A small plane crashed this morning in Austin, Texas, sending a pillar of black smoke into the air. At least two people are reported injured, as the plane crashed into a government building that housed the IRS. This crash comes at the heels of a similar crash yesterday, in a residential California neighborhood.
While yesterday's crash, in East Palo Alto, seemed purely an accident, today's crash is suspected as deliberate.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates all airline crashes in the United States. An independent investigatory body, it is not a part of the Department of Transportation and not affiliated with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Initially, both the Palo Alto crash and the Austin crash will be investigated by the NTSB. If, however, criminal activity is suspected, the investigation will be handed off to other government agencies.
This might be the case for the fateful Austin crash. Initial news reports and eye-witness accounts show that the crash might have been intentional, caused by a man who was angry at the Internal Revenue Service.
The real role of the NTSB is not to issue judgments, regulations or even enforce any laws. The NTSB is just an investigatory organization, which conducts independent investigations for safety assessment. Subsequent to its findings, the NTSB issues safety recommendations and addresses safety deficiencies. At times, the NTSB might even hold public hearings, to gather sworn testimony from subpoenaed witnesses or simply to allow the public to participate in the progress of the investigation.
In fact, its investigations are so purely independent that the factual findings as well as any determinations of probable cause are not admissible as evidence in a court of law.
The Palo-Alto plane crash might be ruled an accident but we'll probably be hearing more about the Austin plane crash as time goes on and details crystallize.