NTSB chair Hersman steps down
WASHINGTON — Deborah Hersman, who headed the National Transportation Safety Board during high-profile investigations into plane crashes and other transit mishaps, said on Tuesday she will leave the agency in April.
Hersman's surprise departure comes as the NTSB is gearing up help with the investigation into the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared on Saturday about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew.
The agency dispatched a team of investigators to Malaysia this week, and is likely to be among the investigators analyzing the aircraft's black box, if the flight recorder is located.
The NTSB was the lead agency in two of last year's biggest aviation incidents, investigating the battery fire problems that grounded Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner aircraft for several weeks in early 2013, and the crash of an Asiana Airlines jet at San Francisco International Airport in July.
Hersman will become president and CEO of the National Safety Council, a safety advocacy group based in Itasca, Ill., the group said in a statement.
Hersman was named a board member of the NTSB in 2004 by President George W. Bush and was appointed chairwoman in 2009 by President Obama.
“I always trusted that Debbie would put the full weight of the NTSB behind any investigation, and she would be tireless in working to uncover the facts,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, where Hersman was raised.
Hersman made distracted driving one of her signature issues.
The NTSB raised the ire of automakers in 2011 by calling for a ban on the non-emergency use of portable electronic devices for all drivers. “Distraction, whether it's hands-free or handheld, whether it's texting or talking, is deadly,” Hersman wrote at the time.
Christopher Hart, NTSB's vice chairman, will take over as acting chairman when Hersman leaves on April 25.
Hart, a licensed pilot, has a long career in transportation safety that included a stint as deputy director for air traffic safety oversight at the Federal Aviation Administration.