The camera doesn't lie

When investigating a plane crash such as the recent Alaska Airlines tragedy in California, National Transportation Safety Board and other officials rely on the aircraft's flight data recorder to recreate the last moments before the accident.

But in some cases, there is no flight data recorder.

Citing the 1997 crash of an Interior Department Cessna 208B that killed the pilot and all eight passengers, NTSB issued a safety recommendation last week to the Federal Aviation Administration that would require single-engine, turbine-powered aircraft to be equipped with video recorders. Those aircraft are exempt from carrying flight data recorders, which has hampered the board's past investigations.

A typical video recording system, which has an estimated cost of less than $8,000, consists of a camera and a microphone in the cockpit to continuously record cockpit instrumentation, the outside viewing area, engine sounds, radio communications and ambient cockpit noises. The video recording system would be stored in a crash protective unit.

During a joint Senate Appropriations Committee Transportation Subcommittee and Senate Budget Committee hearing last week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) suggested to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey that video cameras be added to all airplane cockpits. Cameras could help answer fundamental questions about air accidents as well as be used for insurance purposes and to prevent smuggling, he said.

"We do think it holds great potential and should be looked at very seriously," Garvey said.

To access the NTSB's safety recommendation letter to Garvey, go to www.ntsb.gov/Recs/letters/letters.htm. Then click on the link "A99-59 through -63."

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