NTSB chief leaving to head safety council

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairwoman Deborah Hersman is resigning from the accident investigation agency to lead the National Safety Council, the Itasca, Ill.-based NSC announced on Tuesday.

Hersman has been at the helm of the NTSB during several high-profile accident investigations since becoming chairwoman of the panel in 2009, including a regional airplane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., that spurred a host of regulatory changes and the crash landing of an Asiana Airlines plane in San Francisco last summer.

Hersman said Tuesday that she is “thrilled to have the opportunity to lead an organization dedicated to saving lives and preventing injuries."

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“I arrived in the nation’s capital over two decades ago as a college intern believing that government can do important work on behalf of the citizens of this great country,” Hersman wrote in a blog post on the NTSB’s website. “After nearly 10 years at the National Transportation Safety Board, I will depart Washington with the knowledge that the traveling public is the beneficiary of an accountable, transparent government agency with a great mission focused on saving lives and preventing injuries.”

Hersman was first appointed to the NTSB by former President George W. Bush in 2005. She was reappointed to the panel and tapped as chairwoman by President Obama in 2009.

Prior to working for the NTSB, Hersman served as a staffer on the Senate committee that handles transportation issues under Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

Rockefeller praised Hersman for her work at the NTSB on Tuesday.

“Debbie Hersman has been an absolutely effective and fearless chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board,” the West Virginia senator said in a statement. “Her reassuring confidence has helped lead this country through some of our most difficult recent transportation accidents, from last summer’s tragic plane crash in San Francisco to this winter’s terrible series of incidents on Metro-North.

“Whenever there was a transportation accident, I always trusted that Debbie would put the full weight of the NTSB behind any investigation, and she would be tireless in working to uncover the facts,” Rockefeller continued. “Above all, Debbie has proven herself to be a remarkable leader, and steadfast in her commitment to public service and making our transportation systems safer. I send my deepest appreciation for the tremendous work she has done, and wish her continued success in her next position leading the National Safety Council.”

The safety council said it was glad to be gaining a leader of Hersman’s caliber.

“Debbie is a recognized leader in safety, with a frontline understanding of the value of protecting human life through thoughtful attention and management of risk,” NSC Board of Directors’ Chairman Jeff Woodbury said in a statement. “Her proven leadership and expertise made her the ideal candidate to take the Council successfully into its second century.”

Hersman will be replaced at the helm of the NTSB by the agency’s Vice Chairman Chris Hart. Hart will assume control of the accident investigation at a time when the NTSB is sending officials to Vietnam and Malaysia to assist in the search for a jetliner that has been missing since last Friday.

The Hill profiled Hersman in 2011