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A federal judge in Kansas City, Mo., dismissed a $1 million lawsuit against the FAA over the 1999 fatal crash of a Cessna CitationJet. The lawsuit was based on accusations that harassment of the pilot by two FAA inspectors from the Kansas City FSDO contributed to the accident.

Judge Ortrie Smith granted a motion by FAA lawyers to dismiss the case because plaintiff Grace Brinell, widow of 54-year-old pilot Joseph Brinell, had failed to provide documents or agree to conferences that the FAA requested.

An attorney for the FAA said in the motion to dismiss the case that Grace Brinell, a professional pilot who filed the lawsuit without an attorney, had decided ?her personal situation and career obligations do not afford her the time and energy? to continue the suit. He said he was recounting a conversation he had with her.

The accident aircraft had departed Lambert Field/St. Louis International Airport (STL) at 1447 CST on
Dec. 9, 1999, with five passengers, one of whom was also a pilot. Also on board were two faculty members of the College of the Ozarks, where Joseph Brinell was aviation director, and their wives.

The last radar contact was at about 1510 CST when the CitationJet was at 2,100 msl and five nautical miles from its destination, M. Graham Clark Airport in Point Lookout,
Mo. All on board died when the twinjet, which was owned by the college, hit a hillside on the northwest edge of Branson, Mo., 4.3 miles from its destination.

At 1430 CST, the weather observation at the airport was 300 feet overcast, three-quarters of a mile visibility in rain and mist. Approach minimums for the GPS RWY 11 straight-in approach to the airport are a minimum ceiling of 600 feet and visibility of one mile for a category B aircraft.

The NTSB concluded that the crash resulted from pilot error under adverse weather conditions. Factors relating to the accident, the Board said, were pilot fatigue, pressure induced by an FAA inspector and use of inappropriate medication.

FAA Investigation
Three months after the accident, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked the FAA to investigate allegations from Brinell's widow that the Kansas City FSDO had wrongfully targeted her late husband for regulatory enforcement.

The FAA's own investigation had acknowledged that a threatened formal reexamination of Brinell?s pilot competency in May 1999 was not warranted, but it concluded that the FSDO was not remiss in its oversight responsibilities or abusive in exercising its authority to reexamine Brinell. It called the actions taken by the FSDO supervisor ?appropriate.?

Dissatisfied with the FAA?s finding, Blunt asked Department of Transportation inspector general Kenneth Mead to look into the accident and the subsequent FAA investigation of its inspectors.

Mead later recommended that the FAA take disciplinary action against two FSDO officials whose ?unwarranted? actions against Joseph Brinell might have contributed to his fatal crash. It emerged that during a layover at STL, Brinell confided to a friend that a supervisor at the FSDO "is trying to destroy me"? The friend said Brinell "wasn't himself" that day and claimed he had not slept for three days.

In her lawsuit, Grace Brinell contended that FAA regulators in
Kansas City unduly harassed her husband, inducing stress that led to the crash. Mead?s staff discovered that between March 1999 and the day of the accident, the FSDO's general aviation supervisor and a principal operations inspector attempted to strip Brinell of his pilot-examiner status, directed a reexamination of his pilot proficiency and ordered him to turn all his logbooks into the FSDO as part of an investigation into alleged unauthorized checkrides that he gave.

Mead said last January that these actions were unwarranted and the FSDO's justification lacked credibility. His findings, he added, supported the NTSB's conclusion that the FAA had induced stress and given rise to at least the appearance that Brinell was being harassed. The IG also accused the FAA of failing to take remedial action against the two inspectors, which it had promised Blunt in a letter.

An FAA spokeswoman in the FAA's
Kansas City regional office told AIN that the FAA had no comment on the dismissal of the lawsuit. But she said that the FAA changed the job descriptions of the two men involved in the case. She refused to say whether the job changes were demotions, but said both men are appealing.

In interviews with NTSB investigators, one of the inspectors said Brinell resisted regulations and they were trying to get him to be more cooperative by pressuring him.

Grace Brinell thought Mead?s findings would add credibility to the lawsuit. But FAA lawyers countered that Joseph Brinell was responsible for his crash because he chose to fly in bad weather and was taking a medication that can cause drowsiness.


Report Reveals Info on 1999 Plane Crash : A report released Monday concludes federal aviation officials harassed a pilot instructor, possibly contributing to a 1999 plane crash that killed the pilot and five others.

At the time of the crash, pilot Joe Brinell was upset and felt unfairly targeted by FAA probes at the College of the Ozarks' airport, which he managed, according to the report from the Department of Transportation's inspector general, Kenneth Mead.

