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Sunday, November 9, 2003


The Halifax Herald Limited

Overtime bill hit $7.4 million as resources found wanting

By Dean Beeby / The Canadian Press

Ottawa - The massive investigation into the 1998 crash of Swissair flight 111 suffered from a chronic shortage of people and technology, says a newly released document.

"Human resources available and assigned to the (Swissair) team were

inadequate to sustain a prolonged complex investigation, which resulted in an insufficient number of qualified personnel available for certain tasks," says a July 4 report from the Transportation Safety Board.

There was an "excessive workload for those assigned to the team, and an inordinate amount of overtime over a very long period."

The scathing report, obtained under the Access to Information Act, raises basic questions about training, noting that "some investigation team members were not sufficiently knowledgeable about international investigation standards, protocols and procedures."

The final report into the Sept. 2, 1998, crash, which killed all 229 people aboard, took more than 4 years to produce - and the so-called lessons-learned analysis

 suggests a lack of resources was a significant factor in the delay.

Administrative support to the $56.8-million probe was inadequate, the level of technical help required for the investigation was underestimated, and consulting contracts for outside assistance were beset by delays and difficulties.

The overtime bills alone speak to how the investigation team, led by veteran Vic Gerden, was badly overworked. The total paid to date is $7.4 million, much of it occurring in the first year.

Even the writing of the final report, which was delivered March 27, suffered delays because the editorial staff hired to produce it were unfamiliar with the technical aspects of a crash investigation.

"The technical accuracy of the report . . . was at times inadvertently changed during the editing, thereby requiring that TSB investigators invariably reverify, re-edit and redraft text."

Twice in the last three years, the board has come under criticism in transportation industry surveys for the excessively long time it takes to report on major accidents. As of August, 74 of 154 active investigations were more than a year old, even though the agency aims to complete the majority of its probes within a year.

The lessons-learned report, which was produced by the board's air branch, is only the first of many arising out of the Swissair investigation, the most expensive and complex since the TSB was founded in 1990.

The board's executive director, David Kinsman, has ordered an agency-wide post-mortem on the Swissair experience, to be completed by next March 31.

"Swissair, because of the size of it, has a lot of impacts that go across all the boundaries within the organization," Kinsman said in an interview.

He acknowledged that the investigation stretched the agency to its limits, forcing it to "come up with a couple of hybrid solutions for Swissair . . . it wasn't an easy process."

Kinsman declined to comment on whether the lack of resources delayed production of the final report.

"I personally haven't reached any conclusions in that regard," he said.

The agency was forced to go to Treasury Board for $60 million in extra funding to cover the cost of the Swissair investigation, which involved months of retrieving shattered debris from the ocean floor off Peggy's Cove and the reconstruction of parts of the airframe in a Halifax hangar.

Kinsman said Treasury Board provided all the money that was requested.

One change already arising out of the Swissair experience is the development of a new computer system that will better manage technical information in an accident probe, he added.


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