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The man behind NTSB’s black box advances


When a SilkAir Boeing 737 crashed in a river in Indonesia in 1997, killing all 104 people on board, the impact shredded its cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder tapes. James Cash was the one to bring together several U.S. government agencies aiding in the investigation to digitize the audio from fragments of tape and reassemble a partial transcript of the seconds before the crash. Cash recently received a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, awarded by a nonprofit group that recognizes outstanding career achievements by public servants. Cash is the NTSB’s chief technical advisor in the office of research and engineering. He also played an important role in the NTSB’s 4-year investigation following the explosion of TWA Flight 800 after takeoff from New York in 1997. Cash used sound analysis techniques he developed to compare the explosion sound caught on the last quarter-second of the cockpit voice recorder on that flight with sounds the NTSB gathered blowing up a second Boeing 747 during its investigation.