Query related to crash, interviewed mechanic says
Wednesday, April 12, 2000
By PAUL SHUKOVSKY and TRACY JOHNSON
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS
FBI agents investigating Alaska Airlines maintenance practices in Oakland, Calif., have expanded the investigation to include work at the airline's Seattle base.
A San Francisco-based FBI agent yesterday interviewed Seattle-area Alaska mechanics. The agent has been a lead investigator for a Bay Area grand jury concerned with alleged falsification of maintenance records at Alaska's Oakland facility. The investigation was recently expanded to include circumstances surrounding the Jan. 31 crash of Alaska Flight 261.
The shift to Seattle means the FBI suspects crimes may have been committed here as well as in Oakland, federal criminal justice sources said.
FBI agents raided Alaska facilities, seizing records in both Oakland and SeaTac in December, 1998. Since then, the investigation and questioning of mechanics has occurred almost exclusively in California.
Alaska Airlines spokesman Greg Witter yesterday said he did not know about the FBI's presence in Seattle.
"We're cooperating fully with every federal agency and official, involving everything and anything having to do with the Flight 261 tragedy or the 1 1/2-year-old investigation of our Oakland (maintenance) facility," Witter said.
One mechanic who works in Alaska's maintenance hangar in Sea-Tac Airport said he was interviewed at length yesterday by an FBI agent.
"Everything we talked about was relevant to the crash," said the mechanic, who recounted the interview on the condition he would remain anonymous.
The mechanic, who has no first-hand knowledge of work on the MD-80 that crashed off the California coast, killing all 88 people on board, said he talked for more than two hours about a range of topics, including what he calls "the deterioration of maintenance" practices at Alaska. The company has lost experienced mechanics, and those remaining must battle pressure to cut corners on repairs, he said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is conducting a so-called "white glove" inspection of Alaska Airlines, which began last week at in Seattle and Oakland. The 15-person team is looking at maintenance, paperwork procedures and other practices.
Problems at Alaska's Seattle maintenance hangar surfaced last month, when 64 mechanics claimed that their manager had forced them to cut corners on repairs. The mechanics, in a letter to company headquarters, alleged they had been told to put unserviceable parts back on planes. Ordering such action or doing so could constitute criminal violation of aviation regulations.
The company placed the manager, who denies any wrongdoing, on paid leave while they investigate. Airline officials also said they interviewed all 64 mechanics and none could cite a case where an unsafe plane was put into service.
The FAA has investigated allegations of improper maintenance practices in Oakland and has proposed a $44,000 fine against Alaska. It wants to revoke the mechanic's licenses of three maintenance supervisors.
The Oakland facility does much of the maintenance work on Alaska's fleet, including the last "heavy check" of the aircraft that crashed. That September 1997 check was to have included an inspection of the jackscrew, a device that moves a critical surface controlling pitch.
The jackscrew assembly has become a focus of the crash investigation. It was excessively worn and lacked grease in critical areas, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky can be reached at 206-448-8072 or email@example.com
|The Associated Press
S E A T T L E, April 13 — Federal Aviation Administration oversight of Alaska Airlines has come under scrutiny in an investigation into the crash of Flight 261 and the company’s maintenance operations, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported today.
Citing unnamed criminal justice and aviation industry sources, the newspaper’s copyright article said that aspect of the probe appeared to be in a preliminary stage.
“The question right now is how broad is it [the investigation] going to be,” a federal source was quoted as saying. “Is FAA in bed with Alaska?”
The question for investigators is whether the company encouraged criminally wrong maintenance practices that were allowed or ignored by the FAA.
to Cut Corners Cited
Enforcement Allegedly Penalized
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
|Seattle Post: Feds
should expedite probe of FAA oversight
Investigators examining Alaska Airlines' maintenance operations have made a prudent move in broadening that investigation to include an examination of the nature of the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight of the airline. The FAA is paid to be a public watchdog not an
Yet disturbing reports from FAA field investigators, published in this newspaper a year ago, raised questions about how thorough the FAA is in its policing work at Alaska. Some of them alleged that their superiors hampered their efforts to enforce safety regulations and punished them if they did so.
Last Thursday, the Post-Intelligencer disclosed in a copyrighted story that a preliminary investigation is under way to determine if a full-fledged examination of the FAA's relationship with Alaska is warranted. The aim is to learn if Alaska encouraged criminally improper maintenance practices that were either sanctioned by or ignored by the FAA. An Alaska spokesman dismissed as "baseless' any allegations of an improper relationship between the airline and its regulator.
An FAA spokesman said officials at that agency know nothing about any such investigation. If FAA officials did condone improper maintenance by Alaska, it must be dealt with quickly. The grand jury seated in San Francisco since 1988 to investigate Alaska's maintenance procedures must insist on a thorough examination of FAA's behavior.