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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. Government investigative agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. In this role, the NTSB investigates and reports on aviation accidents and incidents, certain types of highway crashes, ship and marine accidents, pipeline incidents and railroad accidents. When requested, the NTSB will assist the military with accident investigation. The NTSB is also in charge of investigating cases of hazardous waste releases that occur during transportation. Deborah Hersman was appointed as NTSB Chairman in July 2009. Mark Rosenker was appointed as Vice Chairman in 2003, and served as Acting Chairman from March, 2005 to January, 2009. The agency is based in Washington, D.C.marker.


The NTSB was established as an independent organization in 1967 and took over the regulatory and investigative functions of the Civil Aeronautics Board, among other duties. Originally established with strong ties to the U.S. Department of Transportation, these ties were later severed under the Independent Safety Board Act of 1975. The organization receives its authority from Chapter 11, Title 49 of the United States Code. It has investigated over 124,000 aviation incidents since its establishment.


The board has five members appointed by the President for five year terms, one of whom is designated the chairman by the President and then approved by the Senate for a fixed 2-year term. Another member is designated as vice chairman and becomes acting chairman when there is no formal chairman.

No more than three of the five members can be from the same political party.

Organization within the Board is composed of separate sub-offices for highway safety, maritime safety, aviation safety, railroad, pipeline, and hazardous material investigations, research and engineering, recommendations and communications, academy and administrative law judges. These sub-offices report to the Office of the Managing Director.


The NTSB is normally the lead organization in the investigation of a transportation accident within its sphere. However, this power can be surrendered to other organizations if the Attorney General declares the case to be linked to an intentional criminal act, although the NTSB would still provide technical support in such investigations. This occurred during the investigation of the September 11, 2001, attacks when the Department of Justicemarker took over the investigation.

An investigation of an incident within the United States typically starts with the creation of a "go team", composed of specialists in fields relating to the incident. This is followed by the designation of other organizations or corporations as parties to the investigation. The Board may then choose to hold public hearings on the issue. Finally, it will compose a final statement and may issue safety recommendations. The Board has no legal authority to implement, or impose, its recommendations, upon the causative entities. That burden falls upon regulators of the varying modalities, at either the federal or state level.

The NTSB may investigate incidents or accidents occurring outside the United States under certain circumstances. These may include:

  • accidents or incidents occurring to American-registered or American-owned aircraft (other than an aircraft operated by the Armed Forces or by an intelligence agency of the United States) in foreign airspace if the aircraft both departed and was scheduled to land in the United States. This has happened on rare occasion with respect to flights to and within Alaska that have crashed in Canada.
  • accidents or incidents occurring to American-registered or American-owned aircraft in countries without a transportation investigative board.

The NTSB, if asked, will also provide technical and other advice for a fee to transportation investigative boards in countries that do not have the equipment or specialized technicians available to undertake all aspects of a complex investigation.

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