After a competitive search involving more than 150 candidates, the National Transportation Safety Board -- the federal agency tasked with investigating major accidents in the U.S. -- has hired two new investigators for the Alaska Aviation Safety Office. Shaun Williams and Millicent Hoidal have diverse aviation experience and bring the Alaska staffing back to full-strength for the first time in almost three years.
Williams was formerly with the Federal Aviation Administration in Alaska, where he was responsible for the initial certification of commuter carriers, which includes charter and air taxi operators. Prior to that, he was a captain for Air Wisconsin where he gained many hours operating in cold weather environments. Williams graduated from the University of North Dakota and is an airline-transport certified pilot. He also holds a flight instructor certificate.
The move from the FAA to NTSB will allow Williams to explore different facets of the aviation environment and, as he said in a recent interview, "get more into the why and how" of aviation accidents. He's keen to promote safety in different ways to Alaska pilots.
"As an example," he said, "during hunting season Alaska often suffers a number of accidents. We would like to get information out to pilots on the common causes of those crashes and how to mitigate them."
Hoidal has been with the NTSB since working as an intern in Washington, D.C. and the Southwest office in Texas. Most recently she worked as a duty officer with the agency's Response Operations Center. She has degrees from Louisiana Tech University and Texas State University and is working toward a graduate degree in commercial aviation. Hoidal also is a certified commercial pilot and flight instructor. She is the first female aircraft accident investigator assigned to Alaska.
Even as a newcomer to the Anchorage area, Hoidal is keenly aware of the state's unique relationship with aviation.
"Aviation permeates every level of the community and people's lives," she said. "Everyone has airplanes here and the wide range of environments they fly in are so different, from the Interior to Southeast and everywhere else. There is a great adventure opportunity to work in this office and so much to learn; the aviation community is much different from the rest of the country and presents a chance to learn both from the other investigators here and the places I will go on the job," she said.
According to Alaska Region Chief Clint Johnson, there were many "wonderful candidates" for the Alaska openings.
"As chief, adding Shaun and Millicent to our office brings a wealth of valuable operational experience, and I feel very blessed with the team we've assembled," he said. "The NTSB's trademark is to carry out and deliver thorough, in-depth accident investigations, and the addition of these new investigators to the Alaska office will help us to deliver on that pledge. Simply put, I feel we owe it to the flying public here in Alaska."
Both Williams and Hoidal will continue NTSB accident investigation training for the next year. They will also have to attend the NTSB's training academy in Washington, D.C., and are now working alongside Alaska's two "journeymen" investigators, Chris Shaver and Brice Banning, as well as other investigators assigned to the Western Pacific region.
Alaska's NTSB investigators handle an average of 100 aviation accidents a year and also travel to assist on investigations Outside when needed.
Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com.