In my previous post, The story of the CVR and the man with blinders, I talked about how the crew was excluded from the investigation. Three expert witnesses and no one wants to talk to them. But the crew weren’t the only witnesses. There were also 80 passengers and 4 cabin attendants. Surely they might have information that might be useful to the investigators. What did they see? Feel? Hear? Were the recollections of the passengers before, during, and after the upset the same for passengers seated at the front of the aircraft as those seated in the middle? The aft? The picture to the left is of passengers Jeannine and Robert Rakowsky who were both sitting in first class.
Boeing and the NTSB had come up with two preposterous theories as to how the upset had occurred. One of the theories involved flight engineer Gary Banks leaving the cockpit and then returning within a minute or two of the upset. So why not question the passengers who were sitting in first class and ask them what they saw? Here is a portion of a transcript discussing this very topic. Board member McAdams brings up the unresolved conflict concerning the flight engineer.
McAdams: Well, we do have one issue, the issue of the difference between the crew’s statement and the FAA inspector’s statement. Now, what are we going to do about that?
McAdam’s comment started another argument about whether or not it was necessary to clarify that conflict.
Danaher: If I can speak for the staff, I believe that the conclusion as — was that, regardless of how he reacted to that, that it wouldn’t lead to a sudden discovery and recollection of things that he failed to recall before.
Danaher’s comment only reinforced the notion that the investigators had come up with their theory of what had happened and having the crew dispute their findings wasn’t going to be helpful to them, especially since they had already deemed the crew as untrustworthy. It was as if the entire NTSB investigation had been centered around not finding out what had really happened but rather what did the crew do that caused the upset and were now trying to cover up.
McAdams wasn’t buying the argument. And neither was Board member Admiral Patric Bursley. He, too, wanted the conflict resolved by re-deposing the flight crew. After some further debate, Kampschror agreed to hold another deposition concerning the flight engineer’s absence from the cockpit. They then argued about who else besides the flight crew should be deposed. The flight attendants? The FAA inspectors? It was during this line of questioning that McAdams brought up another glaring omission from the investigation.
McAdams: While we’re at it, talking to the flight attendants, we ought to find out what their reaction was to this whole maneuver. Did they feel a buffet? Did they have any idea what the airplane was doing. The flight attendants are pretty well trained during their training as to what airplanes do. I think they get primary aerodynamics and that type of thing. They might have some information that might be helpful.
McAdams was stating the obvious. How could the investigators not have already questioned the flight attendants and passengers concerning what they felt or didn’t feel before and after the upset? The question by McAdams piqued the interest of Vice Chairman Elwood Driver.
Driver: I would just like to follow up on this. You are going with the second officer then to ask him if he was out of the cockpit or in the cockpit, are you not? You are going to go deeper than just that one question?
No one on the investigation team was interested in questioning anyone to any great degree, presumably because the answers they might receive could only bring their theory of what had happened into question. In this, it appears as if they had an ally in Chairman King who made this meandering, nonsensical comment.
King: I think the one thing that should be clearly understood by everyone present is that this going back to discussion is merely to be certain that our own investigation is complete. We traditionally open and close doors. So, what we are doing is opening and closing a door that the Board is not satisfied has been satisfactorily opened and closed. It is not to suggest that there are any divine revelations upon any of the door openings or closings. It is merely to close out a complete investigation. So, I don’t think there should be anything implied by what we are doing. It is not intended to be so. There are some inconsistencies, and we would like to do follow-up questions.
The comment seemed to be aimed at the spectators in attendance. A loose translation of what he said might be something along the lines of, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Let’s not let anyone here today think that we have any doubts about our findings of probable cause. We just want to clear up this one discrepancy, that’s all. No need to dig any deeper than we have to.” McAdams saw through the smoke screen that King was trying to put up.
McAdams: Well, another thing that may be of some benefit to this so-called — we’re going to take depositions. This case did not go to hearing. Witnesses weren’t called in, normal types of witnesses that we would call in a hearing. And I think that’s one of the difficulties with this case right now, the fact that we probably should have had a hearing. Any time there is controversy involved between flight crew statements and the physical evidence, I think one of the best ways to resolve that is through the medium of a public hearing.
ALPA had been requesting that a public hearing be held long before this meeting, but that information wasn’t brought forward. Instead, Kampschror tried to defend his decision of not holding a public hearing and not wanting to question anyone who might refute their findings.
Kampschror: Just one further thing for the record. Again, the best evidence in this case, in my estimation, is the physical aerodynamic evidence to refute the flight crew’s testimony. And that’s what we have attempted to rely on in the report exclusively.