The findings were released by Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who asked Mead to investigate the Federal Aviation Administration's possible role in the Dec. 9, 1999, crash five miles from the airport at Point Lookout in southwest Missouri.

"The IG's findings underscore what we've long believed: the FAA apparently harassed Joe Brinell, contributing to the accident that took his life and that of five other College of the Ozarks officials," Blunt said.

The FAA said it had received Mead's report. "As we review it, we will give serious consideration to its findings and recommendations, then determine our next course of action," spokesman Tony Molinaro said in a statement.

The National Transportation Safety Board earlier said Brinell's Cessna Citation crashed due to pilot error because it was flying too low as it approached the college's airport. It also found that "pressure induced by others," as well as lack of sleep contributed to the crash.

Among other things, local FAA officials tried to re-examine Brinell's pilot competency and asked for his pilot logbooks, saying they thought he had administered flight tests without appropriate authorization.

Mead said in his report that subjecting Brinell to a re-examination of his pilot competency showed unfair treatment and was inconsistent with the FAA's own policies.

He also said the reasons given for seeking Brinell's logbooks "lack credibility."

"Mr. Brinell clearly perceived that he was being singled out and unfairly treated," the report the states. "Our finding support the NTSB's conclusion that FAA had induced stress in Mr. Brinell."

Brinell, 54, was director of aviation science at the college and administered the students' private pilot flight exams.

Mead recommended the supervisor and the inspector in charge of the investigation of Brinell be disciplined. He also called on the FAA to adopt new procedures for inspecting license holders.

Blunt said he would meet with the FAA within 30 days to determine the agency's plans for change.

Also killed in the crash were student pilot Bart Moore, 22; Marvin Oetting, 61, the school's chairman of technical and applied sciences, and his wife, Judy, 59; Jerry Watson, 55, a professor, and his wife, Pat, 55.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

College grounds planes after anonymous complaint

POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. (AP) -- Eight airplanes used in a college's aviation program won't fly again until administrators are satisfied that an anonymous complaint about inspection records was unfounded.

The complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration in late September drew two FAA inspectors from Kansas City to College of the Ozarks, where they studied maintenance records as well as the eight-plane training fleet.

After that visit and another in early October -- requested by the school -- the FAA concluded there was no need to ground the planes, the Springfield News-Leader reported Saturday. But the school is now conducting its own analysis, which is expected to be finished soon, Dean of Administration Larry Cockrum told the newspaper.

"We're very sensitive with safety issues," Cockrum said.

About 60 students are enrolled in the college's aviation science program, housed at its M. Graham Clark Airport, pursuing degrees that will enable them to become pilots, aviation technicians or both.

The anonymous complainant alleged that a mechanic had falsified records for a Cessna 172 to make it appear as though the single-engine plane had not been operated past a scheduled inspection.

College officials believe the complaint may have been retaliation for laying off three mechanics earlier this year and replacing them with the man targeted in the complaint. Still, Cockrum said, President Jerry Davis immediately grounded the fleet upon hearing of the FAA's involvement, "to make sure we were erring on the side of safety."

FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory would not discuss details of the investigation by the agency's Flight Standards District Office in Kansas City, but said inspections could produce several possible results.

"Within our regulatory authority, you can assess fines. You can take action on a certification, and you can also issue letters of warning. Or you can do nothing," Cory explained.

Although the investigation remains open, there is little evidence that the mechanic tampered with records, Cockrum said. He said it appeared the complaint was filed because "somebody got mad."

"We had other mechanics that were in that position that are no longer in that position. We did some cutbacks," he said. "It's some sort of personal vendetta."

In reports following the FAA's September and October visits, the acting director of the Flight Standards District Office wrote that the agency's inspectors noted some missing documents and instances of inconsistent record keeping, but that those deficiencies were linked to the current mechanic's predecessors.

The inspections also found the school's planes to be in good condition overall, the News-Leader reported.

In December 1999, six people were killed when the college's Cessna Citation crashed on a fog-shrouded hillside about four miles from the school's runway. They included the pilot, Joe Brinell, who was the college's aviation director.

Brinell's widow sued the FAA, alleging the agency was partly to blame for the crash because its officials had placed pressure on him through harassment. The agency had found maintenance violations on some of the college's planes nine months earlier, and had then tried to re-examine Brinell's pilot competency and requested his pilot logbooks.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that pilot stress, fatigue, rainy weather and poor visibility contributed to the crash. It said Brinell endured "pressure induced by others," but that was not listed as a crash factor.

A federal judge dismissed the widow's lawsuit two months ago, saying she had failed to provide documents or grant conferences requested by the defendants.


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