Senior Member Guide


Administration and Logistics


In General...

     You had a full plate yesterday at another job. A mishap has occurred. Today you are the Senior Member of an Aircraft Mishap Board.

     You cannot serve two masters well. OPNAVINST 3750.6_ resolves the conflict succinctly: "Mishap investigating and reporting responsibilities of AMB members shall take precedence over all other duties."

     Compartmentalize. Transfer work to an able assistant. Tell Schedules you are out until further notice. Leave.

     When you cut the cord, mean it. If you relent and establish the precedent that you are accessible for routine matters, old business will follow and compete for attention.

Come as You Are

     Time will be too much at a premium for the Board to attempt remedial training. When the crash alarm sounds, you will execute a mishap plan already rehearsed, or you will undergo trial-by-fire.

     The Senior Member's charter is to guide the Board in accomplishing its task: investigate and report. You do not have to become an instant expert in investigation, maintenance, operations or medicine. A Senior Member has to deliver what is expected of seniority and experience: focus, objectivity and leadership to marshal others' activities to an end.

     In time, collective efforts will reveal a substantial body of information from which the Board can synthesize an explanation of the mishap and recommend what Naval aviation should do about it.

     If you join a Board with which you have not trained, rapidly assess its preparedness. Board training will have apportioned duties or tasks for to each member to accomplish separately, but in a context of coordinated action. Prioritize or redistribute tasks as you see fit; add to them as necessary. Otherwise, those lists constitute the plans of the members. Validate assignments. Appoint a time for your next meeting, then send members out to do their jobs.


     The atmosphere surrounding a mishap might be chaotic. In most instances, a mishap investigation can and should proceed without impeding the mishap unit's continuing operations. Get your bearings, then go to work.

     Determine what needs doing immediately, what can be done, how and by whom. Do not dwell on the difficult or impossible; take these as a cue you need (external) help in some capacity.

     An enduring concern for Board activities is safety of involved personnel and bystanders: Naval aviation will already have had a mishap---let's not have another while investigating the first.

     Attention should turn early to obtaining or recording that evidence which is most perishable, by human activity and frailty, or by forces of nature. Since a safety investigation usually has precedence over other inquiries for access to evidence, the Board has a duty to preserve that evidence for others' use (if possible), or to account for changes which result from handling and examination. Where it is possible to share access to real evidence (nonprivileged), the Board may do so, at your discretion.

     Not all evidence is privileged, nor need all sources be promised confidentiality. Know the difference and treat the different types with appropriate care. (See discussion below.)

     Think outside the box. View problems from various angles.

     This applies to effecting the wreckage recovery, exploring the evidence, considering how things work, the order and consequence of procedures...anything.

     Take notes. A pocket-sized notepad and pencil are the most essential tools a member can carry. The information each member acquires, the observations each makes will quickly exceed short-term memory and be lost. To prevent having to rediscover information, take notes. This starts immediately and continues until the file is sealed.


      A disaster is a magnet for the curious and the press. Anyone onsite who is not a part of a solution (CFR, investigative personnel, police) is a hindrance, possibly at risk to their safety and yours. The same applies to later locations for exhibits and proceedings: hangar, warehouse, laboratory, boardroom.

      When you take charge of a site, brief security personnel who (by name, affiliation or capacity) may be admitted. Have them establish a perimeter encompassing the wreckage and ground scars. It is sometimes expedient to control an area by blocking an entrance or access road.

      Most people are deferential to uniformed personnel and will respect roadblocks and boundary tape. Offenders are likely to be underemployed military personnel and the press. Security personnel will take your lead as briefed, until exception becomes the rule. Back them up. Your personal intervention will occasionally be needed: tactfully, but firmly, dissuade visitors regardless of rank or station in life.

      Since military personnel may not exercise police authority off a federal reservation, be prepared to engage local police or sheriff's deputies for security off-base.

       If the aircraft is located on private property, cultivate the owner's cooperation. It pays to be nice to the landowner.

      Off-base, be mindful of the recovery's nuisance to these folks and their neighbors. Bring in a portable toilet. Don't litter, trample crops or bother livestock.

       If someone asks about restitution for damages, refer the requestor to the military representative (by name & phone number) handling such claims. Diplomacy works. A "not-my-job" response alienates.


       The Senior Member is the focal point for communication concerning the investigation's progress and the only conduit for external release of information, unless he approves otherwise.

       Transfer the safety reporting load from the SDO/ODO (squadron) to the AMB as soon as possible. Until you establish a boardroom which will remain manned during working hours, use the squadron safety office to receive incoming calls, passing on only those the AMB proper must handle.

       Not every inquiry merits an immediate or personal reply. It is sufficient to inform the appointing authority and the reporting custodian of your investigation's progress (unprivileged, factual information) and needs for assistance. The rest can read the amended MDRs you issue.

       Various agencies or people you contact for support will need selected information to facilitate the jobs you want them to do. For example, a backhoe operator needs to know where to take his equipment, what he's digging for and whether things might go BOOM, but not much more.

