Furloughs affect UF crash investigation

FAA, NTSB will not be investigating plane crash because workers are furloughed

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The government shutdown is affecting the investigation of a plane crash Saturday on the University of Florida campus.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will not be investigating it because thousands of workers are furloughed.

LISTEN: 911 calls of plane crash

This has some people concerned about how this will affect airlines and the safety of flying.

The aviation unit of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office is investigating the crash. Nearly all of the FAA's 12,000 certified staff and inspectors were told to take the forced unpaid time off, a move that came as a surprise to many.

"They basically told us to go home and we will call you when we need you back," said FAA inspector Stephen Ferrara.

That's what Ferrara was told the morning of the shutdown -- that his job was furloughed until further notice. He is part of the FAA, one of the primary groups in charge of inspecting plane crashes.

Because of the furloughs, plane crashes like the one that happened at UF in Gainesville won't be investigated by the FAA or NTSB. Instead, it will be investigated by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office. Witnesses said the Sheriff's Office did handle the crash well on Saturday.

"They came here very, very quickly, and I was very happy that both the Alachua County (Sheriff's Office) and the University (Police Department) had both managed to contain the scene, get the people out. It was very good service," one witness said.

More than 15,000 FAA employees have been furloughed, a third of its workforce. That includes nearly 3,000 air safety inspectors who are not reporting to work and not getting paid for now.

Some industry analysts say a short-term shutdown could just be an annoyance, but longer term it could become increasingly difficult.

"If they're out for three weeks, they may be six weeks away from performing those safety surveillance tasks, and that has to concern all of us at least a little," said former FAA attorney Loretta Alkalay.

The FAA released a statement that said safety is its top priority, and if the furlough extends longer than a few days, it will incrementally begin to recall specific employees back.

As for the UF crash, two people inside the plane are expected to be fine. They were flying a banner plane for the UF-Arkansas game. The the Cessna 172 is from Jacksonville and was registered to Beach Banners at Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport.

No one on the ground was injured, and the pilot, Graham Hill, is being credited with making a remarkable landing in which no one died.

Initial reports point to a complete engine failure, leaving Hill with just seconds to put his aircraft on the ground.

"He would have hit on the wheels. The nose gear of that plane is the weakest, so it likely snapped off, putting the airplane on its nose, and then it bounced onto the top of the pickup truck," aviation attorney Edward Booth said.

Booth said the engine could have died for a number of reasons, including a malfunction of engine components, the plane running out of gas or pilot error.

The NTSB has recorded two fatal crashes involving the Beach Banners company in the last 15 years.

In 1997, a pilot and co-pilot lost their lives during a training flight at Craig Air Field, and in 2011, another pilot lost control of the plane, pulling a banner while taking off.

"Towing a banner produces tremendous stress," Booth said. "It pulls slowly. The engine temperatures, which affects its lifespan; banner towing has extreme hazards."

"This pilot obviously did a good job maintaining good speed," Booth said. "A lot of skill was demonstrated here."

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office say its chief pilot with the joint aviation unit has completed his investigation and released the plane to a salvage yard. Deputies took pictures and measurements and are preserving parts of the plane, which they'll pass on to the NTSB when the government shutdown comes to an end.