The federal shutdown has forced investigators to suspend or delay probes of 14 major transportation accidents, including an airliner crash in San Francisco and a high-profile battery fire in an electric Tesla car, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.
In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said that 383 of 410 transportation board employees have been furloughed under the shutdown, which has largely paralyzed the federal government. As a result, the NTSB does not have enough investigators left to initiate new probes into the most recent accidents, which will delay critical findings on their causes and delay issuance of safety recommendations, she said.
"If we don't go, we don't know," she told the Senate panel, according to a reporter for The Seattle Times, via Twitter.
The highest-profile accident currently under NTSB's authority is Asiana Flight 214, which crashed on approach in San Francisco in July, killing three passengers and injuring dozens more. An investigative hearing originally scheduled for early November has been delayed.
All investigative work has stopped on several other probes as well, including a train derailment in Maryland, a bridge collapse in Washington and a private jet crash in California, the NTSB chairwoman said.
Investigators were also forced to put off new matters, including the planned deployment of a crash team to investigate a battery fire in an electric Tesla Model S, in Kent, Wash. The NTSB said that investigating the fire would have complemented a previous investigation of a Chevrolet Volt battery-related fire, and provided new information regarding the technology, according to paper distributed by Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee.
The Tesla fire spooked investors in the car company, causing its stock price to plunge after the Oct. 1 accident.
The NTSB has also put off investigating a fatal crash on Washington D.C.'s Metro train, according to the agency.
Other accident investigations have also stalled out for lack of federal funding. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has halted 15 probes, including one seeking to determine new safety standards for the storage of ammonium nitrate, which is believed to have triggered an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant earlier this year.
Calls to the NTSB were not returned. A recording said that public relations staff were furloughed.