Criminal Probe in Jet Crash (AS261) : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Source: Newsday (no URL)

Report: Criminal Probe in Jet Crash

SEATTLE (AP) -- Federal authorities have begun a criminal investigation into the deadly crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 with their focus on the airline's maintenance practices, The Seattle Times reported today.

The FBI and investigators from the Department of Transportation have been questioning Alaska Airlines employees as part of an inquiry that has been under way for several weeks, the Times said, citing three sources in two federal agencies as confirming the investigation.

However, the Times reported that no criminal wrongdoing has been established in connection with the Jan. 31 crash off the coast of California that killed 88 people.

The criminal investigation grew out of a 15-month-old inquiry into practices at Alaska's maintenance facility at Oakland, Calif., the Times said. In that inquiry, a grand jury in San Francisco is investigating whether supervisors signed for repairs that weren't done or that they weren't authorized to approve.

The FBI usually plays an advisory role to the National Transportation Safety Board in crash investigations, unless there is evidence or suspicion of a crime. In this case, law-enforcement officials are conducting a separate, parallel investigation, the Times said.

In a statement Friday, Alaska Airlines said it was unaware of any change in the FBI's role but would cooperate in any investigation.

''The FBI has been involved in the investigation of Flight 261 since the beginning. We are unaware of any change in their role. However, if there is, we will cooperate fully with them as we are currently with the NTSB and its investigation of this accident,'' the airline said.

Separately, the airline says it has put a top manager on leave while it investigates claims by 64 Seattle mechanics that they were ''pressured, threatened and intimidated'' to cut corners on repairs.

Alaska Airlines said in a statement that it would immediately ground any planes found to be potentially unsafe. It also said it had notified federal prosecutors and the National Transportation Safety Board of the claims.

The mechanics' complaints were contained in a letter delivered to the airline on Thursday and quoted by the Times.

A draft of the letter said workers were directed to do things ''specifically contradicting'' federal aviation regulations, and alleged they had been ''pressured, threatened and intimidated ... in the daily performance of our work.''

During a recent repair on an MD-80 -- the same type of plane as Flight 261 -- mechanics said there told not to replace worn parts.

The airline and Federal Aviation Administration officials have begun interviewing the mechanics.

NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said this week that most major components of Flight 261's tail section have been recovered. He also said investigators had found no grease on a crucial portion of the jackscrew that helped control the movement of the jet's horizontal tail stabilizer, long a focus of the crash probe.

A spokesman for the plane's manufacturer said the part normally should be lubricated, but he refused to speculate about what the NTSB finding might mean.

The Times reported that the mechanics' letter was triggered by concerns over a recent repair to the horizontal stabilizer and jackscrew assembly on an MD-80 jetliner.

The mechanics allege the plane was fixed properly only after heated discussions.

FAA spokesman Mitch Barker said the agency was aware there had been recent ''debate'' at Alaska Airlines over a horizontal stabilizer repair. He said the plane was returned to service in proper condition.

Robert Falla, the leader of the airline's Seattle maintenance base, was placed on administrative leave, the airline said. He could not be reached by telephone, but his lawyer predicted he would be exonerated.

''Robert Falla has never knowingly allowed any aircraft to go into service that was not airworthy or (that) failed any safety standard,'' said a statement from his lawyer, Scott Engelhard. AP-NY-03-18-00 1045EST< 

-- viewer (, March 18, 2000

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