The right stuff

ISSN 2369-873X

19 February 2016
Posted by Tony Gasbarro

Image of Tony documenting the damage to the tank cars within the derailment site at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec
Protected against the elements, Tony documents the damage to the tank cars within
the derailment site at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in the summer of 2013.

Hi Tony, thanks for letting us interview you as part of the TSB's 25-year anniversary. Let me first start by asking, for how long have you been at the TSB?

This year marks my 30th year at the TSB's Engineering Branch. I started at the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, which merged with other organizations to create the TSB. So I have been at the TSB since its creation. I wrote about some of my experiences in A day in the life of the TSB photographer.

What a wide range of experiences you must have gained over the years! What would you say was the peak of your career?

An interesting aspect of my position at the TSB is the documentation of accident sites through high level imaging such as photography and video. But there is also a teaching component to my position with the TSB that I find very rewarding. For years now, I've had the privilege, as a TSB imaging expert, to teach at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, as part of their Aviation Safety and Security Program. The course, Photography for Aircraft Accident Investigation, usually runs twice a year and I've been teaching at USC for 25 years.

Students come to USC from all over the world to learn aircraft accident image documentation. Recently, one of the students flew in from Abu Dhabi, took the photography class, and then went right back home to the United Arab Emirates!

That's a long way to go for a photography class!

Yes it was! For many countries around the world, there is an interest in starting up an aviation accident laboratory similar to the TSB's, to basically bring a so-called “CSI” capability to their own investigative organizations. One of my colleagues has actually posted a blog on The Real CSI: Inside the TSB Laboratory. Because the evidence is often perishable, an important element of aircraft accident investigation is the proper image documentation of the site, whether documenting from the ground or from the air.

Image of TOny at NASA, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Tony invited by NASA to teach at the
Mishap Investigation Training Symposium
at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

You must have met some interesting people through the years?

Absolutely. I've taught investigators from numerous government, police, airline, and military agencies and organizations worldwide including Asia, Africa, Europe, South America and of course, the United States.

As it often goes, one opportunity leads to another. One of the highlights of my career occurred back in 2007. That year, I received an invitation from NASA. One of their senior executives had heard my lecture the year before at the General Aviation Air Safety Investigators workshop in Wichita, Kansas. NASA requested for me to travel to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and lecture their top specialists! I was to speak of my experiences and lessons learned at the TSB regarding the proper methodologies and techniques of onsite image documentation.

That's amazing!

Yes, it was! I mean, for me that's the cream of the crop, in so many ways. They have state of the art technology, obviously, so it makes it a really interesting context for photography, from filming launches to space suits with built-in cameras, images captured on the International Space Station in zero gravity and all the other different types of specialized or custom-built imaging equipment. I'm not sure how to explain it, but since I was a young, I always had a desire to some day do some sort of work with NASA. So this was significant to me, both personally and professionally.

So what happened next?

NASA was actually organizing an accident investigation symposium, so it was for that precise event that I was invited. I spent part of the morning making my presentation on accident investigation documentation through imagery to the NASA specialists. Later with the strict permission from Homeland Security, I was given a tour of the facilities, from the control rooms to the launching pads. I met with imaging specialists who work in recording all the launches and recoveries. In those days, the space shuttle still landed on a runway nearby, so they always photographed and filmed day or night. They also documented the astronauts while in training or as they prepared for missions. As you can imagine, I could not wipe the grin off my face the entire time. Later a group of the NASA specialists invited me to unwind at a local Cape Canaveral eatery. To my delight, I learned this particular restaurant had been a favourite hangout for NASA astronauts for many years.

In retrospect, would you say this had an impact on your life?

It's incredibly satisfying to look back at this experience for its incredible value in teaching and training. It will remain an unforgettable moment of my career and I am so thankful to the TSB for giving me this opportunity.

Image of Tony Gasbarro

Tony Gasbarro is the Senior Multi-Media Investigation Imaging Specialist for the TSB and has nearly 30 years' experience in documenting accident sites throughout Canada. Tony spends most of his free time as a passionate drummer or playing soccer. He is known for travelling to warm exotic locations favoring destinations of the South Pacific.

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