There is a paucity of studies on the reliability of eyewitness reports to aviation crashes. We examine witness statements to a widely observed major airline accident to determine if reported accident investigator distrust of details in eyewitness reports is supported by empirical evidence. The extensive archival witness record (N > 300) of a wide-body airliner crash in clear daylight conditions is subjected to statistical analysis to test eyewitness reliability. Even with over 200 witnesses within a three square kilometre (1.6 square mile) area answering a binary observation question, the variance is sometimes high enough to preclude forming statistically significant conclusions about a basic large-scale event. There is no statistical difference between the distributions of witnesses that reported diametrically opposed observations; and no discernible geographic pattern, preferred orientation or optimum viewing distance. These results support the current reported practice of placing low value to eyewitness accounts of aircraft crashes.
Scholarly Commons Citation
English, D., & Kuzel, M. (2014). Reliability of Eyewitness Reports to a Major Aviation Accident. International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace, 1(4). http://dx.doi.org/10.15394/ijaaa.2014.1040