“Sky-High Stakes: Alaska Airlines Flight Inquiry Set to Uncover),” NTSB Chair Warns
The stakes are high in the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 inquiry according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Carol Carmody. The fatal crash of the flight from Puerto Vallarta to Seattle in January 2000 was likely caused by the failure of a crucial jackscrew assembly that allowed the aircraft's tail stabilizer to move independently from its empennage. A final report by the NTSB in 2003 revealed numerous safety issues with the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 jetliner, none of which were revealed in the original inquiry. In the 17 years since the crash, investigations have identified that the aircraft's design did not include an audible or visible warning system to alert crews to malfunction. The FAA also did not provide instructions to the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, to incorporate a warning system. This tragedy has since been reported by the NTSB as being preventable and that implications on how the maintenance and operations data were managed and tracked were significant contributors to the crash. Alaska Airlines has since been found to have failed in its duty as an air carrier to properly inspect, maintain, and repair the aircraft in the years leading up to the crash. Investigations further revealed that the Alaska Airlines maintenance system was understaffed, personnel were inadequately trained, and documentation was inadequate. The investigation also revealed a great amount of negligence in the way the aircraft was operated, which included multiple un-monitored flight paths, pilot error, and a lack of communication between the aircraft, flight and cabin crew. As a result of these findings, numerous lawsuits were filed against the airline, including one by the families of those involved in the crash. Although the airline could potentially be found at fault and liable for the damage, its lawyers have since argued that the crashes were the result of an "act of God." With the stakes so high, a decision from the NTSB is expected to bring some closure to the tragedy, for both the families of the victims and for Alaska Airlines itself. A final ruling from the NTSB could potentially bring about sweeping changes in the way post-accident inquiries are conducted as well as new regulations and enforcement measures from the FAA, adding to the safety of airline operations in the future.