The 4th National Audit Project of the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Difficult Airway Society (NAP4) analysed reports of serious events arising from airway management during anaesthesia, intensive care and the emergency department. We conducted supplementary telephone interviews with 12 anaesthetists who had reported to NAP4, aiming to identify causal factors using a method based on the Human Factors Investigation Tool (HFIT). We identified contributing human factors in all cases (median [range] 4.5 [1–10] per case). The most frequent related to: situation awareness (failures to anticipate, wrong decision) (nine cases); job factors (e.g. task difficulty; staffing, time pressure) (eight cases); and person factors (e.g. tiredness, hunger, stress) (six cases). Protective factors, such as teamwork and communication, were also revealed. The post-report HFIT interview method identified relevant human factors and this approach merits further testing as part of the investigation of anaesthetic incidents.