Cooperation aids safety investigations

Published on FLTLT Barrie Bardoe (author)

Lieutenant Commander Darryl Whitehead during his six month secondment to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. (photo: Unknown)
Lieutenant Commander Darryl Whitehead during his six month secondment to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

An Australian Navy member had a unique opportunity recently when he joined civilian aviation accident investigators as part of a six-month secondment to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Aviation accident investigator Lieutenant Commander Darryl Whitehead, from the Defence Aviation Safety Authority’s Directorate of Defence Aviation and Air Force Safety, is finding the experience invaluable.

Lieutenant Commander Whitehead said he was recently deployed to the field as part of a two man team dealing with a helicopter accident.

“As sad as the circumstances were, it proved to be illuminating, educational and thoroughly thought provoking,” he said.

“As an investigator, you hope not to be called into action but if and when you are, the experience and process is an absorbing, intriguing and compelling adventure into human factors.”

There has been a close relationship between Defence and the Bureau for many years, with an ongoing Memorandum of Understanding providing a framework supporting co-operation. 

Both organisations are committed to investigating accidents and analysing occurrence data with the sole aim of preventing recurrence.

Initially, it was an exchange of safety data, which developed into sharing of training methods and techniques and the use of each other’s reports to develop recommendations following accidents and incidents.

More recently each have tried to ensure investigators from the sister organisation attend certain accidents to maintain knowledge of the latest techniques and that methodologies were aligned.

“One of the tenets is to encourage mutual assistance and the sharing of expertise, training opportunities, experience and equipment in safety investigations,” Lieutenant Commander Whitehead said.  

“Because of the scales of economies between the organisations, this loan of a serving Navy officer into the Bureau framework has facilitated an accelerated learning and experiential process to the incumbent, benefitting both the member and ultimately Defence.”

Lieutenant Commander Whitehead said his time with the Bureau is serving to highlight the shared goal of keeping aviation as safe as reasonably practicable.

“There are numerous subtle differences between the between the two agencies but they are united in the common goal to improve transport safety,” he said.

“In a perfect world and with a frank-and-fearless exchange of ideas and protocols, there is much that could benefit both sides of the fence - a conversation that will hopefully happen in the future. 

“As a military member with 38 years of military aviation service, I have access to a considerably deep well of knowledge, experiences, techniques and processes from my colleagues within Defence, which has helped me immeasurably during my loan to the Bureau. 

“Underneath the different uniforms, we are essentially all cut from the same cloth.”

Bureau Chief Commissioner Greg Hood said a close co-operative arrangement between the bureau and the Department of Defence allowed Lieutenant Commander Whitehead to be seconded to his agency as a Transport Safety Investigator.

“It has been a great learning opportunity for all of us having Lieutenant Commander Whitehead join our team on secondment,” Mr Hood said.

“Darryl deployed as part of an investigation team to a fatal helicopter accident in August and he is now the investigator-in-charge of the investigation until he leaves us in December. He is making an invaluable contribution to transport safety.”