Keeping survivors and families informed

The Commission understands that survivors and the families of fatalities want to know what happened, why, and how similar tragedies can be prevented. These are the types of questions we are set up to answer. Here we set out our general approach to working with survivors, next of kin and families.

TAIC’s commitment to survivors and families

We are committed to:

  • Treating survivors and families with care and compassion - respecting privacy, diversity of family structures, and acknowledging cultural and language preferences where possible.
  • Keeping survivors and families informed about the purpose of our work, the laws we work under, general inquiry progress, and giving advance notice of major announcements.

How TAIC communicates

The ways we use to keep in contact with survivors and families depend on the circumstances of the accident, where people are, the number of people in similar circumstances, and the stage the inquiry is at.

At first we typically communicate face-to-face, or at families briefings, by phone, email or text message. We may use secure online tools. We do not use social media messaging.

Email is the main tool we use to keep survivors and next of kin updated once an inquiry is past the site investigation phase. We set up family email lists which may include anyone of close personal significance to the fatality.

In the case of survivors or families who are foreign citizens based out of New Zealand, TAIC may need to communicate through a peer agency in another country.

The other pages in the How We Work section of this website set out the stages of an inquiry. Much of our communication will be confirming inquiry progress through these stages.

Survivors who may also have had a direct role in an accident, or the immediate next of kin of such a person who has died, should also read Assisting a TAIC Inquiry.

The first hours and days

Members of the TAIC team will work with police and other emergency services to enable families to visit the scene or to see wreckage if conditions allow.

We invite the legal next of kin or family representative to provide us with details of other close family connections to a fatality who would appreciate being updated by us. This eases the burden on the next of kin or family representative. We interpret "family" broadly. We welcome direct approaches from people seeking inclusion on our updates where the may be a communications problem within a family, however we will need to validate the request.

Soon after the accident we update subscribers to recap the inquiry-related information we have released, remind people about the information available on our website, and when to expect the next update. Our key points for survivors and families generally include:

  • The Commission has opened an inquiry, its purpose and general approach
  • The inquiry will be thorough, in accordance with legal requirements, and take the time needed
  • Urgent recommendations can be made if required at any time
  • We take a ‘no surprises’ approach to keeping people informed of general progress, and will brief you on major announcements before these are made public
  • There are are some things we cannot do or say (discussed below).

The continuing inquiry

After the first few weeks, TAIC’s contact with survivors and families shifts to six-monthly, or when the inquiry reaches significant milestones.

We keep survivors and families informed about the purpose of our work, the rules we work under, and general progress. While the Commission’s investigation continues, TAIC staff can only talk in general terms about TAIC processes and progress on any inquiry. We are unable to share any evidence or conclusions. This is because the Transport Accident Investigation Commission Act (Part 3 here) prevents us from disclosing details of an inquiry beyond what the Commission publishes in its reports.

Release of final or interim report, or urgent recommendations

We publish all reports on the TAIC website. We give advance notice – usually a week or so – to survivors and next of kin when the Commissioners finalise the inquiry report. In a small number of inquiries, we may release an interim factual report or urgent recommendations while the inquiry continues. In all cases we notify survivors and families before publishing. We send an advance copy of the report under appropriate confidentiality and security arrangements, and may offer a briefing or discussion opportunity.

Things TAIC cannot do

The law is very strict on what the Commission can and cannot do during its independent and impartial safety-focused investigation. These limitations can be frustrating for people who are not aware of them and why they are in place. The following are things we cannot do:

  • Decide ‘blame’, ‘liability’, or ‘guilt’. TAIC investigates occurrences that result from complex and multiple factors. We do not lay blame or prosecute people. We depersonalise our reports consistent with our focus on explaining what happened and why for the purposes of improving transport safety.
  • Share information that is legally protected from disclosure. Non-disclosure helps ensure we get the fullest information possible and protects the natural justice rights of those who may have played a role in the accident.
  • Confirm or deny rumours or theories -- for example, about what caused an accident. Rumours often spread in social and news media soon after an accident when it is too early to say anything with certainty. The Commission determines findings and recommendations based on evidence, analysis, and the submissions of those involved. The Commission does not speculate on causes ahead of its inquiry being completed and a report being published. TAIC staff cannot address specifics about investigative steps, evidence, or causes, ahead of the Final Report's publication.
  • Help with insurance or damages claims. Questions on these matters should go to the transport operator or their representative, or to your own insurers.
  • Offer practical or psychological assistance. It is best to seek advice or referral from the Police Family Liaison Officer, Victim Support, ACC, funeral director, lawyer, or other relevant social service, of from services they have provided you with information about. If you are a survivor or family from outside New Zealand then your country's consular service may be able to assist. If we believe you may need assistance we may suggest this to you or contact an appropriate service. There are links to services and resources under Related links on this webpage.
  • Say what an individual victim's cause of death was. This is the Coroner's role.
  • Comment on other investigations into the same event. There are likely to be several other investigations into the same event by - for instance - a Coroner, Police, transport regulator, health and safety, insurance or environmental agencies [see the Related Links box, right]. Those investigations will have different legal mandates, purpose, methods, and evidence.