Former NTSB investigators discuss Flight 427, problems with airline

It's an investigation one man says affected him differently than any other. Channel 11 went to Washington D.C. to talk to two men who led the investigation into the crash of U.S. Air Flight 427. Subscribe to WPXI: Connect with WPXI online: Download our FREE apps:

PITTSBURGH — It's an investigation one man say affected him differently than any other. We continue to remember U.S. Air Flight 427, which crashed 25 years ago this week. Channel 11 went to Washington D.C. to talk to the two men who led the investigation into what happened and what happened to the families of the victims.

"Beaver county 911 what is your emergency?" said an emergency responder on September 8, 1994.  
The male caller responded, "plane crash, green garden plaza, right on the other side." (911 calls courtesy of Beaver County Times.)

>> RELATED: Man who lost twin in Flight 427 crash helped change history

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It didn't seem real at the moment. Something we heard over and over again from the 911 calls that came in. The crash of U.S. Air Flight 427 took the lives of all 132 people on board.

Twenty-five years later, it still sticks with then-National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall who flew in from Tennessee to speak with us. He was on the ground shortly after surveying the crash site.

"It was the first major accident while I was the newly appointed chairman of the NTSB. It will be in my heart all of my life," said former NTSB Chairman, Jim Hall.

What caused the crash proved challenging in part because of the wreckage, technology on the plane and from what Hall says were less than cooperative partners in U.S. Air and Boeing.

"The culture at that time in the aviation industry, not just U.S. Air was again related to their own financial interest and not the care of their passengers," said Hall.

It became one of the most prolonged investigations in NTSB's history. After four and a half years, investigators determined a problem with the 737's rudder system caused the crash. A similar determination was made when the same type of Boeing jet crashed three years earlier in Colorado Springs killing all 25 people on board.

Aviation expert Peter Goelz was the NTSB's managing director when the board released its findings from Flight 427.


"That system was flawed from a number of standpoints," said former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz. "Boeing was very reluctant to change that system because it would have had to admit it made a mistake."

The system was fixed after the NTSB's finding was released. Both Hall and Goelz see parallels between those crashes and the recent crashes involving Boeing 737 Max 8 Jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

"That's why it's been so disappointing on these two recent accidents with Boeing," said Hall. "To see the same type of failure to be transparent as they should be."

But in the aftermath of the devastation, it was the victim's families who are responsible for lasting change.

After years of communication breakdowns and a lack of consistent information, the families helped push the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act  into law giving those impacted by plane crashes financial resources and a central place to get information and recovered items.

A system that because of U.S. Air Flight 427 is now standard worldwide.

"By stepping up and speaking out on their own behalf," said Goelz. "By demanding that they be treated with decency and respect, these family members changed the world, and they deserve the credit."

11 Investigates reached out to Boeing with questions about what the company learned about Flight 427 and parallells drawn to recent crashes.

A Boeing spokesman responded with a brief statement saying: "We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all the passengers and flight crews lost in aviation accidents. Safety is our highest priority as we design, build, and support our airplanes."

We continue to remember the victims of Flight 427 on Thursday. Channel 11's Melanie Marsalko sat down with a woman who lost her son. The woman learned her son caught Flight 427 as an early flight home to see his family. It's an emotional story you won't want to miss.