command or local investigation, assure witnesses that
you will not use the information against them, but let
them know the report is releasable under the Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA).
In a command or local investigation, information
and evidence are not privileged. That is because junior
supervisors may lack the ability to properly protect that
information from release or misuse. Information
becomes privileged only when gathered through an
afloat or aviation mishap investigation board. To avoid
problems, avoid taking written statements for locally
A mishap investigation board that writes a
limited-use mishap report can promise that the
information witnesses provide will not be used against
them. The board provides that promise in writing. An
Advice to Witness form (fig. 4-1) is provided to all
witnesses in an afloat mishap so that they understand
just how their testimony will be used by the board.
Similar forms are used in both aviation and afloat
mishap investigations. These witness statements are
privileged. Shore mishap investigation boards use a
different form giving the witness testimonial immunity.
Remember, all testimony is VOLUNTARY in a
safety investigation. Witnesses can refuse to cooperate.
You must explain your purpose and request their
assistance. You cannot force a person to provide
Witnesses should be interviewed as soon as
practical after the mishap to ensure the integrity of the
information. Witnesses provide better information
when the mishap is fresh in their minds. Waiting days,
or even hours, to conduct an interview can be
Witnesses are strongly influenced by each other
and the news media. Given time to talk among
themselves and compare stories, witnesses may
add to or change their story. Seeing the mishap
on the news can influence their own account.
Witnesses can forget. They forget minor details.
If the witnesses didnt understand what they saw,
they may use their imagination to fill in the
blanks; therefore, their story may change.
Some witnesses are hostile, and, given time, may
develop a grudge. They may find out information
that influences them to protect a friend or to try
to hurt their supervisor.
Witnesses may go out and tell all their friends
about the exciting mishap. Each time they tell the
story, it gets better. Without knowing it, the
witnesses are embellishing the information.
Try to keep witnesses apart by giving them separate
tasks at different locations. Put them to work drawing a
sketch of the scene, listing participants, or writing down
what they saw. Having a dozen sailors waiting together
on the mess deck will ensure homogenized testimony.
An investigator must also consider the personality
of the witness:
Extrovert or braggart
Timid or self-conscious
SIGNS OF UNTRUTHFULNESS
Repeats the questions asked
Unnatural emphasis on details
The interviewer determines witness reliability.
Witnesses may not be intentionally misleading, but you
must compare their information to that of other
witnesses. For example, six sailors responded to a fire
aboard ship. Three said they heard the word passed and
then heard the general quarters alarm. The fourth did not
hear the word passed at all. The other two heard the word
passed after the alarm. The interviewer must determine
the credibility of each witness, compare testimony, and
then decide which account was more accurate. The first