In the initial stages of this investigation the Investigator-in-Charge (“IIC”), who was New Zealand’s Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, Mr R Chippindale, properly convened a team of appropriately qualified persons under the supervision of an Inspector of Air Accidents from his office, to sit on a CVR "Group”. This was one of a number of panels that was formed to examine specific areas of the accident. It was the job of this group to build the CVR transcript.
As well as the Inspector, the team members consisted of the airline’s Fleet Manager DC10, Captain Barney Wyatt, the Chief Flight Engineer DC10, Don Olliff, and a representative from the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association, DC10 Captain Arthur Cooper. These three were employed by the airline and well acquainted with the accident flight crew. To carry out the transcription this team took the working copy of the CVR tape to the American National Transportation Safety Board audio laboratory in Washington DC. Prior to commencing their task they received specialised training in the audio transcription protocols from NTSB flight recorder specialists and FBI audio technicians.
After some five days, during which their mentors carefully monitored progress, they produced a single hand-written transcript 3. Cooper recalls the Americans were impressed with the patience and professionalism shown by the New Zealanders. The supervising Inspector then briefed the others on what their tasks would be upon their return to New Zealand; the creation of a single typewritten version, certification of this copy as a true and complete rendering of the hand written original, reproduction and distribution of the certified copy to the investigation participants, and the provision of expert on-going advice, analysis, interpretation, and editing.
Their transcript was to be represented as the definitive article that would form an integral part of the investigation.
The CVR team returned to New Zealand with the plaudits of the Americans still ringing in their ears for a job well done. It would be fair to say that they expected their work to be accepted as it stood.
On the team’s return, the CVR Group reported back to the IIC on the work done and result achieved, fully anticipating to continue supervision of the single handwritten transcript and its workup into certified typewritten form. But sometime thereafter, in the first of what would turn out to be a series of departures from normal practice, the IIC took complete and sole control of the transcript and audiotape. The CVR Group did not realise this for some time.
The IIC subsequently took the audiotape and transcript to his home, and in another departure from internationally accepted practice (that to an investigator can only be described as inexplicable), conducted a private CVR meeting at which it appears only one other person was invited - the airline’s management representative, Ian Gemmell (Macfarlane 1991, 308). What transpired at this meeting, which under oath both the IIC and Gemmell confirmed took place 4, is not known.
There were no valid reasons to hold the meeting. The IIC had a group of specialists already convened to answer any questions he, or the other members of the investigation as a whole, had pertaining to the CVR. Any issues the IIC had with the Group’s work should have been referred back to them, not to Gemmell.
In any event, while Gemmell possibly could have brought to the IIC some additional knowledge about CVR, as an airline representative he was biased toward a “pilot error” position. It is impossible to say whether Gemmell used his presence to influence what the IIC was hearing on the tape, but the opportunity for this to have happened at that point in time was significant. Such a possibility should have been prevented by the IIC to avoid an appearance of personal bias and improper conduct.
Sometime after this meeting, the IIC took the tape to an alternative audio laboratory at Farnborough, England (Mahon 1981, 37). He did not follow established safe-guards and protocols in doing so, listening to the tape only in the company of Farnborough officials. None of those officials held DC10 qualifications, were personally acquainted with the crew or were familiar with the airline’s DC10 operation.
Throughout this time the original CVR Group believed that the normal process, as briefed by their supervisor, was under way and that in time the typewritten transcript of their work in Washington would be ready for their careful checking and certification before it would be utilised. They were not aware that their involvement in the investigation had in fact ceased. Cooper, and most likely the other members of the CVR Group, were in fact kept in the dark until the publication of the final report.
Cooper was astounded to note a typewritten transcript at Annex 'C' of the final report that he had never seen, let alone certified. Cooper reviewed the CVR Group’s transcript 5 and compared it to the published version. He became concerned that it appeared to contain additions, deletions, and editorial work that was clearly not from the CVR Group. Eventually it would be determined that there were 55 differences between the original work and this alternative transcript.
Clearly then, the IIC had had cause to interrupt the planned transcription process.
Firstly, he must have thought the CVR Group’s result was wrong, incomplete, or needing his assistance in some way. What assistance he could have given to his CVR specialists is not clear. He must have had knowledge that was not known to, or acted on by, the CVR Group. For example, he may have had information that indicated a better result could have been obtained at Farnborough, as opposed to Washington. This might be understandable if he had a concern about the number of passages deemed unintelligible by the CVR Group in Washington. He is not on any record as having expressed this concern.
In any event, he should have informed the Group of any issues he may have had and sent them to Farnborough to re-evaluate. He did not do so. He travelled to Farnborough himself, did not involve any of his CVR specialists, and produced an alternative transcript that, in places, bore no resemblance to the CVR Group’s work. Some of the differences were highly contentious, and these are examined in the next section (labelled Changes Made By The Investigator In Charge).
The IIC had substituted the original transcript constructed by the CVR Group, with all of its checks and balances, with his (and possibly Gemmell’s) own. At best, this was an extraordinarily non-standard performance. At worst it was a highly improper and prejudicial act. Either way it should not have been allowed to happen. That it did speaks volumes for the weakness of the process, and the lack of any management oversight of the Office of Air Accidents Investigation at that time.
The CVR Group supervisor’s opinion of what transpired is not recorded. On 31 May 1980, the IIC’s report was published, and shortly thereafter released to the public.
The changes Mr Chippindale made suggested that he had predetermined the cause of the accident and manipulated the CVR evidence to support his theory that pilot error caused the accident. This is evidenced by the fact that Mr Chippindale expressed an expectation of a verdict of pilot culpability to the families as early as 14 December 1979, a mere two weeks after the accident.
Justice Mahon, in his report for the Royal Commission of Inquiry, discounted the validity of Mr Chippindale’s CVR edits, however he stated that: “I am satisfied that there was no deliberate editing of the transcript so as to conform with the Chief Inspector’s opinion…. [But] the Chief Inspector had a natural inclination to ascribe to remarks of doubtful meaning an interpretation which favoured his own theory because, believing as he did in the validity of that theory, he also believed that members of the flight crew must from time to time have expressed apprehensions.” (Paragraph 121)