Information Management:

Partial Videotape Erasure of 1982 Air Force Thunderbirds Crash

NSIAD-84-153: Published: Sep 10, 1984. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO investigated the facts surrounding the partial videotape erasure of the fatal aircraft accident involving four Air Force Thunderbirds during an aerial practice in 1982.

GAO found that, to protect the tape from unauthorized disclosure, only two copies were made; these were turned over to an Air Force official. After the initial Air Force investigation into the accident, the official erased the two copies and the final few seconds of the mastertape showing the fireball. He stated that he erased that portion of the tape because it would likely be used for sensationalistic purposes, and he was concerned about the privacy of the victims' families. He also stated that he was unaware of any plans by a television network to sue for the tapes under the Freedom of Information Act. The Air Force subsequently released the mastertape to the network and requested that the pending suit be dismissed on the ground that it was moot. A federal court agreed with the motion and dismissed the suit. The Air Force has amended its records retention regulations to provide for retention guidance under the act.

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