Grand jury seeks maintenance records

Subpoena indicates Alaska Airlines crash referred to panel

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2000

SEATTLE - Maintenance records of an Alaska Airlines plane that crashed off the Southern California coast have been subpoenaed for a federal grand jury investigation in San Francisco.

The subpoena indicates a criminal inquiry into the crash of Flight 261 been referred to the panel, which has been examining the West Coast regional carrier's maintenance operation in Oakland, Calif., since 1998.

The subpoena, received late Tuesday, covers ``a range of records related to maintenance,'' including work logs, shift logs and training records, company spokesman Jack Evans said Wednesday.

The subpoena was mentioned Wednesday in an annual filing by Alaska Air Group, the airline's corporate parent, with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C.

``To the company's knowledge, no charges have been filed as a result of the grand jury investigation,'' the filing said.

``We have cooperated fully with the grand jury investigation and will continue to do so,'' Alaska Air Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Kelly said in a written statement.

Maintenance records for the MD-83 that slammed into the Pacific Ocean near Oxnard, Calif., on Jan. 31, killing all 88 people aboard, also are being examined by the National Transportation Safety Board in a separate inquiry.

Board and law enforcement investigators are believed to be scrutinizing records of tests performed in September 1997 on the gimbal nut in a jackscrew mechanism. The mechanism is used to adjust the tilt of the wing-like horizontal stabilizer on the tail, directing the nose of the plane up or down in flight.

Alaska officials have denied any wrongdoing and maintain that repeated tests showed the wear was insufficient to require replacement of the jackscrew assembly, which costs $30,000 to $70,000.

The crash occurred after the pilots reported an apparent jam in the mechanism on a flight from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco and Seattle. For more than half an hour, they wrestled with the problem and seemed to have regained control when the plane suddenly dived, upside-down, from 17,900 feet.

Crash investigators have found the gimbal nut had come loose and its threads were wrapped around the grooves of the jackscrew. It has not been determined whether the gimbal nut came off during flight or as a result of the crash.

The SEC filing said insurance would cover most of the costs associated with Flight 261, including lawsuits, but added that ``any aircraft accident, even if fully insured, could cause a negative public perception of the company with adverse financial consequences.''

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