Debbie Hersman, a former Democratic congressional aide, has become the public face and voice for the chief federal agency investigating Sunday’s fatal crash of Comair Flight 5191.
Hersman, 36, one of five members of the National Transportation Safety Board, is coordinating the probe into the nation’s worst aircraft disaster in five years.
She has already become a familiar figure in Lexington from her televised media briefings. She also briefs the victims’ families, for which she has been getting high marks.
“People feel like they’re getting the information they need now,” said Wyn Morris, the son of Leslie W. Morris II and stepson of Kay Craig Morris, both of whom perished in the accident.
Initially, some victims’ families were angry with Comair over the slow flow of information.
In 2004, Deborah A.P. Hersman became one of the youngest people ever to be appointed to a five-year term on the non-partisan NTSB.
She has handled investigations as varied as a subway collision in Washington, D.C. (2004); a private jet that crashed into a warehouse at the Teterboro, N.J., airport (2005); and the wreck of two freight trains in Anding, Miss. (2005).
From 1999 to 2004, Hersman was the senior professional staff member for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
In that post, she handled the agenda and legislation concerning surface transportation, including economic and safety regulation of railroads and safety issues for trucks and buses, pipelines and hazardous materials.
In 1992-99, she was the top aide to U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va.
Hersman, who calls herself a “safety advocate,” is a certified child passenger safety technician and has a commercial driver’s license for passenger and school buses and vehicles with air brakes.
She spoke in April at the Kentucky Lifesavers Conference in Louisville. In her remarks, she praised the Kentucky General Assembly for passing graduated licensing, which puts nighttime and passenger restrictions for the first six months on new teenage drivers; and the state’s mandatory seat-belt law.
As an “Air Force brat,” Hersman lived in 13 places as a child, but considers West Virginia home.
She has two young sons.
Hersman earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies from Virginia Tech in 1992 and a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University in 1999.