NTSB: Chief's departure won’t impact jet search

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Wednesday that the pending departure of its chairwoman will not affect its efforts to assist searching for a missing Malaysia Airlines flight or any of its other ongoing investigations.

NTSB chief Deborah Hersman announced Tuesday that she will be departing in April after nearly 10 years with the accident investigation agency. Hersman is moving over to the Illinois-based National Safety Council.

The announcement of Hersman’s departure came as the NTSB was sending personnel to Southeast Asia to assist with the search for Malaysia Air’s Flight 370, which has been missing since Friday.

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A spokeswoman for the agency told The Hill on Wednesday that “[Chairwoman] Hersman’s departure at the end of April will have no impact on any of our investigative activity.

“The agency will continue the important work of investigating transportation accidents to determine the probable cause and then making safety recommendations to prevent them from occurring again,” NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.

The Malaysia Airlines jet has been missing since about an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.

Officials have been searching for hints of the airplane, which was carrying 239 passengers, for five days. However, few leads have turned up and officials have expressed confusion about the path the plane was flying on before its disappearance.

U.S. State Department officials have said that at least three of the passengers onboard were American citizens. The flight was being operated on a Boeing 777 that Malaysia Air officials have said had a good maintenance record.

Officials have confirmed that at least two of the airplane’s passengers were traveling on passports that were stolen, which initially stoked terrorism fears.

Malaysian officials suggested Tuesday that the plane had veered 100 miles off course after turning back toward Kuala Lumpur, which also raised speculation that the flight was possibly hijacked.

U.S. officials have said that it is too early to speculate on the causes of the missing flight.