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'


-- NTSB Due to Hold First-Ever Air Cargo Accident Public Hearing

-- Pilots Warned FAA Prior to Fatal Crash; Said Crews Living on 'Borrowed Time'

-- FAA Oversight of Airline Maintenance Under Examination

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.

Thursday, February 17, 2000
Pilots and mechanics had warned of cargo plane risks


Pilots and mechanics at Emery Worldwide Airlines warned federal investigators for years that this kind of crash was inevitable.

In fact, an exclusive KIRO Team-7 Investigation into the air freight company was underway before this latest tragedy.

Pilots who fly Emery jets over Seattle tell me the public here has long been in danger. The company flies DC-8s full of hazardous materials over Puget Sound on a regular basis.

Pilots say these planes are "pieces of junk" and poorly maintained. It's an allegation that the Federal Aviation Administration is officially investigating.

The crash, the burning fuel, the dead pilots, and a cargo hold of hazardous materials: none of these things comes as a surprise to some pilots that fly Emery Worldwide DC-8s.

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News has uncovered a memo written by a local chapter of the Airline Pilots Association that spells out an eerie prediction.

It's dated July 1, 1999 and says in part: "On a monthly basis, EWA experiences several incidents which could easily result in a catastrophic aircraft crash. We have recurring problems with aircraft maintenance, loading and weight and balance, hazardous materials transportation, and crew fatigue issues, all of which so far have miraculously not resulted in a catastrophe."

Emery Worldwide would not answer our questions Thursday. They would only read a statement about the crash.

Their silence will not stop the FAA, which had an ongoing investigation into Emery prior to the California crash. It involves allegations of misloading hazardous materials, and concealing problems from federal authorities.

Here in Seattle, Emery flies cargo through Sea-Tac on a daily basis.

Pilots I talked to here say it's a constant worry to them.

Emery's fleet of DC-8's are getting old -- between 30 and 35 years old.

This ALPA release, dated May 3, 1999, says Emery's "aircraft maintenance departments are overburdened while attempting to meet the increased flying demands, with inadequate resources."

These allegations, until Wednesday, were part of a separate federal investigation into Emery.

Now, they are all part of one big inquiry into what may have downed this jet.

I have personally talked with four current pilots of Emery Worldwide. They all declined to go on camera, but talked extensively about their disappointment that it took the lives of three of their colleges before anyone would take their warnings seriously.


16 FEB 2000 - DC-8-71F  Emery - Sacramento (USA) - 3(3)


Please note this information is preliminary; new information will be
added on the Aviation Safety Network at
The 2000 yearlist of accidents always contains the most recent
information on each accident.

Date:         16.02.2000
Time:         19.49h
Type:         McDonnell Douglas DC-8-71F
Operator:     Emery Worldwide
Registration: N8079U
C/n:          45947/341
Year built:   1968
Total airframe hrs:  approx 84,000 hours 
Cycles:              approx 33200 cycles
Crew:         3 fatalities / 3 on board 
Passengers:   0 fatalities / 0 on board
Total:        3 fatalities / 3 on board 
Location:     Sacramento, CA (USA)
Phase:        Initial Climb
Nature:       Freight
Flight:       Sacramento-Mather,CA - Dayton, OH (Flightnumber 17) 
Emery Flight 17 had just departed Sacramento-Mather Airport when the crew
reported balance problems. A little later the aircraft was seen to crash
into the Insurance Auto Auctions salvage yard, setting fire to 100-200
cars. Debris cut a swath about 250 yards wide and a quarter mile long. The
plane's cargo included clothing, transmission fluid and a small amount of
9 grams fuses used to activate automobile air bags.

Tommy Maurer; Phil Brooks; FAA

Background info:


# hull-losses: 83 (of which 49 fatal)
* engines: 4 CFMI CFM56-2C1
* 42nd worst DC-8 accident
* Last DC-8  hull-loss: 16.10.1999 Continental Cargo Airlines at
Kinshasa-N'Djili APT - 0 fatalities
* Last fatal DC-8 accident: 07.08.1997 Fine Air at Miami IAP, FL - 4
fatalities + 1 on ground
* Aircraft history:
    N8079U   United Airlines      29 FEB 1968 first flight
                                  21 MAR 1968 delivered
                                     JUL 1983 converted series
                                                 -61 -> -71
             GPA Group            20 SEP 1990 bought
             Lineas A. Paraguayas 20 OCT 1990 leased
             Emery Worldwide      31 MAR 1994 delivered
This particular aircraft was part of the US Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)

* website:
* founded: 1980
* 1st Emery hull-loss accident

* Sacramento-Mather
* Latitude: 38 33' 14.03" North; 121 17' 51.33" West
* Elevation: 95ft / 29m
* info:

* last fatal airliner accident in USA 31.01.2000 (MD-83 Alaska Airlines
off  Californian coast - 88 fatalities)
* 20th worst airliner accident in USA



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