What Happens To Wreckage After An Aviation Crash And Who Foots The Bill For It?
Generally, after a plane crashes, a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board is sent to the crash site. This representative conducts an investigation into the cause of the crash and will usually have the wreckage moved to a storage facility in order to complete the analysis and to determine whether any parts of the wreckage should be transported to another facility for further testing. Once the NTSB investigation has concluded, the wreckage is normally released to the owner.
In many cases, the owner at this stage is the insurance company. The company has generally paid the aircraft owner for the market value of the airplane itself, which is usually a total loss. After doing so, the insurance company owns what remains. Then, once the NTSB is finished with the wreckage, private parties affected by the crash are able to inspect the aircraft remains and make their own analysis using their own independent experts.
Unfortunately, at this stage, someone has to pay for storage. The monthly fee is usually not significant and insurance company representatives are well aware that litigation frequently follows aircraft crashes. The insurance company, however, has no stake in continuing to pay to keep the wreckage stored.
In such cases, the insurance company may request that the wreckage be destroyed or that another party interested in the litigation begin picking up the tab for storage costs. Allowing the wreckage to be destroyed, however, is usually a major mistake.
Without an unbiased and complete analysis, the true cause of the accident may not be uncovered. The NTSB generally does a good job, but manpower and budget restraints often prevent detailed analyses of general aviation crashes. Experts hired by the affected parties can often put more time and resources into finding out what really happened. But, they need the wreckage to do so.
Allowing the destruction of aircraft evidence severely hinders any hope of finding out what happened. Insurance companies may be quick to act – and cut off their own expense – and may do so at a time when the family members impacted by the loss are still struggling to cope. By all means, do whatever is necessary to maintain the integrity of the wreckage until a reasoned analysis can be made, and an outside expert can fully evaluate the cause of the crash.
If you are faced with this sort of situation and do not yet have an aviation attorney, get one quickly. Most attorneys will take over the storage payments and will work to ensure that the integrity of the aircraft wreckage remains intact until the true cause of the crash can be determined.