Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were to leave Valdez today and return to Washington, where they'll begin preparing for a public hearing, scheduled for May 16 19 in Anchorage, an investigator said. The hearing will include testimony from witnesses and presentations by the NTSB, Coast Guard and others.
William Woody, the head of the four member NTSB marine accident team sent to Valdez, refused to answer any questions about events leading to the shipwreck. Customarily, NTSB investigators disclose facts about an accident soon after they are learned, but Woody said Thursday that he'd been instructed to refer all questions to a safety board spokeswoman in Washington. The spokeswoman, Drucella Anderson, said she couldn't comment on the investigation.
"We usually brief the press on a daily basis on what's factual, but there's really been nothing new," she said. "(Woody) has been going through logs and personnel records and that sort of thing."
Woody said the group has interviewed several crew members from the tanker, although he said the captain, Joseph Hazelwood, and third mate Gregory Cousins have refused to answer questions on the advice of their lawyers. Both the NTSB and the Coast Guard, which serves subpoenaes for the board, refused to say who else has been asked to testify.
The purpose of the NTSB probe is to show what caused the accident, and the agency often recommends changes to avoid future catastrophes. Aside from the cause, the board is also reviewing Coast Guard actions before and after the accident and the response to the grounding by Exxon and Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Anderson has said.
The shipwreck is also the focus of separate state and federal criminal investigations. The FBI has said agents are investigating whether federal laws were broken, and a battery of state troopers and lawyers have been in Valdez since last week.
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