Suppose you or I had taken off on a solo flight, and within minutes, had to execute an emergency landing that resulted in serious injuries and a banged-up airplane. There was no harm to anyone on the ground, and no buildings or vehicles were hit. When the NTSB finished its investigation, the narrative probably would be about a half-page long and the materials gathered during the investigation likely would consist of little more than the required NTSB Form 6120.1 “Pilot Operator Aircraft Accident/Incident Report,” maybe a local police report and perhaps some notes from an FAA inspector who visited the accident site.
Contrary to what many people think, the NTSB isn’t top-heavy with people just waiting to rush to the scene of every accident. The Safety Board usually conducts a “Limited Investigation,” where only an FAA inspector goes to the scene. Lower on the totem pole is a “Data Collection Investigation,” where no one goes to the scene and there are no significant investigative efforts. In its Fiscal Year 2017 budget request, the Safety Board tries to convince the controllers of the government’s purse strings not to cut its aviation safety investigation staff of only 129 full-time-equivalent employees. It reports that of the 1,301 total aviation accidents during the Fiscal Year through September 2015, only 209 were full-fledged field investigations. The rest were either “limited” or “data collection” investigations. Now you know one reason why so many accident reports are short.