The Law Library of Congress has digitized a collection of National Transportation Safety Board decisions, orders, and petitions. The years of the decisions span from 1973-1982, with the majority falling between 1977 and 1981. Other decisions can be found on the N.T.S.B.’s Document Management System.
The National Transportation Safety Board (N.T.S.B.) conducts independent accident investigations and decides pilots’ and mariners’ certification appeals. Once a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (D.O.T.), Congress separated N.T.S.B. to ensure objectivity and independence from D.O.T. regulations and operations.
The collection is organized by docket number, an alphanumeric designation; the first two letters indicate the document type and then the dockets are arranged numerically within the type. The first group of documents with the docket numbers beginning with EA are procedural, mostly name substitutions. The second group, with the docket numbers beginning with ME contains opinions and orders on appeals to a decision of the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. The third group with dockets beginning with an R are from the National Mediation Board in 1978.
The majority of the documents begin with docket number SE and include orders and decisions of the Federal Aviation Administration. A section of petitions begins with docket number SM and comprise the second largest group. At the end are two documents that do not have docket numbers visible.
The years included in this collection cover a particularly interesting time in air travel. By the end of the 1950s and with the invention of the jet engine, air travel had become commonplace and by the end of the 1960s, it was considered a “necessity” by most travelers due to the price and convenience. African Americans were restricted from flying or working aboard an airplane until the mid-1960s. Women started to enter U.S. major commercial aviation and U.S. Armed Forces as pilots in the mid-1970s.
These are some of my truly favorite decisions and orders:
A Wild Ride (SE-3446)
- A flight student steals a plane, repeatedly flies at low altitudes along beaches, attempt to ram a police helicopter in midair, and shoots at a police helicopter with a shotgun before eventually surrendering.
Déjà vu (SE-3458)
- A pilot flew very low and threw out a roll of toilet paper over a restaurant that he been removed from a few days earlier. Days later, he flew very low over Baltimore Memorial Stadium and then crashed into it.
Lunch without Dessert is Just Rude! (SE-3478)
- A helicopter landed next to a parking lot of a Village Inn, stirring up dirt and sand onto a mother and child. The rude passenger in the helicopter paid for their lunches, but did not pay for their dessert.
A Marshmallow Incident (SE-4012)
- A pilot tasked with dropping marshmallows on San Diego State University fraternities and sororities for a fundraising event, panics when he sees an oil pressure problem during flight. He attempts to land in an athletic field too small for aircraft landings and subsequently crashes into a tree.
Mystery and Intrigue (SE-4365)
- A woman was accused of flying too low over the city despite evidence pointing to a company president being the pilot. The judge rules in her favor, and she ends up dying in an accident shortly afterwards.
I’ve Seen Too Much! (SE-4404)
- A helicopter flies too low over Rawhide Ranch Nudist Resort (currently known as Laguna del Sol). The opinion characterized the witnesses as “sitting outside… enjoying the pleasures of being a nudist” when they observed the helicopter.
Hot Air Balloon Backyard (SE-5326)
- A man flying a hot air balloon picked up car dealership executives in town, flying low and landing in very tight residential areas without prior permission.
A ‘Psychotic’ Mixture (SM-2492)
- A woman suffered a “toxic psychotic reaction” to a mixture of apples, nutmeg, and her medication. She was then denied an Airman Medical Certificate due to “psychosis” with very little evidence.
Finally, a big thank you to the interns who worked on this collection for us and compiled this list of intriguing cases! Please know that without your help, the digitization of this collection would not have been possible!