Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ramp Crew Blamed for Northwest Airlines DC-9 Cabin Decompression Accident

Northwest Airlines DC-9The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined that contract ramp personnel from Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation at Syracuse Hancock Airport were to blame for damaging the fuselage of a Northwest Airlines DC-9 aircraft in May of 2007, and that the damage to the aircraft in turn caused the cabin of a the DC-9 to depressurize in flight.

The probable cause report [NTSB ID: NYC07LA121] says:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The senior ground agent's failure to follow written procedures and directives.
Accident Details

On May 18, 2007, the aircraft, operating as Northwest Flight 1411, was climbing after departure from Syracuse (SYR) when the cabin depressurized. The aircraft (registration N1799U), which had been en route to Detroit, was diverted to Buffalo where it made a safe emergency landing. There were no injuries among the four crew members and 95 passengers on board, but significant damage to the aircraft was discovered after landing.

According to the NTSB:
Postflight inspection of the accident airplane by an FAA inspector revealed a 12-inch by 5-inch fuselage skin tear, approximately 6 feet forward of the forward cargo door on the right side of the airplane. Further inspection revealed that a crease in the skin of the fuselage existed forward of the tear, consistent with the skin being damaged by a foreign object.
So, how did this happen?

The NTSB report explains:
According to the NWA station manager and AWAC ground agents, at some point during the aircraft luggage off-loading or loading process in SYR, the engine of the belt loader quit operating. Three of the contractor’s ground agents attempted to manually push the belt loader away from the aircraft but were unable to do so. The senior of the three decided to use a luggage tug to push the belt loader away from the airplane by entering the “Safety Diamond/Zone” with the luggage tug from the front right-hand side of the airplane, close to, and parallel with the fuselage. The front left bumper of the tug was then positioned on the right front corner of the belt loader, and at some point during or immediately after pushing the belt loader away from the airplane, the upper right-hand side of the tug’s cab contacted the fuselage. The senior ground agent then advised “don’t say anything” to one of the other ground agents who was working the flight with him.
The NTSB report dryly notes that "the senior ground agent’s actions were contrary to published guidance in the company’s training handbook and operation manual."

Good grief! Letting that aircraft depart without a careful inspection after being hit by the tug was irresponsible, bordering on criminal. This thoughtless instance of CYA clearly put the lives of 99 people in jeopardy -- an unconscionable act, in my humble opinion.

If you would like to read the NTSB probable cause report for this accident, here are the links: NTSB Identification: NYC07LA121 - Summary and Full Narrative

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