Former FAA Inspector Says Investigation Was Cut Short
The tragic death of an airline mechanic on the ramp at El Paso
International Airport has come under scrutiny, after a former FAA
inspector said his supervisors at the time rushed their
investigation into the matter.
As ANN reported, Donald Gene
Buchanan was killed January 16, 2006, as he checked a reported oil
leak on a Continental Airlines Boeing 737-500. The contract
mechanic was ingested into a turbofan when another mechanic,
believing the area around the engine's inlet was clear, told the
plane's flight crew to throttle power up to 70 percent.
According to the NTSB Probable Cause report, Buchanan step into
the inlet hazard zone as the turbofan spooled up from idle. The
Board cited Buchanan's failure to maintain proper clearance with
the engine intake during a jet engine run, as well as the failure
of contract maintenance personnel to follow written procedures and
directives contained in the airline's general maintenance manual,
as the primary causes of the accident.
A lack of proper mechanic training by Continental, as well as
the failure of the airport to enforce its own rules prohibiting
ground run-ups above idle power in the terminal area, were noted as
But that might not be the entire story. Former FAA inspector
Phil Thrash came forward recently with accusations the
investigation was cut short, and officials with ties to the
Continental pilots granted them amnesty in the matter.
"They washed their hands of the whole matter," Thrash told The
Dallas Morning News. "It was a cover-up."
Thrash alleges the FAA and Continental deliberately suppressed
his questions about the nature of the accident -- specifically, his
discovery of a number of safety violations. When he brought the
issues to the attention of his supervisor, Thrash says he was told
to submit his questions about the investigation to a committee for
That committee included a Continental official, and a
representative with the pilots' union. In the end, the committee
opted to close the case through the voluntary Aviation Safety
Action Program... which put an end to Thrash's investigation.
Thrash says he asked the FAA administrator to reopen the
investigation, but his request was shot down. He then went to the
inspector general... but didn't hear anything further, until he was
contacted by the House Transportation & Infrastructure
The former inspector is scheduled to testify April 3 before that
committee, led by Representative James Oberstar... who has his own concerns
about the relationship between FAA inspectors and the airlines they
oversee, and is highly critical of ASAP.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown defended the FAA's handling of the
case, noting both the agency's local office and head of flight
standards in Washington "agreed that the crew, the flight crew and
the pilot met the criteria for this to be handled through the
Aviation Safety Action Program.
"The investigation didn't support the kind of action that Mr.
Thrash wanted to initiate," she added.