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Alaska pilot in crash lost captain status in 1994

Posted: December 12, 2011 - 5:46am

ANCHORAGE — A pilot and sole survivor of a midair collision in Alaska that killed a family of four was among five Alaska Airlines pilots who were stripped of their captain privileges in 1994 for falsifying training records and flying without completing required courses.

Kevin Earp’s airline transport pilot privileges were reinstated after six months and he continued to fly for Alaska Airlines until he was temporarily placed on paid leave following the July 30 crash between his personal Cessna 206 floatplane and another floatplane piloted by Corey Carlson, 41, of Anchorage. Carlson died along with his wife, Hetty Carlson, 39, and their two daughters, Ella, 5, and Adelaide, 3, when their single-engine Cessna 180 crashed and burned north of Anchorage.

Earp, who has resumed flying for the Seattle-based airline, was not injured and he flew his damaged plane to Anchorage. He told accident investigators he saw the other Cessna at the last moment and was unable to avoid the collision.

In the 1994 case, Earp was cited by the Federal Aviation Administration for falsification of ground training rosters for 18 hours of classes in Seattle in 1993 that he did not take. At the time, he was actually serving on flights, according to FAA revocation orders obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. Both the original order and an amended document say Earp ultimately worked on 137 flights in violation of FAA rules because of the missed training. The FAA also said Earp improperly acted for 87 days as a flight instructor or check airman, who is authorized by the FAA to certify the competence of other pilots.

Earp, 57, did not respond to requests for comment, but the airline said he is a meticulous pilot who has set the bar high for Alaska Airlines pilots he trained. The airline also stressed that the 1994 cases were due to faulty record keeping, and not an attempt by the pilots to avoid the training.

The FAA’s amended order noted that Earp lacked “the degree of care, judgment, and responsibility required of the holder of Airline Transport Pilot privileges” and that “safety in air commerce or air transportation and the public interest” required the revocation of the privileges.

Alaska Airlines officials said at the time that the company had to retrain dozens of pilots who had taken classes from those disciplined. Also at the time, Earp declined to comment to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but two other pilots in the case told the newspaper the pressure of training pilots to fly newly delivered 737-400s was behind the missed training. An FAA official also told the newspaper that the safety of passengers was never in jeopardy.

Aviation safety expert John Cox, said it’s very doubtful the events of the past would have any relevance in the midair collision. Each case occurred in “dramatically different” realms.

“There’s not an airmanship or operational issue here with the training records,” said Cox, a former commercial airline pilot. “There’s a distinction between the operational side and the record-keeping side.”

Earp and other pilots cited initially were grounded but later flew as co-pilots during the suspension of their captain privileges. Airline officials said the pilots made up the missed training. Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said the company determined that the pilots’ actions did not warrant termination.

“The company’s record keeping practices were not sufficient at the time,” Egan said in an email. “This was a record keeping issue and not an attempt made by the pilots to get out of mandated training. It is important to note that the pilots involved were the people who developed the training materials.”

The airline has since “significantly improved” its record keeping, Egan said.

Only Earp remains with the airline today. Three of the other pilots have retired. Earp has worked at Alaska Airlines since 1981 and is praised as one of the best pilots on staff, according to company officials. Egan said Earp has flown more than 17,000 hours in 737s and logged more than 27,000 hours altogether as a commercial and private pilot.

After this summer’s midair collision, Earp was placed on paid administrative leave pending the accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA. He has since been evaluated and reinstated, Egan said.

Even with the FAA’s 1994 action, Earp was appointed as an “aircraft program designee” for the agency in 2000. That means he is authorized to issue airman certificates on behalf of the FAA.

“A person can only receive this designation if they have demonstrated a high level of professionalism, as they are acting on behalf of and representing the FAA not the airlines,” Egan said. “These are not issued without a great deal of background review.”

Hetty Carlson’s father, Dave Barnett, said he met with Earp, who mentioned the FAA case. Barnett said that as a private pilot himself, he knows how difficult it can be to see another plane flying at the same altitude. Earp and his family also are struggling with the aftermath of the crash, Barnett said.

“I don’t want to get involved in pointing fingers,” Barnett said. “Nobody goes out there and runs into each other on purpose.”

NTSB investigator Larry Lewis, who is wrapping up his investigation of the July crash, said the final accident report is expected to be publicly released early next year. He said the FAA’s 17-year-old case bears no weight in his investigation, that there is “no nexus” between the two events. “The two incidents are so far afield from each other,” he said.

The crash was the third midair collision in Alaska this year. No one was injured in one of the other collisions. One person died in the third crash.

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