This was followed by the most profound statement made by anyone the entire day. It was made by the one person on the Board who hadn’t already tried and convicted the crew — Francis McAdams.
McAdams: You see, Mr. Chairman, we have a case here where if we were going to act on it today, we would be citing the crew as the cause of the accident. And the crew has not had the opportunity to examine the witnesses who get up and support the physical evidence. They have not had that opportunity. Now maybe they will have it as a result of this meeting today. So I think going back for two depositions will serve a double purpose, a very beneficial purpose. And it might solve the problem that we have been wrestling with all day.
Chairman King apparently wasn’t swayed by McAdams reasoning.
King: Which problem have we been wrestling with?
McAdams: The problem of what happened.
King: I’m sorry. I had several problems that I’d been working on. All right. Is there further discussion on the report?
And just like that the whole idea of trying to clear the whole mess up through additional questioning and expanding the scope of those being questioned was swept under the rug. There would be another deposition of the flight crew and the flight attendants, but Kampshror would set in advance guidelines that the only question to be resolved at the depositions was whether or not the flight engineer had left the cockpit. He wasn’t about to give anyone an opportunity to dispute anything.
In retrospect, it’s hard to fathom why the investigators didn’t bother to re-interview any of the passengers. Fourteen passengers were interviewed by phone shortly after the incident. The man who conducted the interviews, Human Factors Group Chairman LeRoy Haden, never made any follow-up interviews. He didn’t record the interviews. And he lost his notes concerning the interviews. Two written statements were taken, one by Holly Wicker indicating that she saw who she believed to be the flight engineer, walking the meal trays back to the galley and then returning to the cockpit. That statement along with another written statement from a second passenger were handed over to Kampshror who later admitted to having thrown them away.
Going back and re-interviewing the passengers seems like an obvious first step regarding the question of whether or not Gary Banks left the cockpit. It could have also answered some questions related to their theory. The flight test conducted in October 1980 showed that when the flaps were extended to 2 degrees as they were proposing, the plane porpoised as the slats were being extended and there was noticeable buffeting, described by some on board as startling. Surely that would have been felt in the back of the plane. It was nighttime and it’s unlikely that any of the passengers could have visually noticed the flaps being extended, but the flaps, being hydraulically operated, made an audible sound whenever they were extended or retracted. Why not ask the passengers if they heard any abnormal sounds prior to the upset? It would also have been beneficial to ask the passengers if any of them had noticed a bank to the right followed by a bank to the left followed by a roll to the right. You don’t have to have a degree in Aeronautics to know if the plane is banking one way or the other at a rapid rate. Could it have been because they weren’t interested in hearing any evidence that didn’t support their theory?
As it turns out, Kampschror did in fact contact several passengers for a follow-up interview. This information came out later during Kampschror’s testimony in the civil suit filed by several passengers. He admitted that he had contacted several passengers looking for specific information. He followed those conversations up by sending two of the passengers forms in which they could provide written statements. When he got the written statements back, he decided that they didn’t contain any useful information so he threw them away. A closer examination of his actual response is revealing:
“When I got them back, I could tell that their recollections of events did not include the immediate — what first came to their attention, at least in terms of what I would want from — or was seeking…”
In other words, the passenger statements didn’t corroborate his theory so he discarded them. It’s also possible that the statements, in fact, may have provided information damaging to the NTSB’s theory. Here is more testimony from the same deposition. TWA attorney Chance Mark is asking the questions. He is referring to the human factors report prepared by Leroy Haden. Deposition of Leslie D. Kampschror Apr 26, 1982. P 20 – 25.
Mark: Is it true that the report prepared by Mr. Leroy indicates that the move detailed the passengers’ recollections of the aircraft maneuver and those recollections were that the aircraft rolled off to the right and assumed a very steep dive?
Mark: (After an objection by the Boeing attorney) Is that true?
Kampschror: That is one of the recollections, apparently.
Mark: Did the passengers also indicate that there was initial vibration?
Kampschror: Yes. The report says nine passengers related the initial vibration or shaking to various degrees of turbulence.
Mark: Did any of the passengers that were interviewed indicate that the buffet was startling?
Kampschror: I don’t think any of the passengers mentioned buffet.
Mark: Did any of the passengers mention a startling condition?
Kampschror: I don’t see any mention of a startling condition here.
Jeannine and Robert Rakowsky, shown in this recent photo, still remember details about TWA 841. I will be interviewing more passengers in the weeks and months ahead. It’s been thirty-four years, but at least now their stories and comments will be heard.