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Findings due today on Flight 5481 crash

Recommendations on maintenance likely

Nearly 14 months ago, a plane carrying Tereasa Shepherd's daughter and 20

others stalled at 1,100 feet, then plunged to the ground at

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

Today, when the National Transportation Safety Board issues its conclusions

on what caused the crash, Shepherd will be watching to see who is held


"We'd like to see some sort of decisions made that will motivate others to

realize that cutting corners isn't cost-effective," said Shepherd, who lost

her 18-year-old daughter Christiana in the crash. "They can never know what

this has cost us."

Historically, NTSB crash investigations have helped improve airline safety.

Today, in Washington, D.C., the board is expected to make recommendations

that could affect maintenance oversight.

An Observer investigation last year found that outsourced maintenance

receives far less regulatory oversight than work done by the airlines' own


The board is also expected to look at the plane's weight and balance.

All 21 people aboard US Airways Express Flight 5481 died when the plane

crashed Jan. 8, 2003, just 37 seconds after takeoff. The crash happened two

days after a mechanic in Huntington, W.Va. adjusted cables that helped

control the Beech 1900D's up and down movements -- a job he'd never done.

Air Midwest operated the plane for US Airways and had hired maintenance

contractor Raytheon Aerospace. Raytheon in turn hired many of its mechanics

from a Florida labor contractor.

The plane was making its ninth -- and most heavily loaded -- flight since

maintenance. Investigators believe the maintenance in Huntington sharply

limited the pilots' ability to control the plane.

After reviewing a report from NTSB investigators, the five-member NTSB board

today is likely to focus on:

� Air Midwest, which, under federal regulations, had responsibility for

maintenance and the loading of its airplane.

� The Federal Aviation Administration, which was responsible for overseeing


� Raytheon, the maintenance contractor, now named Vertex Aerospace.

Shepherd said she was troubled to learn that Air Midwest had hired a

maintenance contractor, which relied on a labor subcontractor.

"If I tell my daughter to tell my other daughter to tell my younger son to

do something, it won't get done," she said. "If I tell my son to do it, it

will get done. The more layers you have, the less responsibility everybody

takes. There has to be a limit to how many layers down you go."

Shepherd, whose daughter was a student at Bob Jones University in

Greenville, S.C., said it also disturbed her how little the FAA apparently

knew about the maintenance arrangement.

At the time of the crash, the FAA inspector in charge of monitoring

maintenance at Air Midwest had visited the Huntington facility just once

since mechanics began working on planes there. The inspector told the NTSB

he wasn't aware Raytheon was relying on a subcontractor for mechanics.

"I'd like to know why," Shepherd said. "I'd like to know how many other

situations they don't know very much about."

The NTSB has no enforcement powers, but it has influence. More than 80

percent of its recommendations are enacted.

The safety board's recommendations helped prompt the FAA to this month

mandate changes designed to eliminate the risk of fuel tank explosions, such

as the one that killed 230 people aboard TWA Flight 800 in 1996.

The crash of Flight 5481 has already spurred some changes. Weeks after the

crash, the FAA raised the passenger weight estimates used by airlines and

issued new requirements for maintenance of Beech 1900 elevator control

systems. Raytheon Aircraft, which built the Beech 1900, has significantly

changed the maintenance manuals.

Some relatives of the deceased passengers plan to go to Washington to watch

the hearing. Others, like Shepherd, plan to watch a webcast. Several family

members say they want the board to hold the airline, its contractors and the

FAA accountable.

The Shepherds, missionaries in the Azore islands off Portugal, say they are

awaiting the NTSB's conclusions before they file a lawsuit that they hope

will help improve airline safety. The family might be willing to settle for

less money, Shepherd said, if top corporate executives publicly acknowledge

responsibility for contributing to the crash.

"We want somebody to say the buck stops here," Shepherd says.
Posts: 2572 | Location: USA | Registered: Sun April 07 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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