ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL DAY. And it's a holiday -- that's the good news. The bad news is that since we played all weekend we have a lot of chores to do today.
The biggest job is to repaint our bedroom walls and ceiling. I'll prepare the walls, spackle, sand and wash. And my wife Willie will paint.
It's soon 6 p.m. and we're listening to a Smithsonian lecture. After working all day, it feels good just to sit down.
Then, it's on to a small party with some people Willie works with. Most of the people are artists and there are a lot of references to the rumored 50 percent Reagan budget cuts to the arts and humanities.
The beeper strapped to my belt brings questions about what I do. I explain that the National Transportation Safety Board investigates major transportation accidents. Once every five weeks, I'm on call around the clock. If a major transportation accident occurs, I accompany my boss to the accident site. Tuesday
A rather typical day at work. As an assistant to board member Patricia Goldman, My job is to help her do her job.
Tommorrow, the board is scheduled to testify before the House Appropriations hearing on its 1982 budget request. Normally the chairman would testify for the board and our involvement would be limited to reviewing proposed testimony.
In this case, however, the committee wants Pat to appear to explain her "dissent" on a recent board report, which was based primarily on her belief that the problems could likely be solved without a host of new regulations. I agreed. The majority disagreed.
After work, it's back to the bedroom paint job. By now, the project has extended to adjusting the window shutters, which have never closed right.
About 9 p.m., the phone rings. There's been an incident in California. An Air California B-737 has slid off the end of the runway at Sant Ana. Luckily, there are only a few injuries. Investigators from our field office in Los Angeles have already been dispatched. A partial team from Washington will leave tomorrow morning. A serious incident, but considering the circumstances probably not one which Pat and I will go to. Wednesday
The House Appropriations hearings start slowly. Two events liven up the morning. First, the chairman demonstrates the differences between two types of foam rubber by lighting two small pieces over an ash tray. The polyurethane, which is used in a variety of vehicles from aircraft to subway cars, burns quickly. The other, polymide, which is not yet in commerical use, only chars.
Then, committee members raise the question of Pat's dissent. Since Pat is the only Republican at the board, the issue takes on increased importance.
After the committee recesses, I have a doctor's appointment to check out an earache. After a rather uncomfortable examination and probing of my ear, nose and throat, the doctor finally concludes it's the aftermath of an inner-ear infection and sends me on my way with the classic, "Come back in two weeks if the problem persists."
By now it's too late to go back to work, so I meet Willie. She's on her way to a community center. She's in the middle of a six-month stint with Arlington County to coordinate a folk festival the first weekend in May.
Tonight, the association is holding a "Mexican night." I urge Willie to try to get finished early so we can get home in time to see President Reagan's state of the economy address.
Suddenly my beeper sounds summoning me to the nearest phone. A local commuter bus has crashed near Quantico. At least 10 people are dead. I-95 south is closed.
After several phone calls, a decision is made. A full team will be dispatched. Pat and I will be going to the sceen tomorrow morning. Nothing more can be acomplished tonight. Thursday
A command post has been set up in the Ramada Inn in Triangle. At 9:30 a.m. the investigator in charge, Tom Calderwood, organizes the team into three groups.
A vehicles factors group will examine the bus and look for possible mechanical failure that could have caused the crash. Human factors will document the accident scene, try to determine the crash dynamics and evaluate the performance of the guardrails.
The human factors group also will interview survivors and witnesses and work with the local medical examiners to determine the causes of death. The safety board will coordinate the investigation. People from the Virginia DOT, the State Police, the Fenderal Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety and General Motors will participate.
Pat's role is to handle the press and be the official spokesperson for the investigation. My job is to back her up.
The morning passes in a blur of phone calls, interviews and meetings. The highlight is a 10-minute on-camera interview of Pat from Channel 7.
Pat and I go to see the bus, which by now is virtually demolished. It's not hard to imagine why 10 people died.
At the scene, the highway group is busy at work. It appears that the bus ran off the road, struck a guardrail, then struck the end of a concrete bridge and vaulted some 60-80 feett into a creek. A tape measure shows that the vertical drop from the bridge to the creekbed is 25 feet. Pat notices a piece of rectangular metal near the guardrail, which turns out to be the vehicle identification plate. The serial number will be a big help to the vehicle factors group.
Before I realized it, it is 5 p.m. and time to reassemble to compare notes. Unfortunately there isn't much to report; the scene has been pretty well documented. We've found that the fatalities were caused by traumatic injuries, not drowning. Inspection of the bus, a 1959 model, has been hampered by logistical delays in moving into a hanger at the Quantico Marine Base.
The meeting ends just in time to catch the evening news coverage of the investigation. We've done a good job. All of the stations show NTSB in charge of the investigation.
Pat and I will be in our office downtown today since we aren't needed at the command post. The halls are buzzing with news of the bus accident.
My first order of business is to clear the record from yesterday's board meeting. Although the board has acted on most of the cases, the record was open for Pat to participate. Based on a discussion with Pat on the way back home last night, I report that since Pat didn't participate in the discussion she would not vote on the cases.
There's one exception. A procedureal vote was taken yesterday on whether the Airline Piolets Association should be allowed to give an oral presentation to the board on the May 8, 1978, crash of a B-727 near Pensacola. The chairman and vice chairman voted to deny the request, one member voted for it and one abstained. Pat has decided the request should be granted. Ironically, the vote will become 2-2.
By 9 a.m., the phone lines are continuously busy. The press and public are becoming increasingly anxious. "what caused the accident?" "Don't you know yet?" Unfortunately, most of the press never understand that it will be two or three months before all the facts have gathered, those facts analyzed, reanalyzed and the cause of the accident determined.
Today we're lucky -- two big developments to report. An autopsy has ruled out that the bus driver ahd a heart attack; the bus examination reveals some failed steering components. Both of course are inconclusive to us, but newsworthy nonetheless.
The unfortunate reality in transportation is that all too often safety advances occur only after a tragic accident. And public and political pressure for those changes are fueled by the media. Last week no one was interested in bus safety. This week they can't get enough. Saturday
The beautiful springlike weahter has been replaced by a damp, dreary day. And the excitment of the bus crash investigation has been replaced by the drudgery of finishing our bedroom. The painting project has dragged on all week.
The routine is broken up by a few phone calls. Tom Calderwood briefs me on the latest developments. There is a witness who recalls the driver "struggling with the steering wheel." This may eventually become significant.
Pat calls to let me know that a local station filmed an interview on bus safety and seat belts. She felt it went pretty well and reminded me to watch the 11 p.m. news.
With the painting behind us, our attention focuses on the next crisis. We're invited to a Sunday brunch for two friends recently married and we're supposed to put on a skit to entertain them. The script is polished and refined as we go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. Sunday
After the usual Sunday ritual with the paper, we assemble props for our skit, rehearse our lines and rearrange all the bedroom furniture.
The brunch is fun. There's a lot of talk about the bus accident. Everyone knows I'm involved. Most everyone has seen at least one of Pat's interviews.
There's a lot of talk also about budget cuts, since the guests of honor work at EPA, one place hard hit. Almost everyone seems to know somebody who might lose his job.
By the luck of the draw our performance is last. When our time arrives, we're billed as "the Grand Finale." I portray both myself and the recent groom. Willie plays the bride, who is jogging through life.
We're the first to leave because we're going to the movies. The Smithsonian is running a Clark Gable festival entitled "Gable the King." This afternoon we see "It Happened One Night" for about the sixth time and "Manhattan Melodrama." Time quickly slips by and I'm lost in the films. The thoughts of paint and the bus crash far away, at least for now.