       The board might discover a hazard which poses an imminent threat to flight operations, requiring notification to the effected aircraft community well before the SIR is done. OPNAVINST 3750.6_ describes how to report such an urgent hazard with sufficient information to describe the hazard, but with mishap information removed. Otherwise, save your findings, conclusions and recommendations for the SIR.

       There might be concurrent JAGMan investigation and Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board dealing with the event from the same body of real evidence, same witnesses and technical resources. It will be necessary to communicate with those heading other boards/panels to arrange their access to real evidence. Unless criminal activity is known or suspected, the safety investigation will have precedence. But the AMB must make provision not to spoil evidence and to afford the others necessary access to crash site, wreckage, documentary evidence (logs, records, ATC tapes), and a list of AMB witnesses. This does not extend to AMB work product such as privileged statements, transcripts or tapes of interviews.


       A Senior Member is not a press spokesman.

       A PAO (usually at station, Naval district or controlling custodian) will represent the Navy or Marine Corps to the press. He can get by with a small bag of unprivileged, unvarnished facts: Who (unit, NOT individuals), What, Where, When. The PAO might approach you for this information when he cannot find it elsewhere in quick order. If you have reliable information, provide the following: aircraft model, mission, number of crew/passengers, damage and casualties. If the aircraft had no ordnance, saying so will allay concern. Make no attempt to explain Why or How; these are yet unknown, difficult to determine, and under investigation. A PAO should not ask these, nor should you offer.

       Explaining privilege (through PAO to press to public) is too hard and too easily garbled. Don't. The PAO should emphasize (1) an investigation is underway, and (2) it is a painstaking process which might take weeks to complete. If a reporter succeeds in approaching an AMB member directly, the member should refer the reporter to a PAO prepared to handle the press. Remember: Nothing is 'off the record.'

Leadership by example

       The Senior Member sets the tone for the AMB. If he applies himself diligently, the Board will follow that example. If he allows himself to be distracted by his 'real job,' board members will do the same.

        Personnel on the periphery look to the board for guidance and example. They presume you know what you're doing. If a Board member handles evidence roughly or fails to take precautions for hazards, sailors on the work detail will emulate.

        Buzz and rumor accompany a sensational event. The Board should not by its conduct add to such activity, nor spend time chasing or refuting others' speculations. Discrete treatment of witness contributions is essential: abuse discredits a Board and will dissuade other witnesses from answering candidly. Ultimately, the cooperation and trust a Board obtains depend on its conduct.

        The Board, its accompaniment and their activities are the focus of considerable interest and attention. Be on your best behavior.


        Meet in a location which is mutually convenient, but affords privacy. Convene frequently but briefly in the early going; 30 to 60 minutes per session are sufficient. Until the investigation is well advanced, most of the information you seek will be outside the boardroom; what little is known will be insufficient to support deliberation.

        Pool information so all members are oriented: have each member present information he/she has found since the last meeting and estimate time to conclude unfinished tasks. Note progress made and difficulties needing your intervention. Close off finished business and make record of findings to avoid later having to duplicate the effort. Assess which topics need further development, possibly additional personnel. Reassign tasks as necessary and adjourn to permit board members to go about their respective assignments.

        Even with a full board, you might feel manpower-limited. Delegate and work in parallel. Cover more territory simultaneously by tasking members according to their topical expertise and availability. The investigation and report go more quickly with five heads working at full capacity.


        Get the support you want. If a task requires a professional or specialty equipment, the Board need not make do with amateurs and inadequate tools. Assess the risk of injury to personnel or damage to evidence before settling for less.

        Make the system work for you. The chain of command and aviation community want you to find mishap cause and are willing to help. They can not read minds. Make your needs known to people who can deliver assistance.

        Most materials and services are available with a well-placed phone call (work details, transportation, box lunches); some might require a message or letter (full-blown salvage).

        If hurdles or administrative requirements become unduly burdensome or impede the AMB, find a responsive ear higher in the chain. The appointing authority (controlling custodian/type commander) is a default resort. The rationale begins, "You gave me the job. Here's what it takes to do it," or tactful words to that effect.

        If you know what you want but do not know a source, others might. Investigators from Naval Safety Center have probably encountered a like problem and know who can help. The controlling custodian or type commander can provide organic assets and will carry requests for others to the fleet commander or CNO as appropriate.

         Think before you obligate. Appointment to an AMB usually comes without spending authority. Even so, you can get what is needed or helpful by doing one of three things: (1) find a federal source which has it and will provide it, (2) find someone who can spend for it, or (3) find someone to do either of the former while you attend to other matters. It might be possible to obtain limited spending authority in your own right; if not, request a supply officer be detailed to arrange services and materials.

          Reasonable expenditures are justified to discover mishap cause and prevent another such loss.

          Don't take 'no' for an answer unless you are convinced 'no' is the answer. Persist long enough to determine whether denial is based on incapacity, lack of authority, or unfamiliarity with what you want. The answer might change if you direct your question to someone with greater authority, knowledge or initiative. The answer might change if you rephrase the request to make method or incremental steps evident.

