Witness Interviewing in Aircraft Accident Investigation


Witness interviewing is important in the investigation of an aircraft incident or accident, however the degree of importance of the witness varies depending on the accident. For example witnesses are vital in an instance where there no survivors, no recorded information and no recoverable wreckage, thus in this instance the witness is vital in determining what may have occurred. The other instance where a witness is not vital to the investigation is when the investigator already has facts of what may have lead to the accident and only requires the witness just to collaborate what the facts already state. What aircraft investigators have to realize when interviewing eye witnesses to an accident is that its exactly that,'an interview', its not an interrogation. When the investigator is interviewing the witness he / she is only trying to establish facts and is not interviewing so as to incriminate anyone2.

Planning The Interview2

  • Set priorities of who to interview first.
  • Select a location to conduct the interviews.
  • Obtain contacts from the witnesses.
  • Be well prepared for the interview. What will you ask, will you use a video or tape recorder and so forth.

Conducting The Interview2

  • Ensure that your witnesses are comfortable, also mention any rights that they may have, as well as the purpose of the interview.
  • Qualify the witness.
  • Encourage the witness to tell a story of the events that they saw.
  • Repeat the story of the witness yourself to them, so as to ensure that you have the correct information.
  • Ask any remaining questions you may have and thank them.

Techniques To Implement During Interviewing1

1.Encourage responses.

2.Unstructured free recall.


4.Leading Questions.

5.Open-ended Questions.

6.Closed Questions.

Factors to consider when interviewing the witness1

1.Timeliness of the interview.




5.Emotional state of the witness.

Factors Affecting Witness Reporting2

They are several factors that affect the witness reporting such as;

  • Perception of the witness.
  • Emotion/excitement.
  • Agreement with other witnesses.
  • Interpretation of the ambiguous.
  • Witness background in Aviation / IQ.


The investigator should acknowledge all the factors that affect the quality and quantity of information he/she receives from the witness and accommodate for this. Despite being well prepared its also important to establish a rapport with the witness when conducting the interview and to ensure that he/she is comfortable and relaxed as this will provide a conducive environment to attain the information and with the aid of open-ended questions, as well as encouraged responses, greater quality and quantity of information can be attained.

1. Klaus-Martin., Goeters (1998). Aviation psychology : a science and a profession. Published Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt., USA : Ashgate.
2. Lewis P,& Burrell,C (2009). Aircraft Accident Investigation: Introduction to Aircraft Accident Investigation. Retrieved 30 September.2010, from, http://www.docstoc.com/docs/3840481/Aircraft-Accident-Investigation-Introduction-to-Aircraft-Accident-Investigation-Procedures-Editor

Contributors to this page

Melanie AttanMelanie Attan

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