U.S. attorney opens Alaska Airlines probe

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2003

SEATTLE - Federal authorities have reopened a criminal investigation into the January 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, the airline's parent company disclosed Wednesday.

Alaska Air Group, based in Seattle, made the disclosure in its annual financial report, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Officials at the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco did not return calls seeking comment.

Flight 261 was headed to San Francisco from Mexico on Jan. 31, 2000, when it crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Port Hueneme, Calif., killing all 88 passengers and crew members.

The U.S. attorney's office had been investigating maintenance practices at the company's Oakland, Calif., base before the crash. It expanded the investigation to include the plane lost in the Flight 261 crash.

In December 2001, the office closed the pre-crash portion of the inquiry without filing criminal charges, but put the rest of the matter on hold while the National Transportation Safety Board conducted its investigation.

Almost from the beginning, safety investigators focused on a lack of grease on the jet's jackscrew, a tail component that helps move the plane's horizontal stabilizer and sets the angle of flight.

In December, the NTSB ruled that shoddy maintenance was the reason for a lack of grease, excessive wear and the eventual failure of the jackscrew.

Following that ruling, the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco reactivated its investigation "in order to review it in light of the final NTSB report," the company said in its SEC filing.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans said the company expected the inquiry to be resumed. The company declined to comment further.

But the daughter of two victims aboard Flight 261 applauded the decision.

"All of us are basically jubilant that the (federal government) has decided to reopen the case because we know there's something there," said Paige Stockley of Seattle, whose parents were both killed in the crash.

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