          Technical assistance. Needs vary with mishap circumstances. Every mishap raises questions or issues for which a board's aggregate knowledge is not enough. Busy hands are happy hands, but happy hands can work mischief on perishable evidence. If you (collectively) do not know how to do something you are about to attempt, or how to interpret what you find when you have done it--- STOP. Get knowledgeable help. Refer to the section on technical assistance for detail and resources.

          Ask early, before evidence is disturbed, perhaps beyond reconstruction. It will take time to muster travelers to the site. Technical consultants will want to see evidence as-found, if possible. Bridle your curiosity to open or test components unless you have competent personnel on hand to do so.

          Regardless of civilian or government employment, a technician or engineer assisting a board is not a member and may not have access to privileged information. His work product will not be protected by privilege. An engineering investigation (EI) report is an authoritative source of factual information, accessible to safety, administrative or legal proceedings, and to public inquiry. Consequently an EI report must not contain information which violates privilege; the best assurance this will not happen is to avoid sharing it in the first place.

          Use technical assistants appropriately, but observe the limits of their expertise or qualification. It is inappropriate and of little use to question the airframe maker's representative on the inner workings of an engine, or vice versa.

           Food Chain. Many people who respond to a mishap investigation come from a command or corporation which designed, built, supplied, maintained, overhauled, scheduled or operated the aircraft. Consequently, they could have vested interest in the evidence and the investigation's outcome.

           Avoid the appearance of impropriety in evidence access, handling or custody. Letting the dog guard the hamburger invites second-guessing. No contractor or corporate representative should have unescorted access to the mishap exhibits. For example, a manufacturer representative on a crash site or admitted to a wreckage layout should travel in company of a board member or a technician/engineer from the cognizant field activity, competent on the system of interest.

           Technical assistants are not permitted access to privileged information. This does not mean you must stay in another hotel, travel separately or sit apart at dinner. It simply means: Be discrete. The content of the board's privileged interviews may not be shared, wholesale or piecemeal; the board's speculations on cause should not be aired beyond its membership.

Water and Oats

          Take care of your horse: you will ride the same tomorrow. Just like horses, people need water and food. And protective clothing, transportation, lodging and rest. Stinginess is demoralizing, and counterproductive.

          People want information and need guidance: tell them what to look for, what to avoid, how to conduct themselves. Invite their input. You do not have a corner on solving the mystery. You will not see everything; you might not recognize what you see. Anyone who works on an aircraft has eyes and some area of expertise which exceeds members' general knowledge. Expand the Board's grasp by inviting the working party to look for distinctive signatures or unusual damage on the wreckage while working at the site or layout.

         Quit while you're ahead. Do not work a crash site without light. Doing so increases risk of personnel injury and evidence loss. Post security and retire from the site before sunset to allow all to find their way back to familiar surroundings before dark. If daytime high temperature compels working in the zone from sunset to dawn, thoroughly assess the site and wreckage by daylight to determine who can do what by artificial light. Stage generators well clear to reduce impediment to people and machinery moving about the wreckage, and to reduce nuisance noise and fire hazard. Obtain abundant mobile lighting before commencing operations by dark; move it as needed to aid work.

Away from Home

         On base, crash/fire/rescue and medical squads respond to evacuate survivors and suppress fire. Security responds to cordon the aircraft and restrict bystanders' access. Off base, the civilian equivalents of each will arrive first (proximity) and probably have jurisdiction. Military units will roll to assist and possibly relieve. A municipal fire department will do its best with available equipment, but is unlikely to be acquainted with a military aircraft.

         Contact local police or the security force from the nearest military installation to request they stand guard pending arrival of the aircraft mishap board to take charge. Ask that they not disturb wreckage or ground scars, but locate and flag far-flung debris and photograph extensively. Request they locate eyewitnesses and make a list of names.

         A local liaison can alleviate unfamiliarity with other-service or civilian organizations whose assistance might be needed. Anticipate requirements for work details, lift, transport or storage, and request the liaison start finding sources to diminish response times when you later need them.

         Do not count on transportation...unless you have the keys in your pocket. The more inaccessible the site---the higher the likelihood of being stranded. Take food, water and clothing sufficient to RON and to endure unexpected precipitation. Have communication from the site to base or some other command post (sheriff, police, fire, ambulance). Consider external communication support (Hammer Ace) if local assets cannot meet your needs.

         There will be meetings, possibly twice daily; you might in some cases establish a command post off-site. Military installations can find and provide rooms and assign phones. If the mishap site is remote from a base, the Board and accompaniment will probably be in commercial lodging; adjacent rooms make musters and passing the word easier. Obtain a meeting room in the hotel where most are quartered. An alternative is to arrange for yourself and for the working party's supervisor rooms (suites) which will hold 6-12 for daily meetings each will want to hold. 

Contact Info: 757-444-3520 Ext: 7813 | POC:
Last Reviewed February 26, 2013