SEATTLE - Alaska Airlines said Tuesday it will fire two pilots for continuing a flight after they failed to properly pressurize the cabin.
The action by the pilots left about half the passengers without an emergency oxygen source and could have caused death or brain damage if the aircraft had lost pressure during the high-altitude portion of the March 25 flight, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector has said.
The airline notified the pilots, Capt. Michael Alan Reese, 56, of Long Beach, Calif., and First Officer Vincent Emile Danet, 38, of San Diego, of its intent to fire them, Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans said.
Neither pilot was available for comment, said Tara Elkins, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association in Seattle.
Both intended to request an initial hearing on the issue in which they will be able to present their case, said the association, which is representing the pilots.
The pilots have been on paid administrative leave since Flight 506 arrived safely at San Jose, Calif., from Portland, Ore.
The pilots apparently failed to flip switches to pressurize the cabin, according to FAA inspector Dennis Overman. The action caused oxygen masks to pop out of the ceiling as the plane rose above 14,000 feet. The pilots then got the cabin pressurized and resumed their ascent to 41,000 feet.
Passengers who pulled the masks down to put them on triggered the release of oxygen from canisters. Tests after the plane landed showed about half the canisters had been depleted, which could have left passengers in a grave situation if the cabin lost pressure.
Overman recommended a six-month suspension of the pilots' licenses for flying an unworthy aircraft, careless and reckless flying, continuing a flight in unsafe conditions and failing to assure the availability of emergency oxygen for all passengers.
The FAA is conducting its own investigation.
``It could take weeks to months for any enforcement action to be complete,'' said FAA regional spokeswoman Kirsti Dunn, ``. . .to ensure consistency, due process and the legality of any recommended action.''
There were 92 passengers and three flight attendants aboard the new Boeing 737-700.