canada have extensive experience reviewing flight data recorders.

The recordings must not be harmed during the read-back procedure, which is crucial. To maintain the integrity of the investigation and to prevent the recordings from being made public without the lead investigator’s express consent, a chain of evidence must be kept.

This article reflects Iran’s admission of unintentionally shooting down the plane.

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