No, Larry Vance Did Not Lead the Investigation Into Swissair 111

Those who have closely followed the investigation into the disappearance of MH370 will be familiar with the name of Larry Vance, a former air accident investigator who has caused a big stir with his claims that MH370 glided to a crash landing, rather than plummeted in a dive, as official investigators believe. He made these claims in a 2016 documentary made by Australian “60 Minutes,” and in another released this year.

I never found Vance, or his claims, credible; no serious accident investigator would claim to determine the cause of a crash on the basis of a single piece of debris, let alone one he hasn’t seen in person.

Moreover, he seems not to understand what the different parts of the aircraft are. In the “60 Minutes” documentary, explaining why the trailing edge of the flaperon was torn away, he points to its trailing edge and says, “the flap was extended down and the force of the water would be enormous.” But a flap and a flaperon are different things. Flaps extend down during a 777’s normal approach to landing, as seen in the image above (taken from a YouTube video off a 777 landing in New York), but the flaperons behave differently, bending downward along with the flaps but also moving up and down like ailerons.

Vance makes an equally egregious misstatement when he declares that “most people will agree that the flaps were down–not only were they down, they were fully extended.”

In fact, page 101 of the official Australian final report, “The Operational Search for MH370,”says: “Critically, a section of right outboard main flap (Figure 81) was found near Tanzania on 20 June 2016. The item was shipped to the ATSB for analysis. This analysis indicated that the flaps were most likely in a retracted position.”

This finding competely nullifies the claim that Vance has been trying to make over the last few years, and indeed demolishes the central argument of the “60 Minutes” documentary.

Vance has been treated as a credible source in the press because of his professional background. The bio on the Amazon page for his book describes him as “Investigator-In-Charge for over 200 field investigations, including the Swissair 111 crash investigation.” The BBC described Vance as “a world-leading air crash investigator” and “formerly investigator-in-charge for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, and has led more than 200 air crash investigations.”

Suspicious, I reached out to the media relations team at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to find out if Vance really had worked there, and if so in what capacity. I received the following reply:

Larry Vance is a former employee of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) who occupied the position of Senior Investigator/Operations Specialist with the Standards and Performance Division of the Air Branch. He was with the TSB from 1990 to 2008. During the course of his employment, Mr. Vance contributed to a number of investigations, including the Swissair 111 crash investigation for which the entire investigation team received a Government of Canada Certificate of Recognition. Mr. Vance was not the investigator-in-charge of the Swissair 111 crash. He was one of two deputy IIC. No further details of Mr. Vance’s employment are available as employee records are retained for only 2 years after their departure and then transferred to government archives.

Please note that Mr. Vance’s opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the TSB. The TSB does not endorse any statement made by Mr. Vance.

So there you have it. Vance indeed, actually, once earned his living in the aircraft accident investigation business. But has inflated his bona fides in a way that casts doubt on his truthfulness.

It’s a sad reflection on the state of the media that Australia’s Nine Network had the poor judgement to build a documentary around Vance’s misinformation, and that its message was then amplified around the world by prestige media outlets like the BBC, Time magazine, and the Washington Post.