First-Ever Air Cargo Accident Public Hearing to be Held
April 13, 2002 - Pilots Warned
FAA Prior to Fatal Crash, Said Crews Living on 'Borrowed Time'
WASHINGTON (USA) --
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced today it will hold a public hearing on the crash of an Emery Worldwide Airlines (EWA) DC-8 cargo-jet that occurred in Sacramento. The hearing, set for May 9, 2002, will be the first such public hearing into the crash of a cargo plane.
On February 16, 2000, Emery flight 17 departed Mather Airport en route to Dayton. Two minutes later, the enormous fuel-filled jet plowed into an outdoor auto auction yard, creating a dramatic series of explosions as the airplane and approximately 200 cars burst into what eyewitnesses described as a "runway of fire." No crewmembers survived. But a catastrophe of much greater magnitude nearly resulted: merely two hours before the crash, the auction yard was open for business and reportedly contained as many as 300 people.
According to an NTSB Investigation Update, an exam of the wreckage of Emery flight 17 found indications that part of the DC-8's mechanical flight control components may not have been connected prior to the flight (a push rod connecting to an elevator control tab). A contract maintenance repair station just three months before the crash had overhauled key components of that airplane. According to earlier media reports, the NTSB subsequently asked the airline to inspect its remaining fleet of DC-8s for similar problems. They reportedly found 11 planes with their push rod bolts installed backwards, 5 planes had problems in both elevators, and one plane had the push rod itself installed backwards.
In a letter sent to top FAA officials just 5 months before the crash, Emery's pilots group wrote: "EWA is out of the regulator's eye ... Why are the authorities continuing to turn a blind eye? If we have an accident in the near future, the subsequent investigation will show sainthood on the part of ValuJet when compared to Emery ... Emery crews are living on borrowed time."
Safety advocates contend the need for the Emery hearing over time has only intensified, given the disturbing and now well-documented, extensive notice provided to FAA leadership and airline management prior to the crash. Issues at the hearing are expected to center on aircraft maintenance and oversight by airline and FAA personnel.
Oversight of contract maintenance repair stations affects both passenger and cargo airlines. Following ValuJet's 1996 crash, GAO published a report regarding FAA oversight. Nearly half of all work performed on U.S. passenger and cargo airlines is now done by about 2,800 repair stations rather than by the air carriers themselves, according to the report. The stations do everything from routine maintenance to rebuilding entire airframes and their use has grown substantially in recent years: "Carriers have found it more economical to contract out ... maintenance work rather than hiring their own staffs and building extensive facilities." FAA repair station oversight has become a matter of concern in recent years, "in part because work performed by repair stations has been identified as a factor in several aircraft accidents."
The Captain of Emery 17 was Kevin Stables of Rensselaer County, NY; the 1st Officer was George Land of Placerville, CA; the Flight Engineer was Russell Hicks of Sparks, NV.