USC's graveyard for crashed airplanes helps train future and current investigators

- On LA's east side is USC's Health Sciences Campus. Basically, it's a great big warehouse. Inside is an area for a class and near it, a much larger area for the remains of crashed aircraft.

"This one (had) one fatality," explained Jack Cress, a USC aviation instructor who gave FOX 11 a tour.

When there are plane crashes like what happened this week in Riverside when a Cessna dropped from the sky into homes, there's a series of investigations. After all of that, it might end up here at USC's Aviation Safety facility.

As you walk through, it feels like a graveyard of broken planes for students learning how to become investigators as well as experienced investigators getting refresher courses.

They are planes that have already been examined by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and insurance companies. Here, students can learn. The crumpled, burned and mangled remains of one-time expensive aircraft are here for the examining.

Instructors like Cress show students news accounts of crashes to analyze. It's not an easy class to watch, but being an aircraft crash investigator isn't an easy job. Cress says good investigators first have to learn how to size-up the big picture.

After a macro look, a micro one can take up to a year.

Two people survived the crash in Riverside. The crash was intense. Cress won't speculate on what happened, but said, "if you were to ask me, a crash like that soon after a takeoff, one of the things I've seen many instances of a little thing like somebody putting in the wrong fuel."

That's not to say that is what happened in Riverside. It's to say a lengthy and intense investigation will determine if it was caused by material or mechanical problems, wrong fuel -- something else.

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