7NEWS Investigates 'Pilot Error' Findings In MU-2 Crashes

NTSB, Manufacturer 'Like Fox Watching Chickens'

The National Transportation Safety Board. The term conjures up an expert team of investigators trying to find answers to the nation's worst air accidents.

But some critics ask, "Are the federal investigators relying too much on the judgment of aircraft manufactures who clearly don't want to find a problem with their product?"

7News Investigator John Ferrugia has been looking into recent MU-2 crashes and the way the NTSB investigates them. This is the second part of his investigation.

When Paul Krysiak lifted his Mitsubishi MU-2 off the runway at Centennial Airport in December of last year he was a confident, experienced pilot.

But within minutes, Krysiak had reported an engine problem, and crashed.

He and his co-pilot died.

Now, Paul Krysiak's widow, who is also a pilot, is concerned that -- like in scores of other MU-2 crashes -- the NTSB will find the cause as "pilot error."

"His first flight, Aug. 17, 1994. His first solo. This has everything in it," said Carrie Krysiak.

Paul Krysiak's pilot's log book is a diary of the best times of his life.

"It says, 'Today, I asked my girlfriend to be my wife,'" said Carrie Krysiak.

Ferrugia: "Right in the log book?"

Krysiak: "Yeah, it was really a bumpy ride that day because I started crying."

There have been many tears since the MU-2 crash near Centennial Airport last December that claimed the life of her husband, Paul, and his co-pilot, Tuck Presba.

"He called the tower and said he had a problem with an engine and he was going to have to shut it down," said Krysiak. "On his turn to final, he didn't make it. That's what I know happened."

"This is probably the meanest airplane, as far as single-engine handling characteristics go," said Richard Shaden, aviation attorney and former flight test engineer.

Ferrugia: "The most dangerous?"

Schaden: "The most dangerous."

Shaden, a lawyer who has represented victims of MU-2 crashes, is a former flight test engineer who believes the MU-2 should be grounded.

"You have an engine failure on takeoff, you have your hands full," said Shaden. "The likelihood is that the engine that is remaining is only going to take you to the scene of the crash. You're not going to survive it."

And, Schaden said, the so-called party system used by the NTSB to investigate light plane crashes like the MU-2 almost assures that the cause will be pilot error.

"They'll take people from the aircraft manufacturer, the engine manufacturer, and those people become the accident investigation team," said Shaden. "And they really lead the direction in which it's going. And they have no incentive to find something wrong with their own product."

"It's the fox watching the chickens," he added.

"The motivations that you are identifying, although they're there and our investigators are aware of that, what I'm trying to tell you is we have to put those things aside," said David Bowling, the regional director of the NTSB

Bowling's investigators in charge, or IICs, are working on two MU-2 cases, including the Krysiak/Presba crash.

"You have a team of manufacturers, FAA, and different manufacturers. You have operators also on that team," said Bowling. "Everybody is going to have their own interest. The IIC will identify those interests because those interest are going to pit against each other."

"And we're not just sitting off somewhere while they're doing all this work and then coming in and looking at it after the fact," he said. "We are there participating."

Even so, an exhaustive study five years ago, commissioned by the national director of the NTSB, found "the NTSB's investigative techniques are in some respect archaic."

It warned that investigations could be "compromised by the fact that the parties most likely to be named to assist in the investigation are also likely to be named defendants in related civil litigation. This inherent conflict of interest may jeopardize, or be perceieved to jeopardize, the integrity of the NTSB investigation.

"There's no incentive to find why the airplane crashed," said Schaden. "The incentive is to divert the blame to someplace where the exposure is small. If it's pilot error, the exposure for everybody, the manufacturer of the engine, of the airplane, and the insurance industry, the exposure goes way down."

But in the NTSB investigation, who represents the interest and reputation of the pilots who have died, like Paul Krysiak and Tuck Presba?

"Well, if it's a privately owned aircraft, if it's a privately owned MU-2, there's nobody representing the pilot, other than the FAA and what the NTSB goes after in their investigation," said Bowling.

Ferrugia: "And if it's a small company, all they're worried about is liability, so if you find pilot error that's not their problem."

Bowling: "Well I really can't speak to that and that's not our motivation."

"We don't have any agenda that mirrors the manufacturer, other than if there is a problem, fix it and prevent future accidents from happening," said Bowling.

"So far, the NTSB has told me that they have found absolutely nothing wrong with the engines, the prop control, fuel control, and fuel pump," said Krysiak. "So far, they have found nothing."

And, as a pilot herself, Krysiak knows what that will likely mean.

"It always usually comes back to the pilot and the mechanic," said Krysiak.

Ferrugia: "Pilot error?"

Krysiak: "Right, end of story."

Manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries declined an on-camera interview but insists the MU-2 is safe and rightly point to the thousands of miles the planes have safely flown.

Mitsubishi says the vast majority of fatal crashes in the U.S., even with engine problems noted, have been determined to be pilot error. NTSB statistics back up Mitsubishi's data.

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